By Jump Media for the US Dressage Finals
November 9, 2023 – Lexington, KY – The US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® has become the preeminent national dressage competition that brings together youth, adult amateur, and open riders at all levels in order to give them the experience of riding head-to-head against their peers. The US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® on November 9-12, 2023, will be the event’s 10th year, and it remains a fixture on the show calendar as riders from across the United States qualify through their respective Regional Championships. Held every year at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY, the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® hosts hundreds of competitors who have set this show as their year-end goal and celebrates everyone’s love of the horse and the sport of dressage.
The US Dressage Finals was an idea in the making for many years, with the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) leaders working to find a way to bring riders from all four corners of the country and everywhere in between together to compete on an equal playing field.
Janine Malone of Zebulah, NC, was the first Organizing Committee Chair of the event. She recalled, “The initial impetus was to have a championship that amateurs could qualify for, to highlight and give opportunities to amateurs. We did a tremendous amount of research into where to have it, how to manage it, how to make it work, and how to make it special.”
Malone worked closely with George Williams, the current USDF President, on starting the first Finals. Williams concurred, “Amateur riders are crucial to the sport. It is wonderful to be able to offer something for the effort and work they put into it. Goals keep us motivated and keep us going through the harder times, the usual ups and downs with horses. It is also another goal for open riders, and we are now giving opportunities to youth riders. This gives them a chance to see how they’re doing on a national level against their peers from across the country. That’s a powerful incentive and motivation, and it gives a tremendous sense of reward and recognition to those that are at the top of their game at every level.”
The event started initially under the management of Lloyd Landkamer, who passed away in 2015. It is now managed by Debra Reinhardt, with many USDF staff working at the event alongside dedicated volunteers who help make the special event happen.
“We had a lot of knowledgeable people from the beginning that are still there,” said Malone. “When everything is set up, from the scoreboards to the arena decorations, there’s nothing like it. It’s definitely a big, well-run horse show with all the bells and whistles. It’s become a prestigious event without question.”
Lisa Goretta of Chagrin Falls, OH, is the current Organizing Committee Chair of the Finals and a past USDF President as well.
She noted, “The US Dressage Finals is vitally important to the sport and makes a significant difference with national recognition. It also solidifies the importance of the regional championships for competitors, owners, breeders, and volunteers, as well as officials who have expanded their horizons with opportunities for panel judging and have gone on to judge at the international level. The addition of the Finals has had a significant impact and a ripple effect throughout the industry.”
The opportunity to ride in front of a panel of judges is something that many riders who compete at the US Dressage Finals do not have most of the year. Lisa Schmidt, an ‘S’ judge from Hampton, NJ, is noteworthy as the only judge at the Finals who has competed there twice. Her first foray was in 2015 at Training Level, in which she placed seventh.
“Just to be able to be in a lap of honor on a five-year-old in the Alltech Arena was pretty amazing. That was my first experience,” said Schmidt, who will return for her fourth time as a judge in 2023 and will mark the card as one of a panel for the Grand Prix Freestyle.
“It’s a huge honor to be selected to judge that class,” she remarked. “It’s a pretty exciting opportunity, and I can’t wait to see all of those wonderful riders and horses. I think the camaraderie between riders and trainers at the Finals is very exciting. Everyone has worked hard to get there, and judges have worked very hard to get to the level where they are asked to judge there. It’s very educational to do panel judging, especially at a quality show like the US Dressage Finals.
“During the course of judging we don’t talk, but after the class is done if there are discrepancies we ask what each other saw,” she continued. “We do talk and learn from each other after the class is over about how we have different perspectives from where we sit and different focuses. I think that is important for riders to know; the judge is scoring what they’re seeing.”
Goretta is part of the group of officials that is on-site early every morning of the Finals to oversee schooling in the Alltech Arena. Her favorite memory throughout the decade of the event is the same each year: “As much as I’m not voluntarily an early morning person, I come in at 6 a.m. along with the technical delegates and organizing committee. To me, that is the reset and beginning of a new day, and that’s my favorite thing every year.”
Williams hopes that everyone will still be aiming toward competing for honors at the US Dressage Finals ten years from now. As he looks back at 10 years of memories from the event, what stands out to him most is participating in the awards ceremonies.
“For me emotionally, it’s the most moving part,” he expressed. “You see the joy people have and the absolute thrill of being there and doing well, and you get to see the payoff. It is really rewarding.”
One of those riders who has memories of standing as a winner in the award ceremonies is Laura Crowl of Georgetown, KY. The amateur rider and her now 11-year-old KWPN mare Hana, by UB-40, is a U.S.-bred horse and out of Jamaica, a Grand Prix mount for her trainer Reese Koffler-Stanfield.
Crowl, who has competed six times at the Finals, and Hana won at Second Level, and they will return in 2023 to contest the Intermediaire 2 class. “I love going, and the Kentucky Horse Park is always beautiful,” she said. “It’s home turf for us but the US Dressage Finals is something special with all of the decorations, riding in the Alltech Arena, and the atmosphere. The Finals makes it unique compared to other shows we do there throughout the year.”
Koffler-Stanfield, who is the co-host of the official podcast of USDF, Dressage Radio Show, will return for her seventh Finals in 2023, agreed, “Any time you get to ride into the Alltech Arena, that is the best feeling. You ride through the tunnel and then come into the arena; it gives me chills even thinking about it.”
The opportunity to bring horses and riders of all levels and abilities is a huge bonus for trainers like Koffler-Stanfield, who is an FEI-certified instructor. “That’s the fun part about it,” she said. “It’s a phenomenal experience.”
Official photographers Sue Stickle and Jonna Koellhoffer also feel the excitement of the US Dressage Finals, having been there all 10 years to capture memories for every rider. While they have many favorite memories, the one that stands out is in the first year, 2013.
“It was the very first time we walked into the Alltech Arena and saw the dressage ring and horses schooling below,” said Stickle. “It was quite an impressive sight!”
With a decade of success and making memories for everyone involved in this special event, the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® returns in 2023 to crown new winners and continue its reign as one of the most important dressage competitions in the United States.
Don’t miss a minute – come in person to watch with free general admission or view online at USEF Network.
Follow along with stories of this year’s winners on the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® website.