By Alice Collins for Jump Media/US Dressage Finals
November 10, 2023 – Lexington, KY – On day two of the 10th anniversary edition of the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® on Friday, November 10, 2023, newly minted champions were made from the more than 330 horses at the Kentucky Horse Park. The marquee show offers a wealth of championship titles and more $120,000 in prize money in head-to-head national competition, which runs through Sunday, November 12, 2023.
There has never been a more aptly named dressage rider than Bonnie Canter. The 65-year-old retiree romped her way to a double of Championship wins on her two horses, Vitali and Super Susie, both with over 70%.
Her top score of 71.065% came in the Fourth Level Adult Amateur (AA) class, in which she rode the seven-year-old 15.2hh Hanoverian gelding Vitali, by the Vitalis son, Vilancio. The horse is no stranger to Finals, having won the Second Level AA Championship two years ago.
Since then, Canter and her husband have relocated from Texas to Florida. She added the five-year-old Super Susie to her string, and they led the lap of honor in the Second Level AA Championship.
“It’s such a build-up to Finals, and there are so many good horses in Region 3 so you just never know what’s going to happen on the day and how it’s going to play out — especially with three judges,” she said. “It’s been a lucky year. Vitali is seven, and he’s doing Fourth Level and Prix St. Georges this year. He’s just the best.”
Both horses were imported from Holland sight unseen and are now stabled at home in Melrose, Florida, just north of Ocala.
“I chose Vitali because he was little and hot, and we had bought horses from the seller before,” she continued. “It was a work in progress to start with as he had just been gelded and he was a hot mess, but I’ve been working with [Spanish Olympic rider] Severo Jurado López — he’s my hero — since we got Vitali four years ago.
“Super Susie came from a young horse specialist, but she looked a great type on the video,” said Canter of the daughter of Secret out of a Voice dam. “She’s a really sensible type.
“We love being in Florida; the people are super nice and there are a lot of shows. My husband and I are retired, and we work on the farm and ride. It keeps us fit,” added Canter, whose journey to Lexington took 13 hours. “I want to keep riding until I can’t do it anymore. I’d love to get Vitali up to Grand Prix, and we’re sure he has the talent. He’s so little and handy, and it’s all fun for him.”
Anartz Chanca Retains His Grand Prix Crown
It was by the slimmest of margins — just 0.036% — but last year’s Grand Prix AA champion Anartz Chanca successfully defended his title on his loyal partner Dazzle, an 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding by Danone I x Londonderry. The pair edged out the previous day’s Intermediate II AA champions Rebecca Lord and Demetrius.
“It was a very clean test,” said Chanca, who is based with his wife Marta Renilla at her family’s Woodlands Equestrian Club in Tomball, Texas. “I think the piaffe/passage can be a lot better still. I have it in the warm-up and at home, but it’s so hard to put all that together in the test. It was mistake-free, and he was with me every single stride, but there’s more in there. He was excited to see everything [in the Alltech Arena], but that’s a good thing as you get that extra energy.”
Dazzle was originally bought for Chanca’s wife to ride but was then sold to a junior rider. Chanca always missed him, and when the opportunity arose to buy him back a few years later, he didn’t hesitate.
Chanca is the president of the American subsidiary of an Italian company that manufactures truck parts, and he juggles his job with three children and three horses that he exclusively rides. 2023 marks a decade since Chanca took up dressage, having previously ridden endurance horses in his native Spain, and dabbled in jumping before honing his focus.
“It’s a long trip from Texas but we did everything possible to make it happen,” said Chanca. “It was challenging with the logistics, but we love this show. The horses love it too, especially with the cooler weather. They seem to know that it’s Finals, and they really go for it.”
Chanca and Dazzle will contest Saturday’s AA Grand Prix Freestyle before “going back in the lab” over the winter to develop and strengthen the horse further. He has also completed a Championship ride with Dante Rubin MR, a horse he will compete again on Saturday.
A Major Pistol of a Horse
Another rider reaping the benefits of switching their focus to dressage came to the fore in the First Level Freestyle Open. USDF Silver medalist Jenna Butler, formerly a jumping rider and competitor on the Arabian circuit, topped the class with 74.769% bolstered by a high score of 77.222% from the judge at H, Kristi Wysocki. Butler rode her own 15.2-hand Oldenburg six-year-old Da Vinci HSR (De Niro x Royal Diamond). The 25-year-old has had an emotional journey with the horse, which she has known since he was a just-backed youngster.
“I was working for Kate and Martin Kuhn, and they got Da Vinci as a weanling,” said Butler. “They started him as a three-year-old, and their colt starter basically handed him over after two weeks and said, ‘Here you go, have fun with him!’”
Soon afterwards, Butler moved back to her home state of Missouri to start her own business, Greystoke Dressage.
“I was looking for a new horse, and I looked at a bunch of videos and nothing was clicking at the time. Da Vinci was not for sale, but they had another one that they said I should come and try, and I did, but only if I could ride Da Vinci too, because I knew I wanted him. They have a barn full of really nice horses, but they knew how much I cared about him, and they’ve always been incredibly supportive.”
The win was even more poignant for Butler as she rode to a freestyle soundtrack made for a horse that she lost.
“It means a lot,” she said, fighting back tears. “Da Vinci was wonderful. I had a great feeling in the contact and over his back. I made one really unfortunate mistake in the change of lead through trot — his legs got in a tangle, and we picked up the wrong lead — but we did another one really quick before the end, and it worked out.
“He’s very hot and a very sensitive horse, so it’s been about bringing that out in a positive, energetic way. He’s got a super work ethic but he’s a major pistol of a horse, and he’s taught me a lot about being a really sensitive rider but still using that energy forward.”
Butler still trains with Kuhn, usually virtually.
“I’m on the phone with him constantly, texting probably every day and calling at least once a week — sometimes in a panic, sometimes in happiness, but he’s always there for me,” she added.
Heather Mason’s magical performances in the arena with her pair of six-year-old geldings — who are almost always head-to-head — show no sign of abating. In the Third Level Freestyle Open Championship, she finished first and second. It was the previous day’s champion, Shmoky Quartz (Shakespeare RSF) who added another blanket to his collection, with stablemate Manuskript SCF by Jazz taking the reserve spot. The top four in the class all scored north of 71%, but Shmoky Quartz edged out his rivals to land a winning 71.992%.
Fourth Time’s A Charm
On their fourth visit to Finals, Meghan Richards and Kingstown (El Capone x United) finally bagged a championship sash, logging 68.284% to top the Intermediate I AA. Richards has owned the eight-year-old KWPN gelding since buying him from a video when he was three and has produced him herself.
“We’ve been hoping for a win at some point, so I’m very happy. This has been a great year for him,” said Richards, who runs her own boarding facility, Magnolia Creek Stables in Pittstown, NJ. “He was a little spooky in some spots, but it was mostly in the corners and didn’t hurt us too much. We had a bunch of goals for the year and won a bunch of things. This is his second year of doing small tour, and he’s a lot more solid this year.”
Richards was a hunter/jumper rider for 25 years, then made the switch to dressage after she “accidentally imported a dressage horse.”
“He was supposed to be a hunter, but when he arrived, I realized he really wasn’t,” she related. “He wasn’t the horse for me, but I really enjoyed the six months of dressage I did with him and decided to switch.
Kingstown has tested Richards’ fortitude though as he is very spooky at home.
“My trainer Lauren Chumley asked around, and someone had King sitting in a field,” she explained. “It was a lucky purchase for me, and I’ve shown him since he was four; we came to Finals at Training Level. He’s done 15 Regional Championships and was champion or reserve in all but one. There’s a lot of quality there, and I’m a very lucky girl to have him.”
“He’s not a normal amateur horse, and he’s very spooky sometimes,” added Richards, who trailered the horse the 11-hour journey from New Jersey herself. “He’s trainable, but I have to manage his spookiness. Sometimes he likes to teleport, and sometimes spinning is involved. We competed at Dressage at Devon a couple of months ago and the first day we couldn’t get round the ring, but the second day we won. He just needs a moment sometimes.”
Richards is hoping Kingstown can be the horse to carry her to her USDF Gold Medal next year.
Further coverage on Friday’s afternoon and evening classes — including the Grand Prix Open Championship and the Intermediate I Open Championship — will follow on Saturday.
Competition resumes on Saturday with 13 championship titles up for grabs from First Level to the evening’s Open Grand Prix Freestyle. Follow the action via the USDF Facebook page and the US Dressage Finals website, plus live online streaming on the USEF Network. To learn more about the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, view results and start lists, and read daily news releases, visit the official US Dressage Finals event website.