By Alice Collins, for Jump Media/US Dressage Finals
November 12, 2023 – Lexington, KY – It was an emotional end to a day of intense competition on Saturday, November 11, 2023, as one of the best known pairs at the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® bowed out of top sport. The marquee national show, held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and concludes competition on Sunday, November 12. Competitors qualify via Regional Championships in nine USDF regions and compete head-to-head for championship titles and more than $120,000 in prize money.
Heather Mason and her faithful long-time partner RTF Lincoln made the most of their last-ever lap of honor after securing the Grand Prix Open Freestyle with 74.942% — a class they also won in 2022.
The only rider who almost spoiled Lincoln’s farewell party was the reserve champion Nora Batchelder, who rode her own 15-year-old Faro SQF to 74.733%. Shelley Van Den Neste partnered Andreas Jeromin’s Eyecatcher to third place on 71.525%.
All eyes in the Alltech Arena were on Lincoln as he performed his ultra-difficult freestyle for the final time. Mason came out of the gate with a one-handed double pirouette on the first center line, following that up with 25 one-time changes on a curve before a piaffe fan and another one-handed double canter pirouette. The crowd whooped and clapped along.
“I’m happy because he had two really good rides at the show, and it’s nice to go out while he’s strong,” said Mason. “I finally let him do what he’s always wanted to do in the prize-giving, which is run. I’ve never done that before because he always gets really hot and then I’m worried about the next test, but this time I didn’t have to worry about that. He’s really been amazing.”
Mason has a long history with the horse, which she bought as a foal from his breeder, Cornell University. She sold him when he was three, but he was still ridden by some of her students. When Lincoln injured one front tendon and then the other during his first rehab, and the new owner had to have a double hip operation, Mason bought him back for one dollar.
“I knew he was good at shows, and I didn’t know what else he was going to do — sit in a field for the rest of his life? I wanted to give him a chance,” explained the rider from Lebanon, NJ. “He’s proven that a very difficult horse with soundness issues and rideability issues can actually do a lot with certain maintenance.”
Plans for Lincoln’s future remain in the air.
“He’ll have his usual month off after this show, then I’ll bring him back to work a bit and we’ll see if anyone wants to ride him next year,” said Mason, who is the only person to have sat on the horse in the past five years. “I have a few ideas, but I’ll have to see how they work out. He’s a very tricky horse so it’s going to take the right person if they want to give it a whirl.”
Mason has not missed a season of competing at Grand Prix level since 1990, so the thought of taking a break is actually appealing. However, it won’t last long as she has a 10-year-old who she’s hoping to show at the level in 2025.
“I’m feeling like some Third and Fourth level stuff is looking really good — much less stressful,” she concluded with a grin.
Mason logged a further victory on Saturday riding her six-year-old Shmoky Quartz, meaning the American-bred son of Shakespeare RSF was undefeated in all three of his classes at these championships. His final win was his highest score of the show, chalking up 75.316% to top the Second Level Open Freestyle with a complex, difficult test — a hallmark of all of Mason’s freestyles. The routine garnered a high score of 78.158% from William Warren thanks to an artistic score of more than 81%.
Angela Jackson Racks Up Another Title
The 12-year-old Holts Le’Mans may look familiar to regulars at the US Dressage Finals. He stepped into the winner’s circle in 2022, taking the Third Level Jr/YR class honors under his teenage rider Ella Fruchterman. This year, it was Angela Jackson in the saddle, and she piloted him to the top of the leaderboard in the Intermediate 1 Freestyle Open with 73.175%.
The horse has been tremendously successful with Fruchterman since her family bought the son of L’Espoir sight unseen from Denmark during the pandemic. They won triple gold at the 2022 Adequan® FEI North American Youth Championships and have enjoyed prolific Jr/YR results.
Fruchterman’s trainer is now giving the horse a leg-up to the higher levels.
“It’s a fun freestyle from the movie Spirit,” said Jackson, who has lost count of the number of Finals titles she has won over the years. “I recycled it for him because I only took him over in April to give him small tour experience and confidence. It started out a little rough this week — we made silly little mistakes in the Prix St. Georges that were a little unusual — but today he was really ready to go. He even wanted to go bigger; he’s a true horse that shows up for a championship and wants to be there for you.”
Fruchterman is still riding Le’Mans, and the plans around when Jackson will hand back the competitive reins remain fluid as the Young Rider also has an older schoolmaster to campaign.
“We’ll go to Florida for the winter season, and I’ll probably try some small tour CDIs and I’d like to get qualified for [U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions],” said Jackson, who moved to Western Kentucky from her native Germany — where she had been on the junior show jumping team — more than three decades ago.
“I also taught him the Grand Prix movements so he can do the ones and is learning piaffe and passage,” she added. “I think he’ll make a good Grand Prix horse down the road, so we have to decide if I finish that a bit more before Ella takes him back, perhaps as a Under 25 horse.”
Supersonic Is Untouchable at First Level
Emily Donaldson’s faith in the Sewickley Farm Partnership LLC’s talented five-year-old Supersonic by Secret was rewarded when they earned the top spot in the First Level Open Championship.
“I’m so happy he pulled off one of his best performances here,” said the Pennsylvania-based rider. “It’s a bit intimidating having a horse this good and some pressure owning him in partnership with a syndicate. I think he’s as good as the best horses you see in Europe.”
Donaldson found the horse in Germany as a three-year-old and was blown away by his quality. She had even nicknamed him “Sparkles” before the final deal had been done on his purchase. Her winner’s blanket may be useful this winter as she is not spending the season in Florida, as she has done in the past, but consolidating her training at home, which includes working with trainer Tim Mellott.
“I’m hoping to be able to teach him the changes and then hopefully do Third Level next year,” added Donaldson. “Maybe I’ll do some young horse classes with him.”
Competition concludes on Sunday, November 12, with the final nine championship titles to be decided, from Training Level to Prix St. Georges. 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.