Lexington, Ky. – Nov. 14, 2021 – Music filled the air across the Kentucky Horse Park as freestyle competition was a highlight of the third day of the 2021 US Dressage Finals, being held November 11-14 in Lexington, Ky. From Juniors and Young Riders to U.S. High Performance veterans, huge fields of competitors from across the country pursued top honors from Training to Grand Prix in the national dressage showcase.
Storybook Ending for Tidd in Grand Prix Adult Amateur Freestyle Championship
When the US Dressage Finals first debuted in 2013, Lucy Tidd of Poolesville, Md. (Region 1) was one of those competitors who couldn’t wait to be a part of the brand new event. Taking a break from her busy practice as a small animal veterinarian, she traveled to Kentucky with her then 4-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Ellert HB (Johnson x Alanda-B by Sydney) and came away with both the Training Level and First Level Adult Amateur titles. “I look back at the photos from that year and I just can’t believe how he’s changed – he was such a baby back then,” she remembered.
Tidd has come back to the Finals every year since as her horse grew up and rose through the levels, and this time the story came full circle when the pair found themselves in the winner’s circle for the Grand Prix Adult Amateur Freestyle Championship as the only combination in the hard-fought class to earn 70% and claim the Calaveras County Perpetual Trophy.
After a fifth-place finish in the previous day’s Grand Prix class, Tidd was determined to improve on her performance for the freestyle. “I was super excited about today and wanted to get him to be a little bit sharper and more expressive, and just really go for it out there,” Tidd explained. “And he rose to the occasion and was just a super good boy. I feel like his collected work and piaffe are very strong, plus he’s a solid citizen and really does not have any big holes.
“He’s my first Grand Prix horse and he’s so talented,” Tidd continued. “We’re learning all of this together and now I’m just trying to fine-tune things and get out of him what he is truly capable of. I remember thinking on the drive here that it would be such a wonderful storybook ending for us to win this year, and here we are. Plus he’s only 12 which is relatively young for a Grand Prix horse, so hopefully we have a long way to go and many more trips back to the Finals.”
Family Tradition for Vashti in Winning Grand Prix Open Freestyle
The Grand Prix Open Freestyle Championship was a fight to the finish as 23 of the country’s top horse-and-rider combinations sought to claim the top honors. As one of the last exhibitors to enter the Alltech Arena, Kristen Wasemiller-Knutson of Oklahoma City, Okla. (Region 9) brought the crowd to its feet aboard her 12-year-old Friesian Warmblood cross mare Vashti (Nico x Thekla by Onassis, bred in the U.S. by Sherry Koella) as the pair earned 74.275% for their “The Grinch That Stole Christmas”-themed freestyle.
The victory was the continuation of a family tradition in the Finals Grand Prix Open Freestyle division as Vashti’s half-sister Adiah HP won the last three editions (2017-2019) with rider James Koford. After finishing second to Adiah HP in 2019, this year was Vashti’s time to shine.
“It is a fantastic feeling to win this and I have not stopped smiling. Everyone is sending me texts and emails and it’s so exciting,” said Wasemiller-Knutson. “Over the last year with COVID, we really worked on polishing our basics to get a solid, clean test. She is a great showman in the arena, but in the beginning of the year she would get a bit tense going into the arena. Now we’ve gotten over that and she really gets into the performance, staying soft and happy while still having that feeling of a little extra excitement. Tonight she was super with the crowd and the atmosphere of the arena, and I couldn’t be more proud.”
Persistence Pays Off for Abrams in Intermediate I Open Freestyle
After unfortunately finishing out of the ribbons in her first class at the US Dressage Finals, Katherine Abrams of Pembroke, Va. (Region 1) was “shocked and delighted” to find herself leading the victory lap for the Intermediate I Open Freestyle aboard Terry Abrams’ 12-year-old Oldenburg mare Reina after earning a top score of 72.633% for their Madonna-themed performance. When the final scores were tallied, the top nine finishers all scored over 70%.
“I’ve come to the Finals a couple of times before with a Lusitano and a Quarter Horse but have never even placed, and now I’m here for the first time with Reina but once again didn’t get a ribbon in yesterday’s Intermediate I test,” said Abrams. “So I’m in a state of disbelief to see today’s results, but I guess I shouldn’t be because she is amazing and is the most trainable horse I’ve ever had. Because of COVID we couldn’t show last year so we spent all of our time just training at home and now it’s paid off. Every day she just gets better and better and I feel so lucky to have a horse of this caliber. She’s just like a dream horse for me.”
Chanca Stays the Course to Win Intermediate I Adult Amateur Freestyle Championship
A slight bobble at the start of their test did not deter Anartz Chanca (Region 9) and his 9-year-old Oldenburg gelding Dazzle from trotting into the winner’s circle in the Intermediate I Adult Amateur Freestyle with a top score of 69.942%.
“Yesterday in our Intermediate I test in the Rolex Arena, and it was very windy with the judges’ tents flapping a bit so he was a little worried about his surroundings, but still really tried to listen to me,” Chanca explained. “Then again today he was a little distracted at first so we missed one of the changes at the start, but he just kept looking to me for direction as if to say ‘okay, what do I do now?’, so I am very proud of him. He’s such a fighter and has a very big heart.”
Working as business executive in Houston, Texas when not in the saddle, this was the first trip to the Finals for Chanca and his wife, who also competed in the open divisions as a professional. “We have three young children at home, a 1-year-old and 7-year-old twins,” Chanca noted. “It takes a lot of work to balance work and family with riding and competing, and we are so thankful to have such a great support system to be able to do this.”
Zwilling Returns to Finals to Claim New Title in Second Level Open Freestyle
Two years ago, Brianna Zwilling of Wentzville, Mo. (Region 4) and Sally Miller’s Dutch Warmblood For Dea Bella were the talk of the town after earning an impressive score of 80.111% to win the First Level Open Freestyle title. Now the pair returned to the Kentucky Horse Park and successfully earned championship honors yet again, this time moving up to the Second Level Open Freestyle with 73.967%.
“It’s really fun to be here for two different years and win at two different levels, and I was very pleased with her today,” said Zwilling of the now 11-year-old mare (Don Schufro x A Royal Diamond by Royal Diamond, bred in the U.S. by Wendy Sherlock). “We had a little bit of a struggle outside with the weather on Thursday in our warm-up class, but she was on the ball today and even though I had a couple of little bobbles, it was all from her trying too hard to give me good things.”
Featuring music from Enya, the pair showed off their new freestyle which worked towards the mare’s strengths. “Two years ago the judges loved her suppleness, so that was something I definitely wanted to emphasize once again in freestyle,” Zwilling explained. “So with the music we tried to find something that was really complimentary to her softness and beauty – her understated beauty rather than ‘in your face’ loud. Also with the choreography I tried to get it to match the music, being very fluid and soft and curvy and still match what we are doing, and I think it turned out very well.”
A Love of Music Gives Sachs Victory in Fourth Level Adult Amateur Freestyle
It may have been cold and breezy as twilight began to fall over the Murphy Arena, but Penelope Sachs of Evanston, Ill. (Region 4) was enjoying her ride too much to notice. A lover of music, Sachs plays the viola with the Evanston Symphony Orchestra, but at the Finals she experienced music in a different way aboard her 11-year-old Westfalen gelding Frisbee 55 (Fifty Cent x Pherenice by Polarpunkt, bred in the U.S. by Bridget Albers) as they danced to victory in the Fourth Level Adult Amateur Freestyle with a top score of 71.994%.
“We had our first concert last week after COVID, and I’m so relieved that it was last weekend so I didn’t have to choose whether to be with the orchestra or come to the Finals,” Sachs laughed. “Obviously freestyles are the perfect fit for me. I use music from the movie The Sting, and I just love it. I really get into it, and the music just helps you know what to do in the arena, and then it’s like you become part of the horse and part of the music. When you find the right music it all comes together.”
Meanwhile in the Second Level Adult Amateur Freestyle Championship, Sally O’Dwyer of Boulder, Colo. (Region 5) rode her 8-year-old Hanoverian mare Rayme (Ridley x White Pearl, bred in the U.S. by Chris Rush) to a victory with a score of 71.011%.
LaGoy-Weltz Rides Future Star to Win Fourth Level Open Championship
As a High Performance Grand Prix rider, Olivia LaGoy-Weltz of Haymarket, Va. (Region 1) is no stranger to the biggest shows in the country and the world. So several years ago, she got to experience the Finals for the first time when she attended with a client. “It was so cold that year, I swore I would never come again,” LaGoy-Weltz laughed. “This fall I qualified at Regionals but of course I wasn’t planning on coming here until my coach suggested I do it to give my horse the experience.”
Despite her initial reluctance, LaGoy-Weltz’s decision to enter the Finals paid off as she claimed the Fourth Level Open Championship with her 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare ICI Bria VCG with 73.148%. “Sure enough we were in the Rolex Arena and once again it was cold, but I did dress more appropriately this time and I have to say it was much more fun being here,” she admitted. “We came with the purpose of getting my mare more miles, and she did as we literally walked all over the Horse Park. She took everything in stride, but she is a little hot in a good way like a driving a finicky sportscar, with all this power she doesn’t quite know how to use yet. We hope that she will become an international-level horse, so being in this environment has been super for her.”
Tarjan Takes Home One Last Title in Winning Third Level Adult Amateur Championship
Alice Tarjan of Oldwick, N.J. (Region 1) put one last feather in her cap with a win at Third Level Adult Amateur Championship aboard her 6-year-old Oldenburg mare Summersby II with 72.417%. The victory came on the heels of the previous day’s win in the Fourth Level division, and capped off an accomplished career in young horse classes where Summersby II finished as Reserve Champion as both a 4 and 5-year-old at the 2019/2020 Markel/USEF National Young Horse Dressage Championships, as well as placing third in this year’s 6-year-old division.
“Today she did all the hard work of the test very well and we had some bobbles in the easy parts of the test,” Tarjan laughed. “But overall my mare was super once again today. She was a little difficult as a youngster but this year she’s really started to mature and come into herself, and that makes me excited about her future.”
Barteau and Gallagher Win First Level Titles
In the First Level Open Championship, Kassandra Barteau of Bell, Fla. (Region 3) capped off a spectacular season by taking the win aboard her 7-year-old Oldenburg gelding Falling Skies (76.991%), who was recently crowned as the 2021 Adequan®/USDF Horse of the Year for First Level.
“He came into my life about a year-and-a-half ago through my parents’ rescue organization Horses Without Humans,” Barteau explained. “Since then he’s become a real family horse, and even my three-year-old daughter plays with him. He has a sweet soul. We have aspirations to continue to move up the levels but there’s no rush – he needs to be ready for what we give him, and that takes time as we continue to build his confidence. I couldn’t be happier with his performance.
In the First Level Adult Amateur division, Bethany Gallagher of Nashville, Tenn. (Region 3) topped a field of 44 competitors to take home the championship sash with a score of 74.630% earned aboard Lloyd’s Legacy, a 5-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Rubignon x Daula by Freestyle) owned by Jennifer Thompson and bred in the U.S. by Karen Dunn.
Franks and Fruchterman Win First Junior/Young Rider Titles Presented at Finals
For the first time, a Junior/Young Rider championship division was added to the Finals for Training through Fourth Levels, and taking home the very first title was 13-year-old Elise Franks of Thompson’s Station, Tenn. (Region 3) who won the First Level Junior/Young Rider Championship with a score of 71.250% earned aboard the 14-year-old Oldenburg gelding Syrtaki (Sir Donnerhall x Rhwanda by Rotspon, bred in the U.S. by Maureen Swanson and owned by Rachel Franks).
“I’ve never been to the Finals before, and I probably wouldn’t have if they didn’t have the new division,” Franks admitted. “Today Syrtaki had a very big spook in the warm-up and my mom was a little scared, but it gave me more motivation to go in the ring and make sure he did what he was supposed to do! He ended up being very good in the test, really listening and trusting me. The extensions were my favorite part, especially because they’ve been a little tough for us but we’ve learned ways to do them well. I realize that this is quite an achievement to win here and I hope to be back again next year at Second Level.”
The addition of the Junior/Young Rider divisions also influenced Ella Fruchterman’s decision to come to the Finals, where she earned the Third Level Championship with her 10-year-old Danish Warmblood Holts Le’mans (L’Espoir x Lady Anabell by De Noir) on the strength of a score of 70.125%.
“My trainers have qualified for the Finals in the past but I have never been able to come, so with this being the inaugural year for the Junior/Young Rider divisions I was really excited to finally be a part of it,” said the 17-year-old high school senior from West Lakeland, Minn. (Region 2). “Competing in the Rolex Arena was a great experience, all the while thinking about all the legendary horses and riders who have ridden in that ring. My horse was only imported about a year ago so we haven’t been together that long and I didn’t have any expectations coming here, but it was our best ride of the season and he gave me a great feeling.”