Wayne, Ill. – Aug. 23, 2020 – Riders competing for the USEF Grand Prix Dressage National Championship took to the ring one last time on Sunday at the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions, this time performing their individual freestyle routines.
Alice Tarjan and her own mount Candescent, a 10-year-old Hanoverian mare, started out leading the division after their Grand Prix performance at the start of the week, earning a score of 71.478%. However, they were eliminated following their Grand Prix Special Test on Saturday due to Candescent biting her tongue and drawing blood, making way for Jennifer Schrader-Williams and Millione to take over the lead. On Sunday afternoon, Schrader-Williams put her best foot forward with Millione, a 17-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding owned by Millione Partners LLC, to earn a score of 75.355% for their freestyle. They earned a total score of 70.824% to seal the win.
“I came out of that arena with tears of joy and gratitude,” she said. “We’ve been working so hard and long. My first year at Festival was in 2005 and I’ve wanted one of these coolers for 15 years. To have this opportunity, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for this horse. He is 17 this year and he continues to get better. He has an incredible amount of try and he comes out every day loving his job. I’m profoundly grateful for that. It’s been a really great day. I wanted to come out knowing I rode it well. The score was amazing and a cherry on top, but we were in unison and he was relaxed. There was enough power and I could relax and smile between the movements. We really enjoyed ourselves.”
Schrader-Williams explained that their freestyle on Sunday featured the same choreography as when they debuted it in Wellington earlier this year, but that was the only opportunity they had to showcase it before traveling to the championships this year.
“We had a lot of difficult movements put closely together,” she said. “One of his strong movements is the piaffe-passage and he has a really good ability of relaxing quickly in the extended walk. We did an extended trot into a piaffe pirouette right into an extended walk. He does that really well showing the judges he can have power and then go right into a relaxed state. He pulled that off today. If something goes wrong there are not a lot of places to fix things and not room to repeat and have another crack at things, so the only way it works out is if you nail everything. He kept it clean today.”
With the uncertainty of the year due to the pandemic cancelling the majority of the world’s sporting events, Schrader-Williams was hesitant to commit to attending the national championships this year. However, she is grateful she did because she will be heading home with her first national championship title, plus her first reserve national championship title she won earlier on Sunday on Joppe K in the Markel/USEF Six-Year-Old Dressage National Championship.
“Millione has always been a horse that I’ve wanted to capitalize on and learn how to be in the big ring,” For me, this is a huge opportunity to get in front of the judges and I didn’t want to miss that due to his age. The future is uncertain and I don’t know how he will feel in six months and I only will go as long as he is happy and loving the job. I always had the plan to come here but I did get nervous when Pony Finals was cancelled. One of the horses is 100% mine and it was scary to be committing to all that money but at the end of the day we knew we were going to follow the rules set by USEF and hoped everyone would to in order to keep the show going.”
Schrader-Williams expressed how grateful she has been for the support she has received to help her along in her competitive career. In 2018, Williams was selected to ride in a USEF Developing Rider session conducted by Debbie McDonald and Lilo Fore resulting in her and her mount, Millione, being named to the USA Dressage Developing Rider list. McDonald set performance goals for Williams and those goals included hitting minimum scores at CDIs with an invitation to train in Wellington. Thanks to a grant from The Dressage Foundation’s Debbie McDonald Fund for Pacific Northwest FEI Riders and with support from her husband and Millione’s Syndicate owners, Tina and Bob Desroche, she was ready to take her riding to the next level in Wellington.
In 2019, Schrader-Williams and Millione finished with the third place ribbon in the division, and she was determined to come back and improve her performance the next year. At this year’s Festival of Champions, she was finally able to reach some of her long held goals and take home her first national championship win and her first reserve championship title.
“I really have a special team, not only of owners, but of the folks who stay back at home, grooming and taking care of the sales horses,” Schrader-Williams said. “My husband was sending me FaceTime photos from this morning with the 5-year-old watching my ride. Many of my horses are owned by several people so it was important to keep everyone really connected and enjoying the experience since they couldn’t come this time. It makes it special.”
Nora Batchelder and W Gangster Girl, a 17-year-old American Warmblood mare, took home the reserve championship with a total of 69.105%. The pair was awarded a 73.275% for their freestyle performance.
“I’ve been competing with her for about a year, but have known her for a really long time,” Batchelder explained. “She was bought for a client, Sally Seaver. Lately I’ve had the opportunity to compete her. We were not expecting to do this well. We were coming because I’ve never competed in the Grand Prix division at Festival of Champions. I’ve done Developing Grand Prix and the Intermediate I but never the open Grand Prix so it’s a dream come true to be here. We were coming to participate, and to get to wear the reserve champion cooler is amazing.
“I thought we had a really good ride today,” she continued. “We’ve never done the three tests together in one weekend so I thought she was really good. I went down centerline and she went ‘I’m a little bit tired,’ but I asked her to dig deep and she said ‘Ok!’. I was proud of her. The freestyle we did today was actually made for another little Grand Prix mare I have but it fits her better. We repurposed it for her and she seems to enjoy the music. We could have had a little more pizazz in the piaffe and passage but our canter work was really clean. She tried really hard for me today.
“We do some piaffe-pirouettes that are hard [in the freestyle] and some difficult transitions like extended trot into piaffe pirouette. Canter-passage transitions. One of the hardest things for us is not technically hard but it’s difficult for us — passage directly into a half-pass because she sometimes gets confused and thinks it’s the Grand Prix and she should canter. We have to be careful in that moment.”
Taking home third place was Katie Poag and Zonnekoning, her own 16-year-old KWPN stallion, earning a total score of 67.121%.
Results: USEF Grand Prix Dressage National Championship
Rider / Horse / Owner / Grand Prix (45%) / Grand Prix Special (40%) / Grand Prix Freestyle (15%) / Total
1. Jennifer Schrader Williams / Millione / 70.5 / 69.489 / 75.355 / 70.824
2. Nora Batchelder / W Gangster Girl / 68.848 / 67.83 / 73.275 / 69.105
3. Katie Poag / Zonnekoning / Katie Poag / 65.522 / 67.106 / 71.955 / 67.121
4. Dawn White-O’Connor / Bailarino / 59.739 / 67.787 / 71.475 / 64.719
5. Patricia Becker / Freedom / 63.783 / 63.83 / 69.62 / 64.677 / 6. Alice Tarjan / Candescent / Alice Tarjan / 71.478 / ELIM / ELIM
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