Ots and Hassler Come Away With First Wins of U.S. Festival of Champions

Wayne, Ill. – Aug. 18, 2020 – With a schedule spread out over six days of competition, two divisions of the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions held their first classes Tuesday at the Lamplight Equestrian Center. The reigning champion of the division Endel Ots rode away with the week’s first blue ribbon on Sonnenberg’s Everdance in the Prix St. Georges for the USEF Intermediaire Dressage National Championship while Sara Hassler topped the Intermediate II for the USEF Young Adult ‘Brentina Cup’ Dressage National Championship on Harmony’s Boitano.

Endel Ots and Sonnenberg’s Everdance

In previous years, Ots has dominated the competition aboard his 3-time national champion Lucky Strike, but this year Ots brought a new mount to the championship. Earning a 74.941% in the Prix St. Georges test, he rode Sonnenberg Farm LLC’s 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Sonnenberg’s Everdance (Johnson-Raindancer S, Zeoliet). The US-bred mare was previously competed in the Pacific Northwest under the tutelage of Michele Bondy but Ots took over the ride in early 2020. The new pair debuted together during the Adequan Global Dressage Festival where they were undefeated and the lowest score they have earned together so far is a 73.676%.

‘I was very happy with her today — she is always very solid in the ring and tries hard for me,” Ots explained. “Her canter work is always nice and she has a very clear trot and walk. It’s really fun — I don’t have to think too much. I just have to plan and try to stay as accurate as I can and she really does the work.”

Endel Ots and Sonnenberg’s Everdance

The preparation leading up to the championship was unusual due to the uncertainty of coronavirus restrictions, but Ots kept his game plan light.

“She’s been consistent all year. We keep things really playful so we don’t work a lot on the tests — a lot of transitions, keeping her in balance,” he continued. “Especially with the coronavirus and not knowing if this was going to happen or not, we just toned down the work a little bit. I was always planning on showing here, so I kept the idea that I wanted her to do well here and compete here, but I always want her happy with her work, so that was my main focus.”

Callie Jones and Don Philippo

Callie Jones, double-gold Young Rider medalist of the 2019 Adequan® FEI North American Youth Championships and the 2018 USEF Young Rider Dressage National Champion, placed second in the class with a 71.824%. She aged out of the Young Rider division last year and Tuesday’s test on her longtime partner, Don Philippo, a 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding, marks her first time competing in a senior division national championship outside of Freestyle classes.

Making the trip from Encinitas, California, David Blake finished the Prix St. Georges in third place with a 71.324% on Heide Spirit, his 10-year-old Oldenburg mare. The division continues Wednesday, Aug. 19 with the Intermediate I and will conclude Friday, Aug. 21 with the Intermediate I Freestyle.

In the Intermediate II for the USEF Young Adult ‘Brentina Cup’ Dressage National Championship that followed, Sara Hassler took home the top placing aboard Leslie Malone’s 14-year-old KWPN gelding Harmony’s Boitano. After placing third in last year’s USEF Intermediaire I Dressage National Championship, the pair returned to the ring this year to compete in the Under-25 division with more Grand Prix work under their belt. With the extra time off this year due to the coronavirus, Hassler took the time to build her mount’s strength and confidence in the fundamentals with even bigger goals in mind.

Sara Hassler and Harmony's Boitano
Sara Hassler and Harmony’s Boitano

“We’re really lucky and grateful to be in the USEF Dressage Development Program, and we are hoping we can make it to Aachen next year,” Hassler said. “That’s our plan. It’s looking pretty good, he’s such a willing and strong horse and he loves his job. He gets in the ring and his ears go straight up, he says ‘lets’ do it.’ I feel like the sky’s the limit for him, so Aachen is my big goal right now and then we’ll see what happens after that.” 

Hassler was elated with the performance that she and Harmony’s Boitano offered today to earn them a score of 69.853%, reminiscing on just how far they had come together in just over a year of their partnership. 

Sara Hassler and Harmony's Boitano
Sara Hassler and Harmony’s Boitano

“We’re focusing on having a clean test, we don’t want to push him too hard as he is so new at this,” she explained. “I would have to say his walk is his greatest improvement from last year, before it was really tough getting him to breathe. There is so much horse there and he has so much talent, you almost have to say ‘I know you’re special, now just take it easy.’ I was really proud of him today, it’s nice when the homework pays off in the ring.

“We didn’t start putting movements in [the training] for a long time, we just worked on getting him strong so he could handle the workload,” Hassler continued. “Because of the injuries that he had a few years ago, we just like to take it slow and safe with him. His health and happiness comes first for us. It actually worked well for us that we didn’t have to go out and push him at a show, because we really like to make sure he is good first. It paid off because he is just so happy now. My dad and I were talking about how nice it is to see people and horses, it’s just magical. It picks me up so much in the sport of dressage seeing other people ride; it makes you want to do better. You can see the best of who came here — it’s so inspiring and we’re really happy to be here.”

Kerrigan Gluch and Vaquero HGF
Kerrigan Gluch and Vaquero HGF

Finishing in second place for the day was Kerrigan Gluch and Vaquero HGF, a 13-year-old PRE gelding owned by Hampton Green Farm. Gluch and Vaquero HGF, partnered together for five years now, have competed on Youth Nations Cup teams for the U.S. twice, and placed fifth overall in last year’s ‘Brentina Cup’ Championship at Lamplight. Earning a score of 68.147%, the pair is starting off on the right foot going into the remainder of this week’s competition.

Emily Smith and her own mount Quantum Jazz, an 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding, rounded out the top three for the day with a score of 65.588%. Competition will resume Wednesday, Aug. 19, at 8 a.m. with the FEI Grand Prix 16-25 test for the USEF ‘Brentina Cup’ Dressage National Championship.

Emily Smith and Quantum Jazz
Emily Smith and Quantum Jazz

Results: Prix St. Georges for the USEF Intermediaire Dressage National Championship
Rider / Horse / Owner / Total Score
1. Endel Ots / Sonnenberg’s Everdance / Sonnenberg Farm LLC / 74.941
2. Callie Jones / Don Philippo / Callie Jones / 71.824
3. David Blake / Heide Spirit / David Blake / 71.324
4. Jami Kment / Gatino Van Hof Olympia / Jami Kment / 70.824
5. Dawn White-O’Connor / El Torro B / Mary Keenan / 68.882
6. Emily Donaldson / Audi / Emily Donaldson / 67.735

Results: Intermediate II for the USEF ‘Brentina Cup’ Dressage National Championship
Rider / Horse / Owner / Total Score
1. Sara Hassler / Harmony’s Boitano / Leslie Malone / 69.853
2. Kerrigan Gluch / Vaquero HGF / Hampton Green Farm / 68.147
3. Emily Smith / Quantum Jazz / Emily Smith / 65.588
4. Rebecca Roman / Ultimo / Nancy Roman / 65.324
5. Emily Smith / Dublin / Emily Smith / 65.088
6. Kaylee Christensen / Chateau 28 / Kaylee Christensen / 63.382
7. Mary Fischer / Xama Dos Pinhais / Mary Fischer / 62.559

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