LEXINGTON, Ky. — All equestrians know that life with horses can be an emotional roller coaster. Riders from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York rode that roller coaster all the way the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan, held Nov. 8-11 in Lexington, Ky.

“With all the ups come some pretty big downs,” said Gimbel, Amy Gimbel of Tewksbury Township, N.J., who owns the nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Eye Candy (UB-40 x Wednesday by Weltmeyer, bred in the U.S. by Judy Barrett). “After Regionals two years ago, I was looking forward to coming back to the Finals after doing so well in both 2014 and 2015. But one day she came in from the field and wasn’t quite right. What we thought was cellulitis ended up being a much bigger issue with a serious injury to her foot. We spent the winter hand walking and she was laid up for eight months. It took so much time and patience, all the while wondering if she’d ever be able to come back. But here we are finally, and I feel so lucky to be here.”

The pair made up for lost time in Lexington, earning Reserve Championship honors in the Fourth Level Adult Amateur Championship. Gimbel, who works in the insurance field when not in the saddle, was delighted with Eye Candy and their second-place score of 67.407%. “We had some nice moments as well as some tense moments, but overall I was pleased,” Gimbel noted.

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Improving upon that performance the next day to claim the Fourth Level Freestyle Adult Amateur Championship with 71.467%. “She can be a little sassy and sometimes I never know where that sass will come out, so we built our freestyle to allow for some flexibility,” Gimbel said with a laugh. “But despite it being unbelievably cold, Candy was a little more relaxed today and we were both very focused, and we were able to stick to our choreography.”


Romantico SF Bounces Back To Claim Intermediate I Open Championship

Over the course of more than four straight hours of hard-fought competition in the Alltech Arena on Nov. 9, competitors battled for top honors in the Intermediate I Open Championship. With a score of 72.157%, ultimate victor Heather Mason of Tewksbury Township, N.J. (Region 8) explained how her 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding Romantico SF (Romancero H x Wesermelodie by Wenzel I) had already proven to be the winner of a much bigger battle — for his life.

“He was laid up for a year with an injury, and I only had about two rides on him when he went in for colic surgery the week after I returned home from last year’s Finals,” Mason said. “But amazingly here we are. He’s not an easy horse, which is how I originally ended up with him for just a dollar. But he was great today: the first medium trot was a little bit tentative, but as we got more comfortable in there he was very good. His canter work is generally strong, his pirouettes were very solid, and his zig-zag was good. He’s back and better than ever.”

Mason was also delighted to earn reserve championship honors in the Grand Prix Open Freestyle with her 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Warsteiner (Riverman-ISF x Welona by Roemer) on 71.542%. “He was super, I’m so happy with him,” Mason said. “He’s just a lot of fun. His energy level was good — we did 22 one-tempi’s, and I stopped counting the two’s. He was just really good in general.”

Tarjan Wins George W. Wagner Jr. Perpetual Trophy

After emerging victorious in the Intermediate II Adult Amateur division on day one, Alice Tarjan of Oldwick, N.J. clinched another title with her eight-year-old Hanoverian mare Candescent (Christ x Farina by Falkenstern II). The pair returned to the winner’s circle in the Grand Prix Adult Amateur Championship with a score of 64.203% to claim the new George W. Wagner Jr. Perpetual Trophy (presented by the International Georgian Grande Horse Registry). “She was on fire in the warm-up,” said Tarjan. “Even though we had a couple of mistakes today, I’m thrilled because she’s a young horse and the quality keeps getting better and better. She’s so much better than she was just six months ago.”

Tarjan then braved the cold in the Stonelea Arena as part of a field of almost 30 top horses and riders from across the country in the Third Level Adult Amateur Championship. Turns out, the only one Tarjan had to beat was herself as she earned both Champion (75.043%) and Reserve Champion (74.017%) honors with her seven-year-old Oldenburg mare Donatella M (Furstenball x Dorina by Jazz Time) and six-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion Harvest (Connaisseur x Naomi by Ulft), respectively.

“Here’s a funny story: I received a new helmet after winning (the day before) with Candescent, and I asked the representative if it had good luck, and she said ‘yes it does’, so I wore it today and clearly it worked,” Tarjan said with a laugh. “I had a bit of an eventful start with Donatella this morning because busy warm-up areas are hard for her to deal with, and then she took offense to a Kentucky Horse Park police horse and got so upset she was rearing in the warm-up. But then once she was in the ring she was fine. Harvest is such an incredibly good boy and very different from Donatella. He’s like a computer: whatever you put in is what you get out. There’s nothing lost in translation. He’s so straightforward — you just kick, he grunts, and off he goes.”

Tarjan admitted that choosing to compete at the Finals in the Third Level division was a bit unusual for her, even though the venture proved successful. “I usually concentrate on the young horse classes because I like to focus more on their development and gaits as opposed to being too technical,” she explained. “When I look for a horse, I have a certain type and presence that I like, and I know it when I see it. Then I enjoy teaching them how to show off the brilliance that’s inside of them, and I do it by focusing on bringing out movement, not necessarily dwelling on correctness of technique. It may be a little different way of approaching things, but it works for me.”

Trajan also helped region 1 win the US Dressage Finals Regions Cup, vying with competitors from across the country for awards and bragging rights for their respective USDF Region in which they qualified to attend the Finals. Coming out on top after four days of championship competition was the Region 1 team comprised of Michael Bragdell and SenSation HW in First Level Open; Tarjan and Donatella M for Third Level Adult Amateur; and Lucy Tidd with Ellert HB in the Intermediate I Adult Amateur division. Their winning average score of 71.877% just edged out reserve champions Region 4 with 71.306%, with Region 2 finishing in third on 70.531%.

Special Journey Earns Elgart Second Level Adult Amateur Freestyle Title

When Mindy Elgart of Philadelphia, Pa. (Region 1) first saw her horse Spaniard (Sinatra Song x Russian Roulette by Rouletto, bred in the U.S. by High Point Hanoverians), he was just a tiny foal featured in an e-mail. Little did she know that six years later, the 17-hand Oldenburg gelding would help her win a national title in the Second Level Adult Amateur Freestyle Championship with a score of 70.922% at the US Dressage Finals.

“I bought Spaniard when he was just four months old,” Elgart said. “I first saw a photo of him in an e-mail from the breeder, so we went there to look at several babies including him. He was very plain, but I just had to have him. So I’ve had him since he was a little guy, but he’s not so little anymore!”

Elgart credits the close relationship nurtured with Spaniard over the years with helping them win their first national championship. “He’s so big that he’s been a little slow to develop — I started him later and it’s definitely been a journey to bring him along, and not always an easy one,” she explained. “But he’s as sweet as can be and I always feel safe with him, and I think there’s a special bond that develops when you have them from the time they’re that young. He seemed very relaxed today, and I think he really likes the music. I felt like I could go for it and ask for everything, and he seemed to be showing off and having fun.”

20-Year-Old Horse Wins Two Championships

Kristin Herzing of Harrisburg, Pa. (Region 1) and her Hanoverian gelding Gentleman (Grusus x Rumpelstilzchen by Raphael, bred in the U.S. by Kathryn and Jeffrey Nesbit) earned two Reserve Championships.

Herzing and Gentleman have been together for 15 years, and traveled to Kentucky this year for their fourth US Dressage Finals. The pair’s persistence paid off with reserve champion honors in the Grand Prix Adult Amateur division with 61.667%. “Coming to the Finals is on my list of goals every year,” Herzing said. “I’m so pleased with my horse today. He may be 20 years old but he is a bit of a nervous type. He knows his job and the test, so I just try to keep him calm and steady. I knew I needed to have a clean test, and we did.”

In the Adult Amateur Freestyle the pair scored a 63.142%. “He was a little grumpy today starting out, but we’ve been together so long, we’re like an old married couple — we have our little spats but always go home together,” said Herzing with a chuckle. “He felt pretty solid but was a little opinionated in his tempi changes — he put the ‘free’ in freestyle. I try to make it a goal to come to Finals every year, and we’ve gotten better and better each time. I love the camaraderie and the opportunity to ride with such wonderful riders who push you to be better.”

 “Worker Bee” Nicene Wins First Level Adult Amateur Freestyle Title

After earning a Reserve Championship in the Second Level Adult Amateur Freestyle division, Region 8’s Alexandra Krossen of Basking Ridge, N.J. and the six-year-old Oldenburg mare Nicene (Nimbus x Pamela by Portofino, owned and bred in the U.S. by Heather Mason) improved upon that performance to win the First Level Adult Amateur Freestyle Championship with 72.700%.

Krossen has a longtime association with Nicene. She was there when the mare was born. “She was the first foal I ever saw born, but I never thought I’d ride her because she was not an easy baby. She is a chestnut mare in every sense of the word. But she is also a worker when you ride her and usually doesn’t put a foot wrong,” Krossen said after winning the reserve championship.

After clinching the championship on the final day, “Like I said yesterday, she may definitely act like a ‘chestnut mare’ on the ground, but she is such a worker bee under saddle,” Krossen laughed. “I still had plenty of horse today — she’s like the Energizer Bunny — energy is never a problem! Her trot felt great today, very ‘up’ and she was trying so hard, and it paid off today. My freestyle music features the song ‘Dangerous’ by David Guetta, and at first I thought it might be a little risky because it includes lyrics. But now I really like it — for instance, the lyrics say ‘hold on tight’ during our canter circle, so as long as I hit my music I think it’s cute.”

Kerry Rose of Middletown, N.Y. (Region 8) and her 11-year-old Percheron/Dutch Harness Cross gelding Benjamin Blue have been coming to the Finals for four years, and this time they took home a Reserve Championship with 72.278%. “He’s actually an ex-Amish driving horse,” Rose explained. “Five years ago I was looking for a dressage horse but they’re so expensive, so I thought, why not look at driving horses? I saw him and loved him, but he didn’t know how to canter or steer when I got him, or what leg aids were. We look forward to the Finals every year and always hope to qualify, because we treat it as a family vacation.”

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