LEXINGTON, Ky. — With multiple titles already to her credit, Heather Mason of Tewksbury Township, N.J. knows her way around victory lane at the US Dressage Finals.

Once again, she had no problem finding her way there with her 12-year-old Oldenburg gelding RTF Lincoln on a top score of 72.852% to win the Fourth Level Open Championship at the finals held Nov. 9 to 12 in Kentucky.

“I’ve known this horse since he was born,” said Mason. “He was reserve champion at Third Level at the inaugural Finals in 2013, but the next year he hurt himself and was out of competition for two years. But now he’s back in the ring and better than ever. His amateur owner sold him to me for a dollar last year because she had to have hip replacement surgery, and she knew he wouldn’t be the right fit for her after that. But she felt like he’d be in good hands with me, and she’s even here cheering us on. It’s a great situation for everyone. This is such an exciting show to come to — we love this show and come every year, and I have a bunch of clients who also like to come. It’s challenging, but everyone gets a lot out of the experience and I look forward to bringing Lincoln back for the small tour next year.”

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Mason and RTF Lincoln followed up on their previous day’s Fourth Level Open Championship win to claim reserve freestyle honors at this level on a score of 72.767%. “He was a bit spooky going around the outside of the ring, but he was great once we started,” said Mason. “His changes were great and he got his pirouettes — he’s just a happy horse.”

But Mason wasn’t done quite yet — she also added the First Level Freestyle Open Championship to her roster of successes from the 2017 US Dressage Finals. Riding Anne St. Martin’s five-year-old Canadian Warmblood gelding Enlighteningh (Polansky x Flemmingo 777 by Flemmingh), Mason scored 73.467% for yet another national title. “I thought he was super today, he was more relaxed, we were right with the music and he rode really well,” Mason said. “This is a freestyle I got about 15 years ago, and it’s tried and true and has worked well with various horses I’ve had over the years. It has a high degree of difficulty with a change of lead through trot to counter canter, and it suited this horse. He belongs to a client for whom I recommended that she buy this horse sight unseen, and she did. He’s recovered from colic surgery about two years ago and the owner became pregnant this year, so I have the ride for now. Hopefully she’ll have him back here herself in the adult amateur division next year, where I think she’ll do really well.”

Earlier in the weekend, For Adult Amateurs in the Intermediate I Freestyle Championship, 2016 reserve champions Alexandra Krossen of Basking Ridge, N.J. and Mason’s 11-year-old Hanoverian cross mare Damani (Duvall x Godiva by Gesandt, bred in the U.S. by Virginia Godfrey) came back to Kentucky to claim the top title with 70.842%. “She was amazing — she was very calm and collected, which isn’t always the way she is so it was a nice surprise,” Krossen said. “She was totally with me and did everything I could have asked. She has really good flying changes, so I did my 3’s on a circle and my 2’s down centerline to really show them off, and our pirouettes have gotten a lot better this year as well.”

Newcomer Wins

Just two years ago, Maia Barnes of Ringoes, N.J. had never ridden dressage when she purchased her now 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Benvica (Sandreo x Renieta by Jazz), but the pair started at Training Level and moved up together, and on Friday claimed the Fourth Level Adult Amateur Championship with a score of 69.889%. “It’s come together really well, really fast. I never thought I’d be here like this, but it’s been a lot of fun and a terrific learning experience for both of us,” Barnes said. “My horse has been a little sluggish lately, so we went into the warmup with the hopes that he would be a little more ‘up’ and ready to go with the cold and the wind. Luckily he was, so he was very good in the ring and we didn’t have any mistakes.”

From Eventing Championships To Dressage Finals

Just two months earlier, Sandra Holden of Pleasantville, N.Y. experienced the thrills of competing in the national spotlight as she and her 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding Cano Cristales galloped to a top-three finish in the Training division of the American Eventing Championships (AEC’s) in Tryon, N.C. The pair then finished ninth at the National Dressage Finals at fourth level.

Holden found her equine superstar seven years ago in Texas. “My daughters were part of Pony Club and were focused on eventing, so I wanted to be involved in what they were doing,” she said. “He was the very first horse I looked at and I felt a special connection with him right from the start. He is the most amazing horse ever born who never hesitates to try so hard to do everything I ask. He’s my horse of a lifetime, and I could talk all day about him.”

After more than 20 years in real estate, Holden now devotes her time to running her own boarding stable in New York State and pursues a blossoming eventing career aboard Cano Cristales, which paid off with a victory in the Beginner Novice national championship at the AEC’s in their third outing together in 2011. The pair also embarked on their pursuit of dressage at First Level, and currently compete at Fourth Level and Prix St. Georges. On Saturday, Holden and Cano Cristales will compete for the Fourth Level Adult Amateur Championship at the US Dressage Finals after earning an invitation by placing at the Great American/USDF Region 8 Championship in Saugerties.

“I love the thrill of eventing, but dressage is the most intense and precise thing you can do with a horse. We take it very seriously and when it comes to the Finals, I’m a ‘repeat customer,’” said Holden with a laugh, who once again drove herself and her horse more than 15 hours to Lexington for their third trip to the Finals. “I am very goal-oriented. Two of my goals every year are to try to make it to the AEC’s and the US Dressage Finals as they represent the top of each sport and are what I set my sights on.  It is an honor to be here competing at the Kentucky Horse Park, and the surrounding area is breathtakingly beautiful and inspiring.”

Team Competition

Region 8 riders Alexandra Krossen, Linda Currie and Emily Wyman finished third in the Third Annual Regions Cup Team Competition. With a regional team of three athlete/horse combinations representing each USDF region, competitors showed their regional pride and compete for bragging rights as the top scoring eligible rider/horse combination from Training/First Level and FEI-level Regional Championships classes as well as the highest scoring eligible adult amateur rider/horse combination from the Second through Fourth Level Regional Championship classes make up each regional team. The winning team is determined by averaging the highest final scores achieved by each athlete/horse combination in their US Dressage Finals class.

To learn more about the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan, see http://www.usdressagefinals.com.

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