The dressage phase of the 2012 Nutrena USEA American Eventing Championships, presented by Bit of Britain, began today with the Advanced, Intermediate, Preliminary, and Training levels showing off their skills on the flat at Chattahoochee Hills in Fairburn, Georgia. The competition was fierce, and all horses and riders put their best foot and hoof forward to attempt to stand out and take the lead amongst the best pairs in the country.
The Advanced division, presented by Merial, and the second to last leg of the Adequan USEA Gold Cup, is also serving as the USEF National Advanced Championship. Currently in the lead is the 2010 Advanced level AEC Champions, Becky Holder and her long-time partner, Courageous Comet, with a dressage score of 23.7. Just two weeks ago, Becky and Comet finished second in the competitive Adequan USEA Gold Cup CIC3* at Richland Park in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where she won the same division riding Can’t Fire Me, who is currently sixth in the Advanced division at AEC. Becky said Comet, whom she plans to retire from upper level competition after the AEC, has been beside himself since they pulled into the venue, as if it were his first horse show. “Somehow he has such a sense of the occasion,” Becky said. “For years and years he has just come through for me when it really mattered. Today is no different. I am just so proud of him.”
At 16 years of age and carrying an impressive international record, Comet “still enjoys it, still loves it. The horse before him went, and they clapped, and he trotted a little higher and a little prouder,” Becky said. “He is so fresh; it has been a hard decision to say enough is enough. He has done so much for me, and I want him to go out like this.”
Second in the Advanced division is Jonathan Holling and Downtown Harrison (29.3), followed by Michael Pollard and Schoensgreen Hanni (29.5). Jonathan said that while “Will” was a little tight, he was very proud of him: “It is his first Advanced of the season since Bromont, and it was a lot of test for him. He is still a young horse; this is his fourth Advanced competition of his career. He is getting better dealing with the atmosphere all the time. He is such a fancy, special horse that I have to say it is sort of a nice feeling that you know if you go in there and put in a decent test, you are going to be in a good standing, even in this field.”
Danielle Dichting and The Graduate are the current leaders of the Open Intermediate division getting off to a smart start with a score of 27.4. She is also currently lying seventh in the Advanced division riding Tops. “[The Graduate] was fantastic today. I have only had him for just about a year so we are still kind of getting to know each other. I was just really happy for how today ended up,” Danielle said. “I actually only live less than an hour from here so Chattahoochee is a pretty regular event for me. The course has changed a lot since Hugh [Lochore] has taken over, and it has some new challenging combinations that even I have not seen. It will be fun; I am excited to get out there tomorrow.”
Danielle sits a full two points ahead of Holly Payne, who is currently second with Santino in the Intermediate division and has horses entered in the Advanced and Preliminary divisions as well. Third place after dressage belongs to Heather Morris and Sportsfield Maisie Grey, who earned a score of 30.2.
The Preliminary Amateur division is currently led by Jennifer Lewandowski on her Thoroughbred gelding, Park Avenue III, earning a score of 26.3. Jennifer’s horse has not run at an event since May due to an injury, but the pair did several dressage shows this summer that may have contributed to their success in the rectangular court. She spent some time walking on the grass to avoid the busy warm-up before doing some last minute prep work at the canter. “He just turned it on when we went around the ring. He came down the centerline with game on,” Jennifer said.
Less than two points behind Jennifer is Lynne Partridge and her mount, El Cid, who traveled to Chattahoochee Hills all the way from Texas. Third place belongs to Tracy Gilman and Nautilus 47 with a score of 30.4.
Victoria New, also a Texas native, is currently leading the Preliminary Junior Young Rider division with her mount, Fleeceworks Mystere du Val. The pair finished the day on a 27.2, less than one point ahead of second place. Victoria is no stranger to the pressure of intense competition, having won the CCI* at the Adequan FEI North American Junior Young Rider Championships, presented by Gotham North, this July. Victoria was “blown away” by her score at AEC, a personal best for her and “Bean.”
“It was a really good test for us this morning. From the second I got on him, he was right on cue. I did mostly walking because he was doing a good job so I did not need to do much. Most of our test I felt went really well. We had one moment where he spooked and jumped out of his skin a little bit, but he calmed down and proceeded just like he was,” Victoria said. “The [cross-country] course looks fantastic this year. I am really excited about it. I am lucky to be here on this horse. He is a great horse; he has taught me so much. He has a big record to live up to, but I am doing my best. I am happy with my year so far – I cannot complain.”
Following close behind Victoria is Kacie Dannehower and her Oldenburg mare, Fable, with a score of 28.1. Sitting third is Jenny Caras riding Fernhill Stowaway. Jenny, a local from Marietta, Georgia, finished the day on a 28.5.
Doug Payne took charge of both the Training Horse and Preliminary Horse divisions today, scoring the same very good score of 22.7 on both Royal Tribute (Preliminary) and Lysander (Training). Both horses are young (six and five), and both are very big, measuring 18.1 and 18.0 hands high respectively. “They are kind of big but very light on their feet and do not act their size. They are like big puppy dogs. I am very lucky to have these guys,” Doug said.
Royal Tribute came to Doug as a contender for the IDHSNA USEA Future Event Horse and USEA Young Event Horse series, which has served the gelding well in recognized competition. “You can expose the horses to a whole lot early on. I think it ends up paying off in the end. He is not really phased by much of the circus going on here, and then you can concentrate on the performance itself.”
Behind Doug in the Preliminary Horse division is Katie Bryant and her Hanoverian stallion San City, who earned a 24.8. In third is Aubrey Dunkerton and Adelphi, who finished the dressage phase on a 25.9. The top three riders round out a field of over 40 Preliminary Horse competitors. Lauren Kieffer sits in second behind Doug in Training Horse with Landmark’s Legendary Romance, a Thoroughbred cross mare owned by Jacqueline Mars. Following Lauren is Leslie Law and Tout de Suite, who finished the dressage with a score of 28.6.
Brie Murray is the current leader for the Training Amateur division after dressage. She and her horse, Sweet William, finished the day on a 27.7, only a half point ahead of second place Tracey Corey and Byrnwyck West. Third place belongs to Zehra Gundogan and Captivate, who earned a score of 28.2.
The Junior Training division is lead by Annie Read, who traveled all the way from New Hampshire with her Thoroughbred Hanoverian cross mare, Dante’s Diva. The pair earned a score of 25.9. “She was awesome. I have had her for a year now. We had a little trouble over the winter, but we finally got it together and we are doing really well now,” Annie said.
Less than three points behind Annie, on a 28.2, is Savannah Kilpatrick and Walla Walla Bing Bang, owned by Marci Griswold. Bailey Moran and Loughnatousa Caislean, who earned a score of 30.5, currently hold on to third place.
The dressage portion of the Championships concluded around 5:00 pm this evening, after which many of the competitors headed out to walk Hugh Lochore’s challenging cross-country course. Competition will resume early tomorrow morning at 8:00 with Preliminary, Advanced, Intermediate, and Training cross-country. Meanwhile, Novice and Beginner Novice will perform their dressage tests for the judges on the opposite end of Bouckaert Farm. Competition will stretch until early evening, followed by the Competitor’s party at 6:30. Check back tomorrow evening for photos and video coverage of all of the exciting cross-country action.
Keep up with the Live Scores at this link.