Lexington, KY: The US Dressage Finals held November 6-9, 2014 in Lexington, KY at the Kentucky Horse Park was a national, head-to-head competition showcasing competitors in adult amateur and open divisions at Training Level through Grand Prix. More than 400 entries representing all nine USDF regions from 38 states across the U.S. competed in the Finals and the concurrent USDF Dressage in the Bluegrass open show, reflecting an increase of more than 100 entries from last year's inaugural event. This year’s Championship classes reflect expanded offerings to 30 divisions, offering competitors from a variety of backgrounds and experience levels (including adult amateurs, professionals, and High Performance riders), a chance to earn national honors, prizes and more than $50,000 in prize money. From the Alltech Arena to the picturesque outdoor Stonelea and Claiborne arenas, dressage competition was held across six rings, including four rings of non-stop Championship action.
Topping a huge field of 35 competitors in the First Level Adult Amateur division was Julie McCrady of Raymore, Mo. (Region 4) riding her five-year-old Remanessa. Even though the pair had to wait all day to compete as they were scheduled last to go in the class, their patience paid off as they earned the winning score of 71.290%. Making the win even more meaningful was the fact that McCrady bred the Hanoverian mare (Rousseau x Leonessa by Louis Heslegard) with her husband, and they were making a return trip to the Finals after competing at Training and First Level last year. "I think the people are so friendly here, everyone bends over backwards to help you. I encouraged one of my friends to come here to ride in the open show just so she could be part of the experience," McCrady said. "It's just been wonderful, and so special to have bred Remanessa ourselves. She was a handful on the ground until we started her under saddle where she seemed to find her purpose in life. Now she's a great mare."
Another competitor who was delighted to find success at the Finals was Viki Meyers of Russellville, Ark. (Region 9) who rode her Hanoverian gelding Gold Flash (Gold Luck-Davinia) to the Reserve Championship with 70.753%. "I had the time of my life today. Each of my rides has gotten a little bit better, and I've learned a lot since I've been here," said Meyers. "We don't have any licensed dressage shows in Arkansas, so I have to travel extensively just to train and compete. This was my first year to even go to Regionals, and now I find myself at the Finals and I'm just amazed. My friends drove all the way to Kentucky just to watch me compete in one test! I feel really special to be here, and it may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience but I do hope to be back here next year." Gold Flash is a 2008 chestnut Hanoverian gelding bred by Sharon Sigtenhorst.
Melissa Beardsley's Hanoverian gelding Louis Vuitton, affectionately known as Lou, Louberry & Lightening, lived up to his name in giving Shauntel Bryant of Seattle, WA, a fashionable ride in the Stonelea Arena which was good enough to ultimately win the Fourth Level Open Championship with a score of 69.417%. "He's an 'on' or 'off' kind of horse, but he was really 'on' today and gave it his all," noted Bryant. "It was the kind of ride where you just say to yourself, 'this is lovely'. He definitely woke up on the right side of the stall today, and the brisk weather actually works to his advantage. I almost didn't bring him to the Finals because he's not a super consistent horse, but now I'm glad I did because he pulled it off!"
Debbie Hill, a USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold medalist from Gurley, Alabama, horses are a way to cope with the reality of breast cancer. Hill, who was at the 2013 U.S. Dressage Finals with six horses, has also been a strong presence at the Markel Young Horse Championships with multiple mounts. But this year, when she entered just one horse in the Finals she was not sure if she would be able to compete. Hill was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in May and began chemotherapy in June. Even with the loss of her hair and severe anemia, she has used riding and training horses as a way to help her deal with the aggressive treatment of her cancer.
She was Reserve Champion in Third Level open Friday with a 69.872% aboard Boccaccio IOF, Marchella Richardson ‘s 7-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Bugatti Hilltop out of Roxette by Rubinstein. Hill and “Bo” qualified for the championships from USDF Region 2. On Saturday they did it again winning Reserve in the Fourth Level Open Championship with a 69.167. Adult amateurs like Christine Ekstrand from Santa Monica, Calif., juggle careers, family and homes to pursue their horse passion. Ekstrand, the super mom of doing it all, is the mother of seven children, an orthopedic surgeon and the Reserve Champion of Saturday’s Third Level Adult Amateur class at the U.S. Dressage Finals presented by Adequan. She and Braxxton, her own 7-year-old Hanoverian gelding (by Baroncelli out of Rosana by Rotspon), earned a 67.479% to come in second behind Rachael Hicks and Don Cartier. Ekstrand was accompanied by three of her seven children, her mother, Gudrun Pappe from Germany and two horses to the Finals at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. “Being an amateur, you really have to juggle your life,” she said. As the mother of three sets of twins, her four pregnancies took time away from her riding. “Between surgery, the kids and riding, I just juggle the balls and grow arms like an octopus. It puts us in a different situation. It’s something we do for ourselves and you have to have a supportive family to pull it off."
Full coverage of these stories and more US Dressage Finals coverage available at www.dressagedaily.com. Compete US Dressage Finals show results online at http://results.horseshowoffice.com/Shows/Classes?sid=312