Wayne, Ill.—Aug. 26
All of the top three riders in the USEF Dressage Seat Medal Final, 14-18, agreed that lots of time on the longe line was important to developing their seat.
But for winner Sophia Schults, a background in reining also gave her a slight edge. The 17-year-old scored a 9.5 to take home the gold medal in the class aboard Samour M, an 8-year-old Oldenburg gelding (San Amour—Inetra, Wolfgang).
Maya Miller riding Beringer was reserve champion, and Brynne Varvel riding Indian Creek was third.
“I just wanted to have a really good experience and have a good experience for my horse,” said Schults. “He’s still fairly green so getting in the ring was really good for him. It was really fun. Going forward this gave him good practice, and it gave me a chance to see what he’s going to do in an environment like this.
“For today I tried to do a lot of stretching,” she said of her preparation. “I tend to be very tense and tight, so I tried to get as loose as I could before showing today, and I think that really helped.”
Schults competed in the Under 13 medal final in 2015 where she placed fifth. “I really learned I can be fairly rigid in my riding, rather than staying with my horse,” she said. “It gave me a really good idea a couple of years ago when they said, this is what you need to work on. I’ve been working on trying to be more one with my horse rather than just a rider and a horse—one pair. It was really eye opening doing that, and I think it really helped me today.”
Schults, St. Joseph, Michigan, started our reining, but when she was 12 she had to decide whether she wanted to focus on that or dressage, which she’d started to enjoy.
Watch Schults’ pattern via USEF Network.
“I thought this is the thing for me,” she said. “I love the challenge, and I love the athleticism that the horses have to have. I feel like through the years I’ve really learned from all kinds of different horsemen from many different backgrounds how important it is to be the one in the barn taking care of your horse and doing everything that they need, being there however long they need, never putting a time limit on anything. I think that’s been really important for me to learn; there’s never a rush to get anywhere with them. When they’re ready you know, and if you’re rushing to get somewhere, and you’re pushing too fast, it’s not going to work out in the end.”
While she never got to be an expert reiner or go to big competitions, the experience the sport gave her was invaluable.
“What I did learn is how important it is to control the horse with your seat,” she said. “In the reining your reins are there, and you don’t control that much. Everything’s with your legs and your seat, so it forces you to become independent. That’s what I’ve learned through longe lessons—how important it is to have independent body movement, and I think that really helped me today.”
Schults, a four-time FEI North American Youth Championship veteran who trains with Chloe Fullar, has had Samour M for about two years. They’ve shown to Prix St. Georges.
“I sort of put him away this summer, and I’m hoping to keep the training going to get him really where we’d like him to be,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of practice on equitation with no stirrups and things like that. I was just really happy with how he performed today. We had a few little bobbles, but I’m really proud of him.”
Miki Yang topped the FEI Children’s Individual test on Garden’s Sam to take home the USEF Children’s Dressage National Championship.
“I’m really happy with how it went,” the 13-year-old said. “ ‘Sammy’ and I were both a little bit tired because we’ve been here for so long, but he gave me his all, and I’m just really proud of him. He was tired, and I was tired, but we both went for it, and it was a really great test.
“I was not expecting this,” she added. “I just feel really proud and grateful for everybody that helped me get here, especially my trainer Hillary [Martin], because I never would have been able to do this without her, and my family, especially my mom, for supporting me. She loves horses as much as I do.”
Yang’s had the 11-year-old New Forest Pony (Orlando—Golden Melodie) for three years. “He was still on the greener side,” she said. “I got him when I was 10, and it was an interesting journey. We worked together, and it was not the easiest at all. But we made it here, and that just makes me really proud of him.”
Watch Yang’s test via USEF Network.
Yang pointed to a clinic with Laura Graves last year for helping her and Sammy click.
“She just helped us so much getting him forward and honest on my leg,” she said. “That’s one of the main things we struggle with, especially him trusting me in different areas. I think that’s when we really clicked and when things started working.”
Yang is a champion vaulter, and recently she’s started to focus more on dressage. Her mother, Akiko Yamazaki, was also competing this weekend in the Intermediaire I championships on Chopin R.
“It was so fun. Being able to compete with my mom was like a dream come true. It was so special,” she said. “After my season last year in vaulting I started getting more serious about dressage, but I’m still going to do vaulting next year, just not as much as I’ve been doing.”
For full results, click here.
For more coverage from the weekend, click here.
USEF Network is live streaming the competition each day.
For more from the U.S. Dressage of Festival of Champions and the Markel/USEF Young and Developing Horse Dressage National Championships check out the Sept. 24 print edition of The Chronicle of the Horse.