Aug. 23—Wayne, Ill.
When Endel Ots first saw Donatus last year, he knew the gelding would be a perfect fit for the Markel/U.S. Equestrian Federation Developing Horse Grand Prix Championship.
So at the suggestion of Donatus’ owners, Bethany and Rose Peslar, who bought him as an investment horse, Ots started showing with the idea of aiming for the national championship.
Coming into the show, Ots and Donatus were the highest placed pair on the qualifying list and they showed that’s where they belonged by taking the championship with a final combined total of 69.40%.
“The more we ride him, the better and better he gets,” said Ots of his partnership with the Wurttemburg (Don Schufro—Herka XX, Caramel XX). “In the beginning, we just tried to figure each other out and each time we tried, he got better and better. I had my best rides here.”
Ots, 28, Wellington, Fla., was thrilled with his first test on Thursday (68.64%), the Intermediaire II that counted for 40 percent of the overall scores.
“The first test, I wouldn’t change anything,” he said. “He came out there and was hot and full of energy—ears forward. He’s a very relaxed and calm horse in the barn. You look at him and think, ‘Oh, does he have enough fire to be a Grand Prix horse? And he really does. He really tries.”
For the Grand Prix test, that counted 60 percent, Ots took the advice of his coach, Evi Strasser of Canada, and pushed in the piaffe and passage to show Donatus off a bit. Although he admitted to making a mistake in his one tempi changes, “[Donatus] just tried his heart out right until the end and it was super positive and really fun.
“I didn’t feel lacking in one bit,” he continued. “I didn’t feel like he ran out of gas at all. He kept trying up until the last halt.”
Ots, who has competed in the developing horse Grand Prix division once before, enjoys competing against horses in the same age group at the championships.
“For me, it helps me with my training to say, ‘OK, this is where my horse should be as a 4-year-old, as a 5-year-old, as a 6-year-old, a Prix St. Georges horse and a Grand Prix horse. They’re not always in that line or area, but it’s great to compare,” he said.
For reserve champion Emily Wagner, just competing at Lamplight was exciting, let alone on the American-bred stallion she’s raised since he was three weeks old.
With WakeUp (Wagnis—Maiden Montreal, Macho), Wagner finished fractions of a point behind Ots on a combined total of 69.32%.
“He stayed with me the whole test,” she said. “He was a little bit bogey in the second pirouette and the last piaffe-passage he was a little bit tired, but overall, I was super happy with his concentration and his softness. The piaffe-passage still needs to develop, but it’s coming.”
The pair have competed at the young and developing horse championships multiple times, including picking up a win in the Developing Prix St. Georges last year.
“I love this program and I love coming here to Lamplight,” said Wagner, 26, La Cygne, Kan. “He’s from the Midwest, we’re from the Midwest and we get to showcase him in the Midwest. I feel like everybody here feels that he’s a little bit their horse too. He’s the hometown boy. There’s always a lot of warmth when I come here. That he gets to do well is just fantastic.”
First Time’s A Charm
Kelly Casey had no expectations when she pulled into Lamplight for her first young horse championships.
But by the end of the weekend, she came out on top of the 5-year-old championship with her own Emilion SA, a Dutch Warmblood gelding (Painted Black—Karisa), with a final score of 86.80.
She bought Emilion SA in the Netherlands and brought him to the U.S. a year ago. “I didn’t really have my hopes set high and I had a couple of people say, ‘You know, you really should take this horse through the young horse program.’ So I qualified a couple of times and here I am!” she said. “I wasn’t expecting to do so well. He’s a great horse, but this definitely surprised me.”
Casey, a professional based in Livermore, Calif., was happy that the gelding traveled well and performed his best.
“He’s got such a good brain,” she said. “He came all the way from California and he brought his A game for sure. He’s powerful, he’s athletic, he tries super-hard. We didn’t have mistakes. I just rode him in his comfort zone and I think the judges appreciated the way he used his body and his uphill way of going.
“He’s got a lot of go, but yet he’s very supple,” she added. “He’s a big horse, but he still collects super easily and never says ‘no.’ He likes to work. He just has a great brain and the right amount of ‘go’ for me.”
While she’s unsure how long she’ll keep “Eeyore”, Casey, 30, is enjoying the ride right now.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” she said. “He’s a funny horse. He’s kind of a clown. There’s always something with ‘Eeyore’. But he’s really grown up to be a beautiful horse. When I first bought him, he wasn’t the most attractive horse and I brought him home and everyone sort of thought, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and a year later, he’s really grown into his own.”
As Rosalut NHF’s scores were announced in the 4-year-old division, the crowd gasped—9.3 for the trot, 8.4 for the walk, 9.4 for the canter and 9.3 for general impressions.
As one of the last to go in the division, he and Carly Taylor-Smith couldn’t be beat, so they took home the championship.
“I held it together,” said Taylor-Smith. “He’s just a little trooper. He doesn’t spook, he doesn’t do anything, so I’m really proud of him. He’s a grown up boy.”
The quality of the class continually impressed the judges, who offered their comments at the end of each ride, but “Ludo” left them in awe.
“We just thought this horse was fantastic—absolutely fabulous,” said Jane Weatherwax, who spoke on behalf of the panel. “Really well-presented and ridden today. We totally couldn’t believe this horse was four.”
Taylor-Smith, 24, got the ride on the Oldenburg gelding (Rosenthal—Legacy, Salut) after her mother, Nikki Taylor-Smith, found him at a show jumping barn.
She broke him and sent him to her daughter, who runs her own training operation in Malibu, Calif., in February to start showing.
“For as little as I’ve had him, the two of us really connect,” said Carly. “He is a fun little thing to ride.”
A British citizen, Carly is hoping to become an U.S. citizen soon. She’s planning to keep the ride on Ludo and hopes to pursue the 5-year-old division next year.
Fix That Face
Although she topped the USEF Dressage Seat Medal Final, 13 and under division, there’s still one thing Helen Claire McNulty can’t quite seem to fix about her riding—her muppet face.
“The biggest thing is my face when I ride!” said McNulty with a laugh. “I have a ‘muppet face’ as my mom likes to say. I came out of the ring and [my trainer George Williams] and my mom and Lendon Gray also said, ‘You’ve really got to fix that face.’ I have to remind myself to relax.”
McNulty, 14, Holland, Mich., credited her win to her 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Checkmate, who she’s been partnered with for about nine months.
“I’m really pleased with how everything went today,” she said. “Everything felt really, really good when I rode. This has been a goal of mine to compete here. I never really expected to win. I just wanted to come and compete and see all the other top riders in the country here. I’m just so happy. I’m kind of speechless!”
Checkmate, who’s trained to fourth level, is providing McNulty’s stepping stone as she moves up the levels.
“He’s very forgiving, especially because I’m very new to the third and fourth level stuff,” she said. “If I make a mistake, he just says, ‘Oh it’s ok,’ and lets me make mistakes.”
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