Charlotte Jorst scores two 10s on the stallion en route to the 6-year-old national title.
Anne Gribbons let her words hang in the air for a moment as Charlotte Jorst and her handsome chestnut stallion circled in front of the judges’ booth after their final ride.
“Thank you, Charlotte, that was a very nice ending to a very good test. In the trot we were really trying to find something to complain about, and after going over it again and again…” she trailed off. “We said, ‘OK, no complaints.’ It’s a 10.”
Jorst’s smile lit up the arena at the Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, Ill., as Gribbons, speaking for the Markel/USEF Young and Developing Horse Dressage National Championships judging panel of herself, Lilo Fore and Sandy Osborn, went on to grant marks of 9.8 for canter, 9.0 for submission and 9.3 for overall impression and to announce a huge winning margin for the year’s young horse golden boy, Vitalis, on Aug. 22-25.
Another perfect 10, this one for submission, in their qualifying class on Friday (which counts for 40 percent of the overall score) had helped put Jorst’s Dutch Warmblood (Vivaldi—Tolivia, D-Day) well ahead of the pack from the start. In the Sunday final (worth the remaining 60 percent), the stallion scored his lowest mark for the walk, 7.5, but he still claimed the 6-year-old national championship with an overall score of 9.15, more than a full point ahead of Jane Karol’s Sunshine Tour.
“I just loved it through this week. I love this place. It’s so pretty and reminds me a little bit of Europe,” said Jorst, who just returned from the FEI World Dressage Breeding Championships, where Vitalis placed 13th as the only U.S. representative, in Verden, Germany. “It’s been really, really fun.”
Jorst also picked up a reserve championship in the Developing Horse Prix St. Georges division with her own Adventure on an overall score of 70.85 percent. The 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Special D—Sunette S, Mondriaan) stayed with Steffen Peters in San Diego while Jorst, of Reno, Nev., was away for the world championships earlier in August.
In Verden, Vitalis came out strong, finishing ninth out of 40 6-year-olds in the preliminary test, but Jorst said her own mistakes kept him from placing higher in the final.
“And I was determined not to make them again,” she said at Lamplight. “To be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever make them again. Sometimes you ride a test and make a mistake and go, ‘Oh, you know, that’s OK, I got a good score anyway.’ But if you make it [at a place like Verden], then you really learn from it. Plus you get inspired, seeing all the other amazing riders and horses there. It was really a great prelude to this.”
Jorst, a 48-year-old amateur, founded the Skagen watch company in the 1980s with her husband, Henrik, and the couple also has two grown daughters. But last year when the Jorsts sold their company and the girls forged out on their own, Charlotte found that she finally had time and energy to focus more on her own riding career. She imported Vitalis in the fall of 2012, and she’s been shocked by how quickly they’ve established a rapport and risen to the top of their class.
“I thought I would kind of ease more into it—I didn’t think I would ‘make it’ this fast!” she said with a laugh. “You just think, ‘I’m going to try,’ and my trying very hard made very quick results. But he is such a great horse, and I’ve gotten so much from this country, so it feels really great to be able to give back.”
While horse show sashes and rosettes are Charlotte’s most common accessory these days, it was her job to sport a slightly different kind of banner when she moved to the United States from her native Denmark in 1988. Even with an MBA from what is today known as the Copenhagen Business School, Charlotte struggled to get a U.S. visa until she finally accepted a modeling job as Miss Carlsberg for the beer company for which she and Henrik were then working.
“That really only lasted a year, though,” Charlotte admitted. “Because I got pregnant with my first daughter. It had a natural end, needless to say!”
She and Henrik lived first in New York, but the state’s tax rates were rough on their fledgling business, started in 1989. They eventually moved to a tiny mountain village in Nevada, and then later to Reno, where the Jorst women were able to fully indulge in their love of horses. “I rode ponies as a kid, but when my dad got really sick and passed, we didn’t have any money. So when I was 17 or 18 I stopped,” said Charlotte. “I didn’t start again until I was 35, and my daughters and I did hunters and jumpers together, and I also started dressage.”
The Jorsts sold Skagen to Fossil Inc. last year, and their eldest daughter, Christine, now works for the company in Dallas. Her sister Camilla is attending New York University and rides on their equestrian team. And while Charlotte may have more free time now to focus on her riding (she trains mostly with Volker Brommann), she doesn’t plan on changing her amateur status.
“I just like having it be my hobby, and I am a true amateur,” she said. “I juggle family life and all of that. I’m not teaching anyone, and I’m certainly not making any money doing this. Why would I change when it’s who I am?
“And could you imagine if I could make an Olympic team one day as a real amateur?” she continued. “That’s the true original purpose of the Olympics, and I think it would be so unbelievable to do that.”
But her decades in the business world have taught Charlotte that shortcuts rarely pan out, and she’s happy to take her time in pursuing a goal—especially one that involves something as unpredictable as horses.
“I could have just bought an [Olympic-caliber] Grand Prix horse, I guess, and maybe gone and made a fool out of myself at competitions,” she said. “But I think it’s a journey, and you have to take it one step at a time. You have to really figure out what it is that you want, and I think I have a better grasp on it now. I’ve been through more instruction and competitions, and I’ve seen more, and I think it will be much easier for me now. I think there’s a time for everything.”
Save The Best For Last
Laura Wharton-Mero’s championship in the Developing Grand Prix division with her own Zandor was more than just a long-delayed personal victory—it was a win for the U.S. young horse program itself. Zandor, a 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Florencio—Nancy BS, Amulet), has come up through the pipeline since he was 4, but the program poster boy waited to score a national championship until he made it to the Grand Prix level.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to finally win, because he’s been good enough to win each and every time, but there’ve always been circumstances,” said Wharton-Mero, of Woodstock, Ga.
Last year, for instance, Zandor started out strong in the Developing Prix St. Georges championship, but a lackluster performance in the final puzzled his owner-rider and dropped him far down the leaderboard. Shortly thereafter, the gelding popped two abscesses.
“He was sound, and he did the best he could,” she said. “He just has so much heart that he tried and tried, and he just couldn’t do it.”
But diligence is something Wharton-Mero, 56, and her mount have in common, and their years of hard work together paid off on Saturday, when they led the honor round with an overall score of 66.71 percent.
“You just have to go with the flow,” she said. “You go back home, and you work harder, or you work out the problems, and you get better for the next year so you can move up. And timing is everything. That’s part of having a champion horse—having everything put together all at once.”
Wharton-Mero, who ran a Trakehner breeding business for 30 years up until 2000, had always fancied Zandor’s sire, Florencio, as a potential match for her top broodmare, but the stallion didn’t have frozen semen available at that time. So Wharton-Mero went to an auction at Nijhof, the Dutch facility where he stood, and picked up Zandor, then 2.
“He’s been in my hands the whole time—I never sent him off for training or anything, and I don’t really ride with anyone regularly,” she said. “Though he did have to be broken by a cowboy, unfortunately! We handle all our horses from birth, but of course over there they don’t do that.”
Today, however, Zandor is a packer under saddle and a total ham in the barn.
“My husband actually trail rides him and goes and plays on him,” said Wharton-Mero. “He has so much character. Even if he spooks at something, he’s such a thinker that you can just see his wheels turning. He’s just such a cool horse to be around.”
But Wharton-Mero has trained up and sold countless horses in her career, and Zandor isn’t likely to be an exception. She’ll keep campaigning him for the time being, putting more Grand Prix miles on him and possibly heading to Wellington, Fla., over the winter. But after watching Steffen Peters ride Zandor at a clinic earlier this year and seeing the gelding transform into a horse she barely recognized, she thinks it’ll be time for him to move on soon. “That was sort of a turning point where I said, ‘Wow, I just will never be able to ride like that.’ He needs to move on and find a rider that can take it to the next level,” she said. “But this will be one I’m really sad to see go—especially because of his personality and temperament, on top of all his talent. He’s just turning out to be the whole package.”
German Precision Sets The Standard
The 5-year-old young horse division gave both the equine and human prodigies from Cesar Parra’s Piaffe Performance in Whitehouse Station, N.J., a chance to shine.
Nadine Buberl, Parra’s go-to young horse rider, and horses Fashion Designer OLD and Fiderhit OLD are all German natives, but they looked right at home in their first appearance at the U.S. national championships. The two Oldenburgs have traded wins all season, but this time it was Fashion Designer’s turn to take the title, notching an impressive overall score of 9.01. Barnmate Fiderhit finished third with 8.62 points.
“Both [qualifying] rides went amazing on Thursday, [but] we still had little things to work on, so we took the time on Friday and prepared them very well for today,” said Buberl. “All the work we have done the last year together, we were able to present it all together today.”
The pair placed second and fourth, respectively, in the preliminary class, but Buberl rode them to such impressive scores in the final that they moved up easily. In fact, Fashion Designer, a bay gelding (Faustinus—Forst-Design, De Niro) owned by Parra and Martin Sosnoff, garnered a 10 for his trot.
“The trot has super articulation, volume and very good activity behind,” Gribbons announced after their test. “He’s nicely balanced and looks like he’s also very well through. The first medium trot didn’t really show that much difference, because his regular trot is so big and amazing that it’s hard to show more, but in the second one you somehow managed to!”
“It was just amazing,” Buberl said of hearing that perfect score announced. “I enjoyed the ride so much, and [it gave me] goose bumps in every circle, every canter stride. And the trot is just unbelievable.”
Fashion Designer scored a 9.0 for his walk, 8.5 for canter and submission and a 9.3 for general impression.
“The canter was today his weakest feature, and it wasn’t very weak,” said Gribbons. “It got an 8.5, just because he does lose a bit of rhythm here and there, especially in the counter-canter, he gets a little quick to the ground. He’s just not as strong in this gait yet.”
Fiderhit, a black mare (Fidertanz—Fleur, Sandro Hit) owned by Michael and Sarah Davis, also picked up big scores for her gaits: 9.5, 9.0 and 8.2 for the trot, walk and canter, respectively. Her submission mark of 7.8 pulled her score down a bit, but the judges still awarded her a 9.0 for general impression.
For Buberl, a wide-eyed, diminutive blonde, the weekend couldn’t have gone much better.
“It’s my first time in Chicago; my first time at a national young horse championship,” said Buberl, who grew up riding and earned her bereiter certification before moving to the states from Germany four years ago to ride for Parra. “I had young horses to ride [in Germany], but I didn’t present them at the championships.
“The training isn’t done in three weeks—if you’re going to prepare anything you have to have the whole year and keep focus,” she added.
Another Piaffe Performance rider, Katie Riley, finished third in the Developing Grand Prix Championship aboard her own Zanzibar (66.09%). The 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Consul—Juventafee, Farmer) was bred by Sandra Willekes and Holland Coffee Inc. and earned the division’s top U.S.-bred horse award.
Brandi Benedict had long admired Annetta Coleman’s young stock at High Valley Hanoverians in Suches, Ga., but when she called up the breeder to see if she might consider sending her some to campaign, she didn’t expect it would happen quickly enough for her to make it to young horse championships.
But that’s exactly what happened, and Benedict not only made it to Lamplight with two of Coleman’s horses, she also won the 4-year-old championship.
Rebellienne HVH (Rotspon—EM Whitney, Welser) topped the division on an overall score of 8.76 after winning the preliminary class in the pouring rain and placing third in the final.
“It’s a credit to Annetta’s breeding program that I was able to ride her for just a few weeks and win,” said Benedict, 30. “They literally live in the middle of the mountains, so they get out and get to be horses, and Rebellienne has a super brain.”
Rebellienne was trained previously by Ashley Marascalco, and with help from Scott Hassler and Heidi Barry in the days leading up to champion ships, Benedict clicked quickly with the young mare at her SonRise Stables in Lovettsville, Va. In her final test, Rebellienne earned marks of 8.8 and 7.5 for trot and canter, and the judges gave her a 9.0 for submission and 8.8 on general impression.
“The walk was the best walk we’ve seen at this show,” Gribbons noted, giving it a 9.5. “She had no tension. It was regular; it was active; it was wonderful.”
And that positive impression paid off when scorers realized there was a tie for second in the championship test between Rebellienne and Amy Miller’s Dutch Warmblood gelding Encore (Jazz—Aloha SE, Sir Sinclair).
The program’s first tie-breaking mechanism is based on horse nationality, but since both were U.S.-bred entries, the judges broke the tie by simple vote, and Encore finished third in that test before earning the reserve title.
Charlotte’s Latest Venture
After selling their watch company, Skagen Designs Ltd., to Fossil last year, Charlotte Jorst and her husband, Henrik, started developing a clothing line for riders. The Kastel Denmark brand will showcase colorful, sporty items that offer UV protection and breathability and also bridge the gap between city wear and riding wear.
“I’ve been wearing the prototypes for a year, and they’re still looking great,” Charlotte said. “You feel so ratty half the time when you run to the grocery store or go shopping after you’ve been at the barn, but these clothes look really nice no matter what.”
The line will debut this month with items designed for riders who need sun protection, as Charlotte does in her Reno, Nev., hometown, in addition to cold-weather outerwear.
WakeUp Rises And Shines At Lamplight
There’s been no greater ambassador for the U.S. young horse program than WakeUp, Emily Wagner’s adorable 8-year-old black stallion who’s come up through the pipeline since the age of 4. He won the national title as a 6-year-old and took the reserve championship last year in the Developing Horse Prix St. Georges, and the American Warmblood (Wagnis—Maiden Montreal, Macho) was back leading the honor round again this year in that same division.
Wagner, 25, was the last rider to go in the championships, and she screamed with delight and disbelief as her U.S.-bred stallion’s winning scores were announced, and supporters flocked around the pair. Their 76.52 percent in Sunday’s Prix St. Georges test helped them to a total score of 75.29 percent, nearly 5 points ahead of second-placed Charlotte Jorst and Adventure.
“I think we had like seven 9s, and that was just crazy,” said Wagner, La Cygne, Kan. “But to me the highlight of the weekend was that the main comment I got from spectators was that he looks so happy in his work and that we make a pleasant picture and look harmonious. That was such an incredible thing to hear.
“I always love going back to Chicago because everybody’s so excited to see him every year and see how he’s improved since last year,” added Wagner, who bought “Wakey” from breeder Beverly McLean when he was just 3 weeks old.
Next up, Wagner hopes Wakey’s CDI qualifying scores will earn him an invitation to the USEF Dressage Festival Of Champions Intermediaire I Championship (Ky.) in October. But in the meantime she’ll continue drooling over photos from her weekend at Lamplight.
“I’ve been looking at them and just being so incredibly in awe of the horse he is,” she said. “He was fantastic and so relaxed about the whole thing and really mature. And I look at those pictures and just think, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I get to ride that every day. He’s mine!’ ”
Read more about Wagner’s 2013 season and Wakey’s breeding career at chronofhorse.com/article/ WakeUp’s-Star-Still-Rising.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. "Vitalis Leaves His Challengers In The Dust At Young Horse Championships" ran in the Sept. 9, 2013 issue.