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August 23, 2013

WakeUp’s Star Is Still Rising

Making the move up ro the CDI level has been eye-opening for Emily Wagner and WakeUp. Photo by Lisa Slade

He represented the United States at the FEI World Breeding Championships for Young Horses (Germany) at 5. He won the USEF Markel/USEF Young Horse Dressage Championship (Ill.) as a 6-year-old, and he placed second in the USEF Developing Horse Prix St. Georges Championship (Ill.) at 7.

Now 8, WakeUp is continuing his dominance of the dressage scene by winning small tour classes at CDIs.

“He is the most unbelievable horse in that, if I could have picked a horse or created a horse, it would have been close to him,” said Wagner, who’s owned the stallion bred by Beverly McLean since he was 3 weeks old and was the first one on his back. “He’s sensitive enough but not stupid about anything. You can push him and get after him and say, ‘Work harder,’ and he’s like, ‘Yes, ma’am, I’ll try harder.’ But he’s not dead. If you offend him, he’ll be like, ‘Hey, that was one step too far, don’t do that.’ He makes you be a more sensitive rider.”

WakeUp and Wagner most recently topped the Intermediaire I (69.78%) and the Intermediaire I freestyle (71.10%) at the Estes Park CDI*** in Colorado, Aug. 16-18. The American Warmblood (Wagnis—Maiden Montreal, Macho) is in Wayne, Ill., this week, set to fight for the USEF Developing Horse Prix St. Georges title.

But even with all the previous achievements behind them, the jump to small tour CDI competitions was a big one for “Wakey” and Wagner.

“It’s a different world with the five judges who see great horses every day,” said Wagner, 25. “With the young horse stuff, the judges are more lenient, and in the young horse classes you don’t get marked point by point; you just get marked per gait. Ir’s especially like you look at the overall picture. Here, in the CDIs, they have to be nitpicky. It’s been a little bit of an eye-opener, but it’s good for us.”

While Wagner spent a little more than a month at Lilo Fore’s facility in California in late 2012, she headed back to her family’s Wally Woo Farm in La Cygne, Kansas shortly after her stint there. She now rides primarily with her mother, Jana Wagner, and David Wightman—though she still rides with Fore when it’s not a judging conflict of interest.

“[Lilo]’s fantastic, but it didn’t really work out staying there in my situation because I have a farm at home and a business at home,” said Emily. “It’s a fantastic place, and I envy the ability to be out there with more trainers and having more CDIs, but at the same time, what I found out is that I love being at my own place.”

Emily and WakeUp are currently tied for 12th on the qualifying list for the USEF Dressage Festival Of Champions Intermediaire I Championship (Ky.) in October. The top 15 are invited, and Wagner plans to go if she makes the cut. But she admitted her location made qualifying difficult; the pair only contested two CDIs—one in Lexington, Ky., a 10-hour drive from La Cygne, and the other in Colorado, a 12-hour drive—so they didn’t have a drop score.

 “I think it’s really important we push ourselves to be in the ring with those people,” said Emily. “I think he’s still too green, and I’m too green, to really bring out the big guns. But it would be great for us to go through that.

“Maybe in the future I’ll have to go to Florida in the winter,” she added. “But how do you afford that? It’s not only being down there; it’s losing the business for that amount of time. If I don’t teach, if I don’t train, I don’t get money.”

WakeUp is now schooling all of the Grand Prix, and Emily said all of the movements have come easy to him.

 “If he has a downside, it’s that he plays with the bits a little bit,” she said, “but I think that’s half just being a stallion. I didn’t introduce the double to him until he was 7 because I didn’t need to it, but you have to use it in the CDIs, so I probably should have introduced it when he was 5. I think he’ll just get used to it. I try not to stress over it because I think that can make it worse. I’m just saying, ‘If he gets comfortable, he’ll be fine.’ ”

Another mount of Emily’s, Weltdorff, is competing at the Grand Prix level, and he’s qualified for the USEF Brentina Cup Championship at the Festival Of Champions. Emily bought “Willie,” an 11-year-old Hanoverian (Weltmeyer—Lula), in Germany when the horse was 2 1/2, and she brought him up the levels herself. Her experience with him is benefiting WakeUp as well.

 “He’s not the fanciest horse, and he’s no WakeUp for sure,” she said. “He makes me appreciate WakeUp just because he’s a little difficult at times. But he can still improve, and he gives me the opportunity to get in the ring and show.”

WakeUp’s oldest foals are now 4, and Emily has a few of his offspring she’d eventually like to compete at future USEF Young Horse Dressage Championships. 

“The breeding is difficult because you’re competing against all the stallions in Europe too,” said Emily. “I think we only got two outside breedings last year, but it’s worth it for us to keep him as a stallion because we can breed our own stock. I could never have afforded him if we weren’t involved with Beverly’s program. The genetic lottery is the great equalizer. You can have a fantastic foal and get lucky.”

And Emily knows no matter how WakeUp finishes in Illinois, he’ll have a large cheering section there thanks to his U.S. heritage.

“I’m proud he’s from Kansas, and that he was bred in Kansas and in the United States,” said Emily. “I think it’s fun for people in Chicago to say, ‘Hey, I saw him as a 4-year-old, 5-year-old and 6-year-old, and I remember when he was 4 and way too skinny.’ Everybody is part of it.” 

 
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