West Palm Beach, Fla.—Jan. 26
On Thursday morning, Mikala Gundersen wasn’t yet dreaming that she’d win the World Dressage Masters CDI*****  Grand Prix Special. On Thursday morning, Gundersen wasn't even on the start list for the event yet.
“I wasn’t planning to show in the Masters already,” said Gundersen, who earned her place in the CDI***** with My Lady via her third-placed finish in the Wellington Classic Dressage Sunshine Challenge CDI Grand Prix on Thursday . “It’s a little overwhelming to be here already.”
My Lady and Denmark’s Gundersen placed ninth in yesterday’s five-star Grand Prix with a score of 68.44 percent. The pair bested that score in today’s Grand Prix Special, picking up a 69.47 percent, and the win over Jim Koford on Shirley McQuillen’s Rhett (67.33%). Canada’s Jacqueline Brooks and D-Niro rounded out the top three in the six-horse class with a 66.83 percent.
Before this weekend, My Lady, a 13-year-old Danish Warmblood (Michellino—Itterstern) mare owned by Gundersen and Janne Rumbough, hadn’t competed in a CDI since last March. Gundersen had knee surgery last year, and she was forced to take some time off from riding.
“We went home and practiced all summer [before surgery], and then Lisa Wilcox was amazing,” said Gundersen. “She came and took over and schooled and trained the horse for me. I owe a lot of credit to her for this, because she really did a lot of the work this past six months.”
Gundersen described Lady, a horse she’s had in her barn for about a year, as an alpha mare.
“She has a huge personality. She knows what she wants, and she thinks she knows everything better than me. We have a little discussion sometimes in the ring, because she thinks she knows exactly how everything should be done, and apparently I don’t know anything,” said Gundersen. “This is what we’re going through now, but she wants to go and do her best. She’s an amazing personality.
“She has presence and strength, and my favorite thing is when we come down the last centerline. She gets better and better. She’s so proud of herself, and she’s like, ‘I’m going to show these people how it’s done!’ It gives you such a good feeling,” continued Gundersen.
Like Gundersen, Koford didn't have much advanced notice that he'd be riding in the Masters.
"I got the call asking if I would like to ride 10 days ago," said Koford. "It was a last minute, throw everything together kind of thing. I was scared out of my wits because, when I saw the entry list, I thought I was out of my depth. But there was no pressure at all, because when you’re this much of an underdog, it’s all good."
Koford was also forced to take some time off last season when he fractured his pelvis.
“The guys at the barn kept [Rhett] exercised and going, and that was great. Then three weeks before Dressage At Devon [Pa.], I was crawling into the saddle,” said Koford. “He’s been great rehab for me. He’s my absolute buddy. Our relationship has changed since I was injured. Before I was the person who was the teacher, and I brought him along. After the injury, he was the one who had to take care of me. It’s very special.”
Canada’s Diane Creech, riding Devon L, was eliminated when she started riding the Olympic Grand Prix Special, which is no longer used.
The Grand Prix freestyle begins at 7:30 p.m., though first in the order, the Netherlands’ Hans Peter Minderhoud, had to withdraw his horse for veterinary reasons.
Visit Wellington Classic Dressage for full results .