Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2024

Gladstone Featured A True Championship Atmosphere

The main ring at Gladstone (N.J.) has never looked better, and the grounds were groomed to perfection to welcome the participants in the USEF National Dressage Championships, (see June 29, p. 6), sponsored by Collecting Gaits Farm.

Even the weather cooperated and refrained from producing the usual boiling temperatures but couldn’t help kicking in an ambitious thunderstorm during the Grand Prix Special. And for those of us who have a special warm spot for all of the traditions of Gladstone, the presence of Jack Fritz put the final touch on the event.
PUBLISHED

ADVERTISEMENT

The main ring at Gladstone (N.J.) has never looked better, and the grounds were groomed to perfection to welcome the participants in the USEF National Dressage Championships, (see June 29, p. 6), sponsored by Collecting Gaits Farm.

Even the weather cooperated and refrained from producing the usual boiling temperatures but couldn’t help kicking in an ambitious thunderstorm during the Grand Prix Special. And for those of us who have a special warm spot for all of the traditions of Gladstone, the presence of Jack Fritz put the final touch on the event.

At least half of the “ring time” at Gladstone this year was occupied by the juniors, young riders and the Brentina Cup, which is open to riders 18 to 26 years of age.

Every time we have the youth of dressage assembled and competing in one place, it’s rewarding to see how they’re slowly but surely getting better in their presentation and warm-up techniques. Some young trainers, such as Diane Ritz, Karen Lipp and Jeremy Steinberg, who concentrate their efforts on coaching the youth group, were very successful with their students at this show. We can see a whole new tier of dressage riders emerging thanks to their efforts.

The same thing was true for the Pan American riders. Because of some tedious problems with the paper work for importation of animals to Brazil, a couple of our seasoned competitors who had horses that were qualified for Gladstone elected to stay home. This situation opened the door for new talent to rise to the top, and we now have a team of Pan Am riders who have never represented their country in international competition before.

All three—Christopher Hickey, Lauren Sammis and Katherine Poulin-Neff—as well as the alternate, Susan Dutta, are from the East Coast, also a unique situation. When I rode on the team in 1995, I was the only one not from California.

In past years, the team has consisted of four riders, and Susan was the fifth-placed in the last trials, and, consequently she’s once more in the bridesmaid’s position. Susan was a paragon of good sportsmanship and very gracious at the press conference, but I know how she felt, because I was once in the same spot on Leonardo 11 when the team went to Cuba in 1991.

ADVERTISEMENT

I hung around Gladstone for a week in quarantine and then went home when the team left, and it was not an uplifting experience. At least, today, we’re allowed to bring our alternate to the venue and have the horse go through the jog, in case we lose a team member due to lameness, or any of the multitude of things that can go wrong with a horse. Since there’s no drop score anymore, the whole team would be wiped out, unless they have an alternate at hand.

The performances of the top four in the Intermediaire Championships was convincing, each in its own way. The winner, Regent, was “on” the whole time, looking strong and focused as he and Chris produced three basically faultless tests that left us in no doubt of the final outcome.

The highlight was the freestyle, when they really went all out with a very difficult choreography including a lot of transitions, short lines, repetitions of demanding movements and demonstrations of power in extensions.

Lauren Sammis played it safe in the freestyle, which, as she said in the press conference, wasn’t difficult enough for the horse he has become lately. However, in the regular tests she and the graceful black Sagacious HF presented a lovely picture with extra points for their collected work and the ambiance of alert concentration the two of them exude.

I’ve followed Brilliant Too and his rider, Katherine Poulin-Neff, since the horse was first under saddle, and these two are truly a team! The little, bay gelding tries his heart out for Katie, and the determination to show that he can outdo most large horses is written all over him.

Time and again, I’ve watched and judged this horse, and every time he goes beyond the call of duty to get the job done. It’s great to have a combination such as Brilliant Too and Katie making a team, which proves that as long as the riding is competent, the horse doesn’t have to be a giant with enormous gaits to make it onto a team. Their freestyle is really fun and forward and full of risks that pay off when they pan out.

Susan Dutta never rode the stallion she placed fourth on until March of this year. Here’s where experience is of the essence, since most riders wouldn’t dream of trying out on a horse they just barely met. But Susan has successfully trained and ridden a multitude of different horses, and she rose to the occasion. Pik L, her mount, also has a lot of show mileage with several other riders. Together, he and Susan provide a strong fallback position for the team, should they need to use the alternate.

ADVERTISEMENT

All in all, we have a strong group heading for Brazil. We wish them a gold medal and a lot of fun and learning on the way to earning it. Going with them is our team coach, Klaus Balkenhol, who will surely do his best to see that they play the Stars and Stripes at the awards in Rio.

The Grand Prix division was alternately dominated by Steffen Peters and Courtney King. Lombardi, guided by Steffen, is a very different picture from Idocus, Courtney’s mount.

The former is all fire and brimstone with a lot of usually (but not always) “good” tension going on, while the latter comes over like an elder statesman presenting his repertoire.

In the Grand Prix, Idocus wasn’t really himself, displaying some discomfort by twisting his neck and pulling his tongue up, as well as getting behind Courtney’s aids. After some rest and care, he came back strong, and by the freestyle he was in good shape, even “outrunning” an incoming thunderstorm. Steffen
and Courtney are in a class of their own in elegance and that elusive quality we call “feel.”

The rider of the gray PRE (Spanish) stallion Rociero XV, Kristina Harrison-Naness, also presents a beautiful picture with her horse. It was great to see them knocking down the warmblood door and pushing into third position overall in the Grand Prix Championships.

Although we missed some horses that are currently training and showing in Europe, the group that competed at Gladstone was a nice display of what we have at home right now.

On the last day, there was an exhibition ride at lunch featuring Courtney King on Mytholos, a horse she’d never taken into a Grand Prix before. All of us judges agreed that the combination has possibilities at the highest level, and Klaus Balkenhol has them on the list of the horses he has worked with that he considers future U.S. team hopefuls.

The U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation is planning to support several Grand Prix combinations by giving them grants to train and show in Europe during the rest of the year, in preparation for the Olympics in Hong Kong. But first, let’s focus on Brazil!

Anne Gribbons

Categories:

ADVERTISEMENT

EXPLORE MORE

Follow us on

Sections

Copyright © 2024 The Chronicle of the Horse