Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023

King Conquers Palm Beach Dressage Derby

Last year, Courtney King was thrilled just to be reunited with Grand Prix partner Idocus after he spent four years in Europe under Marlies van Baalen. But this year she was going for glory at the Phelps Palm Beach Dressage Derby, and that determination paid off as she won three CDI classes with three different horses in Loxahatchee, Fla., March 1-4.

Her win in the Grand Prix freestyle may have been the most meaningful for King, a sign of how far the pair has come in a year.


Last year, Courtney King was thrilled just to be reunited with Grand Prix partner Idocus after he spent four years in Europe under Marlies van Baalen. But this year she was going for glory at the Phelps Palm Beach Dressage Derby, and that determination paid off as she won three CDI classes with three different horses in Loxahatchee, Fla., March 1-4.

Her win in the Grand Prix freestyle may have been the most meaningful for King, a sign of how far the pair has come in a year.

“I wasn’t sure what the score would be because of a couple of mistakes, but I came out very happy,” she said. “I didn’t care what the score was going to be because I was so happy with Idocus’ enthusiasm. That’s the most important thing for me with that horse.”

King, New Milford, Conn., has worked hard to light Idocus’ fire to show since he returned from Europe. When she first started riding him again, he was reluctant to piaffe in the ring, and they had some trouble with that on Saturday in the Grand Prix.

“Yesterday, he was a little bit angry with me for telling him to piaffe on the spot [in the Grand Prix],” said King. “He forgave me. He piaffed his little heart out [in the freestyle]. He came in today, and he said, ‘Are you going to make me?’ I gave him a boot and said, ‘You’re going to piaffe, but you don’t have to do it on the spot.’ He was thrilled with that.”

But even with the piaffe trouble, the pair still placed second in the Grand Prix (70.08%) behind Arlene “Tuny” Page and Wild One (70.50%).

King has changed her freestyle from the one she rode during Dressage At Devon (Pa.) in October.

“Klaus [Balkenhol, the U.S. Dressage Coach] had me turn up the volume in the trot and passage in the beginning, which I thought helped a lot,” said King. “When I do the tempis across the diagonal onto a half-circle, I usually do all of it in twos, and then in the other direction I do all of it in ones. He had me do a short diagonal of twos, half-circle in ones, short diagonal in ones, and then half-circle in twos. Idocus can do that well, but because our changes were a little bit muddled today it didn’t work out. But I think it’s a great idea, and I will keep doing it. It’s very uncommon for Idocus to not be 100 percent on the changes.”

King, 29, said that Christine McCarthy’s 17-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Equador—Eretha) hardly ever makes a mistake in his tempi changes, but that he was a little lighter in the bridle than usual at the beginning of his test.

“The good thing about that freestyle is that on that final centerline I can do anything I want,” said King. “It’s supposed to be extended trot to passage, but instead I picked up the canter and did the one tempis so at least we could get that.”

Her music was a compilation from one of Lendon Gray’s old freestyles and some new additions by Terry Gallo. She included music from The Wizard Of Oz and Fiddler On The Roof.

“It’s happy-go-lucky, which is Idocus,” said King.

Two Horses Are Better Than One
King was happy and lucky with her small tour horses. In the Prix St. Georges, she placed first and second aboard Rendezvous 3 (72.45%) and Mythilus (72.10%).


“You come into a class with 39 entries, and I would’ve been happy to be just toward the top,” said King. “To have the two horses be first and second was amazing. I’m really fortunate to have that high a quality of horses. To be able to go out there and to put in fault-free tests feels great. It feels consistent, not like it was a fluke at all.”

She did prove to be consistent, winning the Interme-diaire I with Mythilus (74.25%) and placing fourth with Rende-zvous (70.58%). The only hiccup in King’s weekend was on Sunday in her freestyle with “Myth.” He managed to get his tongue over the bit early on in the test.

King, like many others in the huge small tour CDI classes, hopes to compete in the Pan Am selection trials at the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s National Grand Prix and Intermediaire Championships in Gladstone, N.J., in June.

“It was a long class, but it was very interesting,” said Anne Gribbons after the Prix St. Georges, which she judged at M. “We had the full range of everything, and that keeps you awake. The ones that are really on top are very tight together, and that makes it really exciting.

“This is just one show on the East Coast,” she continued. “We know in California we have some real high rollers, so this is going to be a fabulous Pan Am team, I think. Many of [the horses today] looked like this was just a stop on the way. They’re not Pan Am horses forever—they’re going to go on in their lives.”

King wasn’t willing to lay bets as to which of her two horses would go on, though. Mythilus, a 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Ferro—Flemiena) owned by Richard Malloch, also won his classes at the Gold Coast Opener CDI (Fla.) in February, while Rendezvous, a 12-year-old Austrian Warmblood (Rio Negro—Chimera) owned by Francine Walker, hasn’t shown as much this season.

“I’ve been wondering how it was going to go,” said King. “I planned on having them show against each other in three shows, but as it turns out this is the first one where they went head-to-head. I got a lot of amusement that they were that close in score. I think they’re both very good quality horses. So depending on the day, and if Myth’s extra hot or Rendezvous is worried, then I think they can both put in even better tests.”

King also has big plans for Idocus. She intends to ship him to Burbank, Calif., to participate in the U.S. Freestyle Championship and League Finals at the end of March for a chance to represent the United States at the FEI Dressage World Cup Finals in Las Vegas, Nev., April 19-22.

On To Burbank
Two other big winners at the Derby are also looking toward Las Vegas: Page, who won the Grand Prix, and Michael Barisone, who won the Grand Prix Special (69.64%) and placed third in the Grand Prix with Neruda (69.33%).

Page, who was an alternate for the World Equestrian Games team last year, was emotional about her Grand Prix win.

“I’ve never needed to win so badly,” she said. “The last month has been unbelievably hard with personal stuff, with my husband being sick. Thank God, he’s now doing great, but I haven’t felt like I’ve been in the groove.”

Page thanked her coach, Lars Petersen, for being gentle with her as she willed herself to focus on dressage. Her husband’s happy homecoming from the hospital the week before the Derby also helped.

“To be honest, all week long I had to get up and say, ‘Quitters don’t win and winners don’t quit.’ I just wasn’t with it,” said Page. “As the week progressed, things got feeling a little bit better. Dave [her husband] got home, very healthy, feeling great. My horse said, ‘OK, you’re back in the groove, and I’m right here with you.’ ”


Page’s mistake-free test with Wild One boded well for their future competitions, despite the stress of their preparation.

“He felt really good,” she said. “For me, the third show or the fourth show, that’s when I feel like I really get with him. That might change a little bit because he’s so much more grown up. Two or three years ago, to have him not spook was a victory. He’s so secure in himself now. It’s a question of having him really working for me and really good in the self-carriage.”

Her next goal is to have Wild One more open in his frame and more accepting of the half-halt. Page has worked hard to encourage the 11-year-old Hanoverian (Wanderer—Graefin) to lengthen his neck, but she said he could still be better.

“I was really happy with his piaffe-passage tour all around,” she said. “It was even, and he was quiet. On a hot, hot day with humidity, we came down centerline, and he felt so easy and light. At X, I only had to think that I wanted to piaffe, and it was like the Titanic going down stern first.”

Page has changed the music and choreography of her freestyle somewhat from last year and was happy with the result. It still features Marlene Whitaker’s compilation of 1960s rock songs, but she dropped “Wooly Bully” and tweaked it a bit.

“It’s all speculative until you ride it a couple of times,” said Page. “When I rode that [old] freestyle several times with the shorter extended trots, there were too many places that invited me to take back. I think it had one too many segues in the music. By swapping things out, it flows a little bit better, and everything’s a little bit less chopped up.”

Barisone chose to ride the Special instead of the freestyle to make sure he completed all of his qualifications for the Grand Prix championships.

“I’m qualified for Burbank, and I will go,” he said. “I rode the CDI two weeks ago at Gold Coast, and I’m qualified now for Gladstone. I’ve also acquired my certificate of capability already that will carry me through trying for the Olympics next year. It starts Jan. 1, 2005. You have to get two marks from a foreign [FEI O-level] judge.”

Last year, Barisone just missed getting his marks from foreign judges, and that kept him out of the trials for the World Equestrian Games, even though Neruda’s scores placed him in the top tier of Grand Prix horses.
Neruda’s impressive ability for the hardest movements of Grand Prix overrode some of the mistakes in his test at the Derby, and allowed him to win.

“The first two thirds of it, I thought was about 75 percent, maybe a little bit more,” said Barisone. “The beginning was outstanding. That horse’s gift is piaffe and passage. He’s really good at it, and today I think he did it better in one group than he’s ever done before. But he got away from me in the passage to canter transition, and I missed my twos and a couple of things like that.”

Despite the mistakes, Barisone was pleased with Jane Suwalsky’s 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Haarlem—Gdadermie).

“Today was a better ride,” said Barisone. “Yesterday I had the same sort of thing where 90 percent of all the hard stuff was really good, and I think I was running about 72 or 73, but then you make one mistake and you’re down to 71 and two mistakes and you’re down to 69. The good news is that he’s growing up now.”

And although he won the Special, it’s his new freestyle that really excites Barisone.

“That Queen one—when I brought it out at [Dressage At Devon (Pa.)] a couple of years ago, everybody went crazy over it,” he said. “But the new one is going to blow that one away. I have this thing about icons of pop
culture. This one’s going to be the icon freestyle. I sure hope I can pull a rabbit out of my hat so I can take it to Vegas. It’s one everybody in the crowd can sing to.”