When Judith Kriess bought Tabe Fan De Lege Geaën sight unseen from the Netherlands as a 3-year-old, she was looking for a young horse that she could develop in dressage.
But before long, her teenaged son Finn Kriess took over the ride on the Friesian gelding while Judith began riding her other horse, Jaguar, an 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding. The two enjoy good-natured competition during their lessons and at shows as they both train with FEI dressage riders Regina Agren and Sven Smienk.
Now they share something else in common: regional championship titles. The mother and son both topped their respective championship classes at the Great American Insurance Group/U.S. Dressage Federation Region 6 Dressage Championships, held Sept. 15-18 at Donida Farm in Auburn, Washington. Judith rode Jaguar (Dante Weltino—Contessa, Contango) to first place in the adult amateur training level championship (70.17%) while Finn rode “Mochi” (Tsjalle 454—Liaukje Fan De Lege Geaën) to the top position in the junior/young rider training level championship (70.08%).
“Finn was speechless,” Judith said. “He was jumping up and down; we were absolutely stoked.”
The championship wins followed some difficult earlier rides for both mother and son. The day before, Finn, 16, was nervous as he went into his test with Mochi, as it was only their third show together. The gelding picked up on the tension, which resulted in him adding some exuberant flying lead changes not written into their training level test. By the day of the championship class, Finn was more relaxed, jokingly noting to his mother that the young horse had done some really cool lead changes.
“I don’t know if my son realizes how proud of him I am,” Judith said of his ability to move past his nervousness. “Three years ago this would have gone completely differently.”
Judith, 46, had also had a bad ride in the days before the show, but she knew when she came out of the championship test that it was a solid performance.
Judith, who is from Germany, grew up riding and has always been interested in dressage.
“I really like how technical it is and how accurate you have to be,” she said. “I like how the difficulty increases; I feel like it keeps the horses really nice and fit. I personally find it really engaging. There’s always something I feel like I can improve upon.”
She spent a brief time in the U.S. Army and now operates a boarding facility, Skyreach Equestrian, in Kent, Washington. When she found Mochi five years ago, she was drawn to his athletic potential and his Friesian breeding.
“They have a really fantastic personality,” she said of the breed. “I was looking for a young horse to bring along that has the gaits to go up the levels, and he definitely does. He has a very sweet personality. He’s a cool horse, but he can be exuberant at times and naughty.”
She saw Mochi advertised online and imported him from the Netherlands sight unseen through Black Sterling Friesians in California.
“He only had one owner over there, and they had brought him along, [so] we got a lot of information,” she said.
In his early years in the U.S., a suspensory injury and mystery intestinal illness that lasted for 10 months slowed Mochi’s progress.
“I think in the beginning, we were struggling with consistently being able to actually work on things,” she said. “He’s pretty forward; he’s very playful. He really enjoys working, which makes it really easy, but at the same time he can get bored easily. He’s pretty smart.”
Finn started riding lessons at age 5 on Sir Lancelot, a $700 pony Judith bought off Craigslist.
“We had to rename him ‘Sir Launch A Lot’ because Finn had more flying lessons than anything else,” she recalled. “The pony was super cute, but he was a naughty little monster, and that’s how Finn started riding.”
Finn moved up to Raven, another Friesian they owned, but his mother noticed that he was spending more time on social media than riding.
“Do you still want to ride?” she asked him one day. “Well, you’re going to ride the 5-year-old, and I’m going to take Raven back.
“Finn figured out very quickly that he had to work his horse to make his horse happy, and all of a sudden everything became a lot of more interesting,” Judith added.
Working with Agren and Smienk as trainers helped both mother and son progress while bringing them closer around a shared interest.
“That makes it a lot of fun,” she said. “The trainers get to pick on both of us.”
Finn used to be competitive with his mother, often telling her he was going to beat her at the shows.
“Now he’s supportive,” she said. “It’s really fun to share that with him. We really like going to horse shows. We’re having a fun time.”
A Shared Riding Arrangement
Dressage trainer Natalie Perry won the open Prix St. Georges title (69.04%) on Harvard R, a horse owned by her adult amateur client Nancy Weaver. Weaver competes “Harvey,” a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Sir Donnerhall—Coco Chanel R), at fourth level but opted out of riding at regionals this year.
“I think we’re pretty lucky; he’s very friendly and outgoing, and he really likes both of us, which is really nice,” said Perry, a USDF gold medalist. “We both do some of the handling, which I think is also helpful. He’s just the kind of horse that he can have two riders, and he can be really happy with it.”
The shared riding arrangement works well for Weaver, a flight attendant from Redmond, Oregon, whose work schedule means she isn’t able to ride daily. Weaver found Harvey as a 3-year-old through Nadine Schwartsman in Idaho.
Weaver brought the gelding to Perry’s farm in Bend, Oregon, around the time he was schooling third level, and at first Perry wasn’t sure how he would turn out.
“I knew he had the talent, but it was very exhausting to ride him,” Perry said. “Our first season I did have some nightmares that we were going to stop dead in the arena and not be able to go … You’d put your legs on him, and he’d kind of slow down. It would take a little bit of a conversation to keep him moving along through the movements.”
As he’s progressed through the levels, however, he’s grown stronger, increasingly game and risen to the challenge.
“He’s a big dude, and he really has to understand how his body functions and how each piece goes together,” Perry said.
Now, “he has found his inner spark and his sensitivity,” she said. “As the work gets harder, he gets happier, and the harder the work, the happier he is, and the harder he tries. At this show, I felt every single test he gave 100 percent.”
At the start of the season, Perry and Weaver plan out the show schedule, including who will ride Harvey at which show. Weaver competed him at fourth level this year, generally staying a level below where Perry is showing him.
“Her goal is to ride the Grand Prix, so hopefully we’ll get there in the next couple of years. If that’s what she wants, he needs to be a little bit ahead of her,” Perry said. “Nancy’s a good rider, and she’s very conscientious in that she wants to help him and ride him to the best of his ability.”
Because of the distance, Perry isn’t going to travel to the U.S. Dressage Finals in Kentucky.
“We’re going to rest on this for the moment,” she said. “We’re pretty happy with him; we don’t need anything more from him this season.”