Wayne, Ill.—Aug. 21
When Endel Ots envisioned a freestyle for Sonnenberg’s Everdance, he had a certain vibe in mind. “I always liked Edward [Gal’s] freestyles and the powerful music he has, not so poppy, but not super boring classical music,” he said.
So while he used the choreography from his Intermediaire I champion last year, Lucky Strike, Ots asked Karen Robinson to create a musical compilation that was more powerful and channeled the great Dutch rider.
“I was very happy with how it turned out,” said Ots, 34, Wellington, Florida. And so were the judges, who rewarded him with 77.64 percent and the third win in three classes to sweep the Intermediaire I championship at the U.S. Dressage Festival Of Champions.
“Yesterday, I just took her on handwalks and let her sleep in the stall,” said Ots of his preparation for his freestyle. “She basically slept all day. We did a nice little short warm-up, so she had a lot of energy. I’m very happy with her. She carried me through the test and was nice and forward.”
It was the first time Ots had ridden the freestyle in competition with the 11-year-old U.S.-bred mare (Johnson TN—Raindancer S, Zeoliet). “I was planning on doing it in Florida before COVID,” he explained. “It’s the first time I did it, and I was very happy with it.”
Ots called Sonnenberg’s Everdance an “old soul” and said that while it’s a new partnership, they help one another. “Once we got on the same page, both of us understand each other, and when one of us is maybe not 100 percent there, the other one really helps, and if she’s a little bit tired, I’ll help her a little bit, and if I’m not 100 percent on, she turns up everything. It’s a really comfortable feeling,” he said.
Michele Bondy trained the mare for breeders Dan and Gina Ruediger, and Ots came on board in October, working with the whole team to add some polish to the mare’s tests.
“She had all the movements, and all the training was done by Michele,” said Ots. “She really did a fantastic job. I just put all those pieces together. It was a really fun experience and a nice partnership for all three of us.”
The goal from the beginning was to win the national Intermediaire I championship, and now Ots said he’ll start to think more about the next step. “She can play with all the Grand Prix, and it’s nice, but I want everything to be fun and happy,” he said. “I try to set goals where they have to stretch and reach them, but not overface them.”
Moving On Up
Sara Hassler wasn’t sure the U.S. Dressage Festival Of Champions was even going to happen this year, as many other major national championships were scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But when she got word that Festival was a go, she rushed to put together a Grand Prix freestyle for Harmony’s Boitano. “Marlene Whitaker did an incredible job with it,” said Hassler, 24, Chesapeake City, Maryland. “I thought it was going to be canceled—I’m so glad it wasn’t—so we were like just throw it together, last minute, let’s get it done. Which is actually funny because that’s kind of how it went last year too, so maybe it’s a good luck charm for us.”
In 2019 the pair contested the Intermediaire I championship, and this summer they returned to contest the Adequan/USEF Young Adult “Brentina Cup” division. They won the Intermediaire II (69.85%), then placed second in the U25 Grand Prix (67.48%), before clinching the title with a decisive freestyle score of 73.06 percent. Kerrigan Gluch and Vaquero HGF were the reserve champions.
“I love this horse so much. I truly did not think that was going to happen because we’re so green still,” said Hassler of the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Santana—Roma Jackson, Whinny Jackson) owned by Leslie Malone.
“We struggled with the changes all week, just with getting the right sort of aid in the test because we’re really so green still,” added Hassler. “I was really proud of him because there were only a couple of little mistakes here and there. I just kind of spur of the moment decided to do the twos and then the ones, and I was so proud it actually worked, and he seemed to like it. I was trying not to cry the whole time, and I still did.
“He always tries 2 million percent in that area, and that is just the greatest feeling in the entire world,” she continued. “Just to get here, we were pretty emotional and excited, but to win it I don’t really have words yet.”