George Williams garnered three titles at the Great American/USDF Region 2 Championships, with two horses.
On wife Roberta’s Paramount 7, Williams claimed the open third level championship (68.77%), and on Marnix he took the open Grand Prix and Grand Prix freestyle titles (67.18%, 70.18%) in Wayne, Ill., Sept. 25-26.
Williams is best known for his partnership with Chuck and Joann Smith’s world-class mare Rocher. They finished fourth in the 2003 World Cup Dressage Final and were expected to be in the running for a spot on the 2004 Olympic team before Rocher suffered an injury at the beginning of the year that sidelined those expectations.
Marnix is an inexperienced Grand Prix mount and is not as famous as his stablemate because Williams has shown him lightly and at mostly smaller shows.
Grand Prix hasn’t come easy to Marnix. He’s just been showing it for a full year, and Williams said his goal with the beautiful bay gelding is to make him consistent.
“He’s a nervous horse, and in the past year he really has matured and settled. Overall, he’s a steadier ride now; there’s more consistency between movements. Before, his test would all highlights; now it’s evened out,” he said.
Marnix’ freestyle is choreographed to a Cher medley. Since Rocher’s is to a Madonna medley, it’s clear that Williams likes the diva singers of the world. Williams said Marnix’ personality is a “bad-to-the-bone” one, and one day he popped in a Cher CD while he was driving and heard “The Beat Goes On,” which he instantly thought would suit the gelding’s stride and character.
One of Marnix’ biggest obstacles to overcome is the one-tempi changes. Williams said that straightness is an issue. Because the horse is nervous, he’s insecure, and if he feels unbalanced he gets nervous and panics a little. Williams said it’s up to him to make sure the horse is straight, balanced and carrying his weight from behind before he can perform the one-tempis with confidence.
Of course, that puts all the pressure on Williams to set the horse up perfectly. So, he said he has to put “mind over matter. Basically you have to be spot-on with Marnix or you run into troubles.”
No Trouble At All
Avoiding trouble was what Williams wanted with Paramount, the reason he rode the horse instead of Roberta. Williams said the Westphalian gelding has a “quirky personality and is a bit of a project horse.”
Roberta usually rides him, and they hope their daughter Nicole will ride him in the future. But George took the reins in the regionals to ensure that the gelding had a positive showing experience.
“He’s a hot, spooky horse who will try you in the arena,” said George. “Even though he’s an older horse–I think he’s 10–he has very little experience showing, and he will try to wheel sometimes.”
But Williams was more than a match for Paramount’s tricks, and their showing experience was exactly what the horse needed–positive, calm and controlled.
As for Rocher, Williams was delighted to report that the mare is back under saddle and has been legging up since July. She injured a hind leg, and he said that every time her veterinarians reevaluate her, the injury appears to be on the healing path.
Williams said he will take Rocher to Florida this winter, hoping, “knock on wood,” to qualify for the 2005 FEI World Cup Final, which will be held in conjunction with the show jumping World Cup Final in Las Vegas, Nev., April 20-24.
He’s No Donkey
Often you find what you’re looking for right under your nose. Linda Leffingwell’s trainer, Jochen Hippenstiel, went to Europe to seek out some dressage prospects for her. He picked out Pascal and another horse and sent Leffingwell the videotapes. She didn’t like anything about Pascal but loved another horse.
“I thought he looked Eeyore,” she said with a laugh. “There wasn’t much about him that I liked; he just didn’t seem to be my kind of horse.’
Hippenstiel gently insisted that Pascal was the right horse for his student, and she acquiesced with misgivings. She bought both horses on his recommendation, even though she’d never sat on either one.
That was 10 months and a Region 2 open Prix St. Georges title ago. Pascal has turned out to be far more than the donkey she took him for, and the pair won the open Prix St. Georges title with 68.87 percent and finished third in the Intermediaire I (65.12%).
“When I first sat on him and trotted him, I thought to myself, ‘My God in heaven, I’ll never sit this trot,’ ” she said with a smile. “He wasn’t confirmed at all and not through at all. But we helped him become more elastic, and all of sudden I could sit his trot–and it was a great trot.”
At 8, with very little experience in the ring, Leffingwell said Pascal was a little in over his head on the small tour, so she was completely shocked when she won the championship.
“I just approached the regionals with a ride-for-myself kind of attitude. When I was done with my ride, I changed out of my riding clothes and thought I was done. Jochen came back to the barn and said I was in the lead with a few rides to go. It was a shock,” she said.
Pascal’s strength in the ring is now his extended trots. But Leffingwell said his changes just keep getting better too.
Since she’s been riding Pascal, Leffingwell said she now knows why Hippenstiel thought he would be a good horse for her. She said the horse’s mentality is worth his weight in gold. “He’s so sound mentally. The main reason he was purchased was to give me confidence and build a better foundation as I prepare to ride Grand Prix. He’s the perfect horse for that because he’s a straight arrow who never wavers from his task.”
A single mother of three, Leffingwell is part of the Tempel Smith family, who own and run the Tempel Lipizzans of Tempel Farms in Wadsworth, Ill. She rides in the Lipizzan performance shows with Hippenstiel, the farm’s head trainer.