On Saturday, November 11, 2023, competition continued on the third day of the 10th anniversary edition of the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®. Previous champions shone and some new names came to the fore at the flagship national show, which continues through Sunday, November 12, and offers a wealth of championship titles and more than $120,000 in prize money.
Anartz Chanca and Dazzle did just what his horse’s name promises in the Grand Prix Freestyle Adult Amateur (AA) class, logging 70.925% and taking the title in their debut in this class at Finals. Chanca had a busy morning as he also topped the Third Level AA Championship on his own Dante Rubin MR by Dante Weltino, who at six years old was the youngest horse in the field of 18 starters.
Dante Rubin contested the Fourth Level AA Championship the previous day, and Chanca was taken aback by the horse’s energy level, which translated into moments of tension and a score below their best.
“The environment has been a lot for him at this show, and it caught me off guard,” said Chanca, who is originally from Spain. “I know Dante’s hot but last year he was here, and he wasn’t as hot. Yesterday I did my regular warm-up, and it wasn’t enough; he was like a tiger in the ring. Today I planned a lot more warm-up — about an hour — and still he had some tension, but we managed to do a much better job.
“I don’t mind having to manage that when they’re six or seven, but once you can dial that in with time and training, that’s what you need [at the top levels],” he continued. “He’s a horse for the future for sure.”
Five years ago, Chanca and his wife Marta Renilla went to Germany and bought six yearlings who then grew up on the family’s farm in Texas. One of those was Dante Rubin, and another, D Diamond MR, was also in winning form on Saturday. Under the saddle of Ellie Strickland, the 16-hand Oldenburg son of D’Egalite led the First Level Junior/Young Rider class with 69.444%.
Dante was also destined to be a sales horse, but Chanca and Dante clicked two years ago and have made a steady progression up the competition ladder, now standing First, Second, and Third Level Champion in his short career to date.
Chanca and Dazzle’s Grand Prix test featured a three-loop serpentine of two-time changes early in the program, setting a high standard from the get-go. They picked up an eight for choreography and another for their music. Chanca had to think on his feet when a mistake crept into their routine.
“I was a little tired after being with Dante for an hour, plus his test, and I wasn’t feeling so fresh in the warm-up on Dazzle. There were a lot of positives in his test but the piaffe wasn’t there as much today,” he said.
Chanca added, “We had a mistake in the one-tempis but I had a reserve line. I don’t typically do this, but I knew I had to risk it, so I went one-handed. I wanted to take the risk to compensate for the mistake to bring up the score for the one-tempis.”
His strategy paid off, with one judge commenting “courageous riding.” It was enough to squeak past the reserve champion, Amy Swerdlin, who rode her home-bred Quileute CCW to 70.775%. She was also third on her other horse, Tokayer (67.733%).
After another hugely successful Finals, the husband-and-wife duo fly back to Texas on Saturday night to spend Sunday — their son Marcos’ third birthday — with him and their other two sons.
Like Mother, Like Son
Swerdlin went one better in the Fourth Level Freestyle AA, claiming an impressive and unanimous victory with 74.583%, almost 5% clear of the reserve champion, Rebecca Tadikonda (Rupert Angus).
Swerdlin rode her own eight-year-old, 17-hand home-bred Oldenburg gelding, Fellowship CCW. He was an embryo transfer foal by Follow Me out of Swerdlin’s Grand Prix-trained mare, Scholastica (Sir Donnerhall).
“Today was really special because I competed Fellowship’s mother here at the first US Dressage Finals, and she won the Third Level championship. This was the first time I’ve brought him here, so it was fun to follow in her footsteps,” said Swerdlin, who travelled from her base in Wellington, FL.
“He really likes the cool weather. He’s been pretty fresh which has been nice because usually he’s a little lazy at home. It was probably the best freestyle I’ve ever ridden on him,” added Swerdlin, who used music from the movie “In The Heart of the Sea” and a freestyle from Marlene Whitaker.
“It’s instrumental and strong and powerful like him,” she said. “My goal was to get the Diamond Achievement, so I had to do a Fourth Level freestyle. Then I thought I might as well do Regionals, and now look!”
No Longer The Bridesmaid
Heather Mason’s Jazz gelding Manuskript SCF stepped out of the shadow of his stablemate, Shmoky Quartz, to claim the Fourth Level Open Championship with 73.704%. He was one of only two six-year-old horses in the class, and all three judges placed him first, one even awarding a nine for the rein-back.
Mason’s magic percolated through her pupils, with senior pharmaceutical company manager Alexandra Krossen dominating the Second Level Freestyle AA Championship on her own seven-year-old Looker SCF, a horse whom she bred as a custom foal.
Krossen rode Looker’s sire Zulft SCF, by Ulft, but when they lost him to colic, she decided to use some of his frozen semen that had been collected before he was gelded. Looker, who is out of a Goodtimes mare, is the resulting foal.
“This horse is definitely a special one for me,” said Krossen, who scored 69.158%. “He grew up at Heather’s. I broke him and did everything with him. He’s 17 hands and gangly and has been slow to mature physically and mentally. He has a lot of movement that we don’t always know how to control; it’s been a challenge, and Heather’s helped me a ton.
“I was so proud of him because he’s been getting consistently better with outside distractions, but I was still concerned about going into the atmosphere of the Alltech Arena and how he would handle it being alone. He exceeded my expectations,” added Krossen, who rides in the evenings after work.
“He’s been a challenge to train and has a naughty streak, so we’ve been keeping things fresh and forward,” she explained. “We keep it fun for him and make sure he’s happy in his work. We do some cross-training. I jump him over little jumps, and he really likes cantering and trotting round the field. We mix it up so he doesn’t get stale. I really hope that eventually he will be a Grand Prix horse.”
Continuing The Legacy
The Intermediate I Freestyle AA was nail-bitingly close, with the top three all finishing within 0.1% of each other. Lyndsey Bailey eventually came out on top, riding her own 18.1-hand, 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding Kasparov Toja by Vivaldi to 69.858%. The reserve champion Phyllis Sumner scored 69.842% on her own nine-year-old Soprano 9, while third place went to Tonna Faxon on Flash (69.75%).
“My mom passed away in 2019. She was a dressage rider, and this is me carrying on her legacy,” said a tearful Bailey, who runs a feed and tack store in New York. “Although she’s not here in person I can feel that she’s here with us and this was for her. This is a dream come true.”
Bailey had spotted Kasparov Toja before she bought him, but he was out of her budget. She put the horse out of her mind, until one day he popped up on YouTube again, with a reduced price tag.
“I called immediately, and we went up to Vermont the next weekend,” she recalled. “I rode him, and I fell in love with him. The feeling you get when you’re on him is that you can reach the stars. He’s one in a million, and he put his full heart into this test today.”
Bailey credits much of her success to trainer Wendi Schnittjer, adding: "She’s been with me every step of this journey. At 5 a.m. we’re out there riding, and I’m on eastern Long Island so this time of year it’s cold and it’s brutal. She’s always there encouraging me and providing the path to enable me to do this.”
Bonnie Canter made it three Championship wins from three starts by adding the First Level AA Championship to her burgeoning haul. She rode Super Susie, her own five-year-old Oldenburg mare by Secret out of a Voice dam to an untouchable 73.657%. She will have a further chance to add to her trophy cabinet on Sunday when she rides her Fourth Level Champion Vitali in the Prix St. Georges AA Final.
In the Third Level Jr/YR division, the 2022 Second Level Champion Taylor Allen also made a return to winning ways, laying claim to a 2023 winner’s blanket with a 68.333% test on her own Fleur De Lis, a 13-year-old KWPN mare by Tuschinski.
Another release covering the remaining Saturday afternoon classes and the gala evening — including the Grand Prix Open Freestyle Championship — will follow.
Competition concludes on Sunday, November 12, with the final nine championship titles to be decided, from Training Level to Prix St. Georges. Follow the action via the USDF Facebook page and the US Dressage Finals website, plus live online streaming on the USEF Network. To learn more about the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, view results and start lists, and read daily news releases, visit the official US Dressage Finals event website.
By Alice Collins for Jump Media/US Dressage Finals