Day two of the 10th anniversary edition of the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® on Friday, November 10, 2023, held the show’s first gala evening in the atmospheric Alltech Arena. The national show, which runs through Sunday, November 12, 2023, offers a wealth of championship titles and more than $120,000 in prize money.
Just as in 2022, Heather Mason and RTF Lincoln led the charge in Friday evening’s showcase class, the Grand Prix Open Championship. This year they topped the field with a harmonious and very well-presented test in which Mason made full use of the corners to balance and prepare the 18-year-old for each movement. As in previous years, Mason rode him in a snaffle with a simple Cavesson noseband.
Their 69.203% left them 0.8% ahead of the reserve champions Shelley Van Den Neste and Eyecatcher. Nora Batchelder and Faro SQF rounded out the podium with 68.007%.
This is the third consecutive year that Lincoln has won this class at Finals, and Mason has decided that he will bow out of top-level competition on a high. This is their final show together.
“He was a little bit tricky to ride but very good and did what he needed to do,” said Mason, who is from Lebanon, NJ. “It was a nice last Grand Prix for him. He was getting a bit hot at times and a little bit normal at times, switching back and forth, so when he does that I have to be really tuned into him.
“He can be many different ways in a test,” she explained. “I’ve been riding this horse for a very long time, and I have no idea what makes him one way or the other. He can start dead quiet and then rev up, or start hot and then calm down — there’s no telling. I just have to be ready to ride eight variations at all times; it’s like having eight grand prix horses in one.”
Mason bought Lincoln as a foal, then sold him on. She kept in touch with the owners and ended up buying him back for $1 when the new owner had to have a hip replacement. She has built an incredible rapport with the quirky son of L’Andiamo, carefully managing his foibles with lungeing, patience, and custom-built thigh blocks to help withstand his lightning-fast spins. Nobody else has ridden the horse in the past half decade.
Despite her myriad success, Mason does not currently have a coach, though she has “trained with pretty much everyone at some point.”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve regularly trained with anyone,” she said. “It would be good, but I do so much teaching and have six horses to ride a day, so it’s hard to find the time. Maybe I’ll seek out some help with the two young horses next year.”
Mason may have a little more time if Lincoln is no longer on her riding list. The pair’s final test together will be on Saturday night when they contest the Grand Prix Open Freestyle in the atmospheric Alltech Arena.
“Hopefully he’ll have a nice freestyle, and we’ll have fun — and hopefully the judges will like it too,” grinned the 54-year-old. “Finals is a great show, and the atmosphere was good tonight.”
“If I Could Clone Him, I Would”
It was the very last combination down the center line in the Intermediate I Open class who snatched victory, with Taylor Lindsten on Susan Skripac’s striking Wallace G being the only combination to crack 70%. The nine-year-old pinto is a Georgian Grande stallion, being half Friesian half Saddlebred.
“This is only our second time breaking 70% in the FEI levels,” enthused the 30-year-old, who recorded her first ever Finals win. “He showed up because he knew it was important. I was watching the first three-quarters of my class, but once I’m on my horse that all goes out of my head. I’m just thinking about his strengths and how to showcase them and to enjoy the feeling he gives me out there because he’s a showman.”
Lindsten did not know anything about the breed until Wallace G’s breeder George Geter placed the son of Sas Van Thorrehof with her.
“His breeder sent him to me as a five-year-old, and I developed him from Training Level,” she said. “He’s about to make his Grand Prix debut in the spring of 2024, so we are very excited about him.”
Lindsten runs Taylor Made Sport Horses, her own dressage, jumping, and eventing operation out of Flying Fox Farm in Scottsdale, AZ. But it has been thinking outside her already broad box that has reaped rewards with Wallace G, and working equitation has been key to his success.
“At the lower levels he wasn’t very successful because he’s so naturally high and tight in the neck,” she explained. “It wasn’t until we got to Fourth Level that he really started to show some great scores and what helped is that we started doing working equitation. He debuted at masters level this year, and we are hoping to go to the 2026 World Cup in Spain. He’s multitalented; if I could clone that horse I would — he’s got the best temperament of any horse I’ve ever trained.”
Valor Puts On A Brave Face
Jennifer Roth finished more than 2% clear of her rivals to claim the Training Level Open Championship on board her own and client Chris Harvey’s seven-year-old Valor with 72.867%.
“This was his second test today, so he was a little bit on the tired side,” said Roth, who is from Columbus, OH. “He handled the atmosphere very bravely. He’s never been to the Horse Park before, or any venue like this, so I was thrilled with him. The test felt pretty darn good, but it wasn’t flawless by any stretch of the imagination.”
Roth bought the horse in Kansas while on a shopping trip with a client, who was looking at a different horse. The owners pulled out Valor, put him on the lunge line, and Roth immediately decided to buy him.
“I was interested in his quality of movement. He seemed like a level headed dude, and I’m a sucker for a bay,” explained Roth, who has trained with Sharon Ridge since she was 13. “We bought him without ever having sat on him.
“I’ve given him extra time to mature as he’s a big-moving horse. I called him a spider on roller skates because it took him years to figure out where his legs were. We’ve just been taking it slow and methodical; I haven’t pressured him to do too much too soon. He’s seven so technically he’s behind, but for where he is mentally and physically, I’m very pleased.”
Competition continues on Saturday, November 11, with 13 championship titles up for grabs from First Level to the evening’s Open Grand Prix Freestyle. 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