The Kentucky Horse Park played host to the fourth and final day of action on Sunday, November 12, 2023, in the 10th anniversary edition of the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®. The remaining nine champions of the year were crowned at a show where competitors representing 40 states traveled from far and wide to vie for the more than $120,000 of prize money.
When 19-year-old Bridgid Browne bought a foal — having never even handled a weanling in her life — little did she know that seven years later she would lift the Fourth Level Open Freestyle Championship title on her horse of a lifetime on her first trip to Finals.
“I love this mare with my whole heart,” enthused the 26-year-old of the 15.2-hand Karina Sandra TF, unable to contain the smile on her face. “I was refreshing the results over and over again because there were a lot of really competitive, good riders in there. It’s super special because I’ve done everything with her myself. It’s super rewarding.
“We’ve been really polishing things up the last weeks with Angela [Jackson]. I take video lessons with her as she’s in Kentucky and I’m in Tennessee,” said Browne, who scored 72.492% to music from Mamma Mia! put together by Kristin Wasemiller-Knutson. “‘Shrimpy’ really let me ride her through the test and push her. It felt so flowing, and she trusted me in this huge atmosphere. She’s never seen anything like this before.”
As a teenager, Browne was at a clinic and heard Jackson talking about a filly foal by Fiderbach she’d seen.
“Angela said she was a super awesome little filly but a spicy, tiny spitfire who needed just the right person,” Browne related. “She said, ‘I’m telling you, this is going to be a Grand Prix horse one day.’ I thought that if Angela was saying that, she must be good. I only had a little bit of money, but Angela convinced the breeder and next thing I knew I was buying my first baby horse.”
A former professional rider, Browne now works in medical device sales and keeps Shrimpy at a farm across the road, where the eight-year-old lives with a mini pony companion, Chocolate.
“I lead her over to my farm to ride her, and I do everything with her myself,” added the rider, who is just five feet, one inches tall. “I really think she might be my first Grand Prix horse because the changes and the passage are super easy for her, and we’ve just started half steps. I just have to be smart about the pressure I put on her, because if mares aren’t working for you, they’re going to work against you.”
“He’s Like Riding a Couch”
“The best baby horse ever!” is Emma Batchelder’s assessment of her Training Level Adult Amateur (AA) champion, Eminem. At only four years old, the son of Escolar vanquished all before him to take the title with 74.6%. Batchelder bought him at the Hanoverian Elite Auction in 2022.
“He’s been a total love and a trooper,” enthused the Florida-based nurse anesthetist. “He’s just a really smart, brave boy. He was a little tired as he’s been so pumped this week, but he listened and was so supple in the test. He’s totally comfortable and easy to sit — it’s like riding a couch. He’s four but I’m never afraid of him.”
Batchelder trains with her sister Nora and bought a barn 10 minutes from her, near Williston, FL, last January, where Eminem (barn name Slim) and her other horses live.
“My sister says he’s four going on 14. He’s just a really cool horse,” added Batchelder of the 17.1-hand gelding. “I bought him for resale, but now I think I might keep him for a while. I just hope that he stops growing.”
Risk-Taking Pays Off
Changing up her floorplan and taking a risk paid dividends for the Third Level Freestyle AA winner, Laurie Saldana-Rich, who also won this class in 2022.
Both victories came aboard her own “perfect amateur horse,” the nine-year-old De Niro mare Straight Horse De Milla, who came from Helgstrand Dressage in Wellington three years ago. She is out of the Blue Hors Zack mare Zackonik, herself a Grand Prix horse under Chris Hickey.
Their 70.492% performance to a freestyle made by Cynthia Collins of Luna Tunes Freestyles put them more than 3% clear of the reserve champion Janelle Williams on Barn Dance.
“Yesterday I didn’t have a very good ride,” said the 56-year-old rider. “George Williams schooled me here and said, ‘You weren’t riding; you were just guiding,’ so I knew I had to redeem myself. That was my job, and I feel like I did that.
“It was a similar freestyle to last year except Jennifer [Conour, with whom she also trains] had me change the ending,” she continued. “She wanted me to do a circle of changes and I hadn’t done that until this show, so I tried it in the warm-up and thought, ‘Okay, I’m just going to go for it.’ Two judges commented that I went for a big risk and it paid off, so Jennifer was right. She says I’ll have to try Prix St. Georges soon, so I guess I’d better buy a shadbelly.”
Saldana-Rich will spend the winter in Florida based at Blue Marlin Farms training with Williams. When she returns to her Indiana farm in the spring, two embryo transfer foals out of Straight Horse De Milla — both by Glamourdale — are due.
A Truckload of Prizes
Heather Mason’s team may have to avoid weigh bridges on the way home given the number of sashes and blankets they have received at this show. She definitely has the Midas touch: she won all but one of the seven Championship classes that she entered. On the final day, Mason’s six-year-old Shmoky Quartz extended his unbeaten run, landing his fourth title at the show.
The pair’s 72.54% staked claim to the Second Level Open Championship. A loss of clarity in the rein-back was compensated for by a good number of eights throughout the test, including two for each of the canter serpentines, and unanimous eights for the rider’s seat and position.
Mason’s pupil Alexandra Krossen also had a superb show, picking up her second title of the week with Looker SCF. The horse was a custom foal by a gelding Krossen used to ride called Zulft SCF, and when he died from colic, she decided to use Zulft’s frozen semen to custom-breed a replacement.
Looker has stepped into that role admirably, carrying the 37-year-old Krossen to two titles at the 2023 Finals, the last of which was in the First Level Freestyle Championship. Their 70.019% was the only score to pass the 70% marker. Krossen works full-time as a senior manager in a pharmaceutical company and keeps her horses with Mason.
Krossen also finished third in the Prix St. Georges AA riding Heather Mason’s 11-year-old Oldenburg mare Nicene to 68.529%. The class was topped by Amy Swerdlin, who was another AA to add to her winning tally this week on the final day. She rode her own eight-year-old home-bred Fellowship CCW, a horse that is by Follow Me out of Scholastica, by Sir Donnerhall, to the Prix St. Georges title with 71.078%.
Swerdlin edged out another in-form AA partnership, relegating Bonnie Canter and her petite seven-year-old Vitali to the reserve spot with 70.784%.
Continuing the day’s theme of 2023 champions adding to their winning tally, Taylor Allen added the Fourth Level Jr/YR accolade to her name, scoring 68.75% on her own 13-year-old KWPN Tuschinski mare, Fleur De Lis.
In the Fourth Level Jr/YR Championship, it was the last rider to go, the 18-year-old Taiwan Parrish, who swept to victory. He rode Saracchi, Lauren Chumley’s 18-year-old bay gelding by Sandro Hit, to 69.637%. He has been helping at his trainer Lauren Chumley’s barn since he was 14, and her offering him the ride on the 17.1-hand Saracchi was the catalyst that prompted Parrish to switch from jumping to dressage, a decision which is paying dividends.
Just as in the previous day’s Open Training Level Championship, the Jr/YR championship at the level was won by a son of the prolific stallion Secret (by Sezuan x St. Moritz). Florida-based Hannah Catsulis rode Tyra Vernon’s five-year-old Sandor ASH to 72.933% — the unanimous winner from the three judges — besting the field of 14 combinations.
Caroline Colby of New Hampshire now has another winner’s blanket to add to the one she and My Lorino earned at First Level in 2022. This year, the pair contested a total of seven classes across the week and the 17-year-old rider saved the nine-year-old Westfalen gelding’s best test for last. Sunday’s 71.31% victory in the Second Level Jr/YR Championship marked their crowning glory.
Vying with competitors from across the country for bragging rights for their respective USDF Regions, the top four scoring riders in designated divisions competed on regional teams for the Le Mieux/US Dressage Finals Regions Cup.
Congratulations to the top three teams of 2023:
Champions: Region 3, average score 72.002%
Sandor ASH, owned by Tyra Vernon and ridden by Hannah Catsulis in Training Level Junior/Young Rider
Vitali, owned and ridden by Bonnie Canter in Fourth Level Adult Amateur
Sandor ASH, owned by Tyra Vernon and ridden by Hannah Catsulis in Training Level Junior/Young Rider
Fellowship CCW, owned and ridden by Amy Swerdlin in Prix St. Georges Adult Amateur
Reserve Champions: Region 9, average score 68.703%
NTEC Dorian Gray, owned by Kai Handt and ridden by Julia Handt in Training Level Open
Dante Rubin M.R, owned and ridden by Anartz Chanca in Third Level Adult Amateur
Gorm, owned by Ashley Shaw and ridden by Mina Veselinovic in Training Level Junior/Young Rider
Zalando B., owned by ISA-Rosal LLC and ridden by Marta Renilla in Prix St. Georges Open
Third place: Region 1, average score 67.956%
Valor, owned by Jennifer Roth & Kris Harvey and ridden by Jennifer Roth in Training Level Open
No Limit, owned and ridden by Erin Liedle in Second Level Adult Amateur
Shamrok Hit, owned and ridden by Megan DeMichele in First Level Junior/Young Rider
Leeloo Dallas, owned and ridden by Lauren Chumley in Prix St. Georges Open
Full results for the LeMieux/US Dressage Finals Regions Cup can be found HERE.
Sunday’s classes conclude competition in the 2023 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®. Catch up with all the action via the USDF Facebook page, the US Dressage Finals website, and on the USEF Network. To learn more about the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, view results, and read daily news releases, visit the official US Dressage Finals event website. Next year’s US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® take place November 7-10, 2024. Mark your calendar!
By Alice Collins for Jump Media/US Dressage Finals