Gladstone, N.J., June 18, 2007 -- A preview of America's future dressage stars was on display at the U.S. Equestrian Federation National Championships, which ended its four-day run yesterday at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation's Gladstone headquarters.
Having five championships in the same place provided a nice glimpse of the big picture in this discipline. It was exciting to watch the competition for the Grand Prix and Intermediare I championships/Pan American Games trials, won in close matches by Steffen Peters on Lombardi II and Chris Hickey on Regent respectively. Chris's victory earned him a spot on the Pan Am team, along with runner-up Lauren Sammis (Sagacious HF) and third-place Katherine Poulin-Neff (Brilliant Too).
In a way, though, it was even more interesting to see what's developing further down the pipeline from the Juniors, Young Riders and also the up-and-coming professionals, making the transition to Grand Prix as demonstrated in the Brentina Cup competition.
"There's a lot to be said for experience, but we need new young riders to come on, and we're getting them. There are a lot of new faces here," Judge Ann Gribbons said. That statement included horses, too.
One of the brightest of the new equine faces in the Grand Prix ranks is Mythilus, Courtney King's impressive mount, who performed his first Grand Prix for the judges at the Collecting Gaits Farm Festival of Champions. The ride was an exhibition during the lunch break, but it probably would have been scored in the neighborhood of 70 percent, at least according to Ann. And when Mythilus develops more power in his passage, watch out. The score will only go up.
Mythilus made a quick transition to the top level. He had led the standings in the I-1 group trying to qualify for Gladstone. However, on the recommendation of U.S. Coach Klaus Balkenhol, who is looking ahead to next year's Olympics, Courtney decided to go to Aachen with her longtime Grand Prix partner, Idocus, rather than the Pan Ams. She withdrew Mythilus from the I-1 fray, because finishing in the top three there required the riders to go to the Pan Ams in Brazil next month. The timing was such that she couldn't do both competitions.
But early in the championships, it looked like an unfortunate decision ("heartbreaking" was the word a distraught Courtney used). Idocus was lackluster in the Grand Prix, and she even considered withdrawing him from the competition. Of course, by that time it was way too late to reconsider and show Mythilus. Happily, Idocus bounced back with the help of intravenous fluids, massage and a chiropracter. He was second to Lombardi in the Special and then overtook his rival in the freestyle, though it was not enough to keep Steffen from winning his second straight overall Grand Prix national championship, the third of his career.
Courtney was discouraged on Friday, noting that Idocus had wrenched his back performing breeding duties before the show. Since his owners had other contracts in that regard for him before Aachen, she told me she didn't think going there under those circumstances would be fair to the horse, or even possible. But Klaus talked to the owners yesterday to see if something could be worked out, so Idocus is now a definite "possible" for Aachen.
It was a rollercoaster weekend for Courtney, yet there is no doubt this young woman is up to the task. Her freestyle was performed with style even as a dark storm bore down on the showgrounds. While she was riding to the tune of "Follow the Yellow Brick Road," I wondered whether she (and the rest of us) would be going to Oz as the sky turned black. Courtney said later she was oblivious to the weather. Now that's focus!
After she finished to a finale of "stripper music," as she calls the bit from Gypsy, part of her old freestyle, the show was suspended and everyone crammed into the indoor ring or the rotunda of the stable to wait out the rain that came down in sheets, punctuated by thunder and lightning.
When the show resumed more than hour later, the only white horse in the competition, the Andalusian stallion Rociero XV, was next to go. His rider, Kristina Harrison-Naness, was at a distinct disadvantage in rain-soaked footing that splashed all over his lovely coat.