Postcard: 2015 Dressage at Devon

The 40th anniversary of Dressage at Devon was marked by rain and cold, which meant rearranging the schedule, but the multinational display of talent at the famous showgrounds trumped the weather.
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The 40th anniversary of Dressage at Devon was marked by rain and cold, which meant rearranging the schedule, but the multinational display of talent at the famous showgrounds trumped the weather.

October 4, 2015 -- The high point of Dressage at Devon is always Saturday night, when the lights are shining bright and the stands are packed with fans, on hand to watch the musical freestyle-- the competition everyone has been waiting for all week. It's a major factor in what makes Dressage at Devon so special.

This year, however, the weather dictated the schedule, which postponed the freestyle qualifier from a drenched Friday, marked by a power failure, sticky footing and as a result, riders scratching their mounts from the line-up all afternoon. The freestyle qualifier was supposed to be Friday night, but no way. The place was, literally, dark.

Mikala Gundersen, winner of the Dressage at Devon Grand Prix Freestyle on My Lady, enjoys the reaction from enthusiastic spectators during her victory pass | Photo copyright 2015 by Nancy Jaffer

Mikala Gundersen, winner of the Dressage at Devon Grand Prix Freestyle on My Lady, enjoys the reaction from enthusiastic spectators during her victory pass | Photo copyright 2015 by Nancy Jaffer

So the deck got reshuffled: The Grand Prix Special, which was supposed to run today, was held during the day Saturday, and Saturday night was devoted to the freestyle qualifier.

Folks who came expecting to hear the unique musical arrangements that make the choreography of the freestyle so memorable instead heard very dim background music and saw each horse perform the same test, the Grand Prix. The bone-chilling dampness (and perhaps boredom) chased many people away early, leaving few on hand at the end. To save the ring, there was an unmounted ribbon presentation, something for which it was not worth sticking around.

Meanwhile, the Grand Prix qualifier for the Special was run Friday afternoon, but cautious big name riders such as Lisa Wilcox (Pikko del Cerro HU) and Allison Brock (Rosevelt) didn't show, citing the welfare of their mounts. Someone whose opinion I respect confided to me that it might have been better to cancel the Special qualifier on Friday and hold it Saturday instead, so more riders would participate.

But there is just so much time on a weekend, and I know the organizers did the best they could. The net result was that only four competed in the Special itself yesterday, with Canada's Leah Wilson Wilkins taking the title on Fabian JS, scored at 69.608 percent for her first CDI Grand Prix win.

Leah Wilson Wilkins of Canada survived bad weather in the qualifier for the Grand Prix Special on Friday to take the Grand Prix Special the next day | Photo copyright 2015 by Nancy Jaffer

Leah Wilson Wilkins of Canada survived bad weather in the qualifier for the Grand Prix Special on Friday to take the Grand Prix Special the next day | Photo copyright 2015 by Nancy Jaffer

There's a silver lining to every cloud, and at Devon it belonged to Indo-Chic, one of the many cute shops that are a feature of this show, where shopping is an attraction second only to the horses (but a close second for many!)

The store's stock of warm alpaca gloves, hats and scarves nearly sold out. I even paid $35 for "texting mittens" that cover the palm but leave the fingers free, because I was desperate. My hands were frozen--that makes it tough to type or click the camera shutter accurately.

And it was especially chilly Saturday night, when the qualifier for the freestyle belonged to U.S.-based Danish rider Mikala Gundersen on My Lady. Mikala, who lives in Wellington, Fla., had a hard time with the cold.

I commented to her that I thought she should be used to it, coming from chilly Denmark, but she retorted with a smile, "Why do you think I moved to Florida?"

Wendy Wisz talked to Mikala after the qualifier about the difficulty of dealing with the conditions this weekend.

Mikala's mark on Janne Rumbough's lovely Danish-bred mare by Michellino was 72.240 percent, with Canadian Belinda Trussell second on Anton (72.240) and Lisa third for the USA with Galant (70.060).

I thought some of the marking for the class was a little tough, but maybe the judges were as cold as the rest of us; I can tell you, freezing doesn't improve your mood!

I hope you read my stories from last weekend's Rolex Central Park Horse Show (they're still up at www.dressagetoday.com if you missed them) about world number one dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin taking a catch ride and doing a master class on Evi Strasser's stunning gray, Renaissance Tyme.

A few minutes before exiting the arena, Charlotte said that if Evi didn't win at Devon (after the horse's intensive schooling during Central Park), she'd spirit the horse off to England. I think she really liked him, even though I can see he's a very tough customer who requires a dedicated and first-class rider.

Evi and I discussed the situation after her 65.68 percent performance to finish eighth in the qualifier.

Many of the horses I watched schooling on Saturday were spooking and acting up, but in the freestyle qualifier at night, two simply were not having any of it, "it" being what their riders were asking them to do. Kathy Priest withdrew Wild Dancer after she entered, halted near X and reared.

Pan American Games team silver medalist Megan Lane started her test with Caravella, but the Dutchbred mare kept showing resistance and finally was eliminated.

I thought it was unusual to see two Grand Prix horses behaving that way, so I asked U.S. dressage coach Robert Dover about it, and he told me something interesting. Click on the right-pointing arrow below to hear what he had to say.

Things were better today for the freestyle. Although the sun didn't start peeking out until quite a while after the freestyle ended, it wasn't as chilly, there was no rain or wind and a good crowd came out to watch.

Predictably, Mikala was the winner again, to her "stripper music," as she calls it. The soundtrack features "Welcome to Burlesque" and "Chicago," among other tunes. Mikala was really on the music. At one point, she went right onto the canter as there was a brrrump riff (I don't know how to spell it), a perfectly timed movement that impressed.

She earned 77.875 percent, an overwhelming victory, with Lisa second on Galant (73.950) to Brazilian music (check out her audio to find out what that indicates) and Belinda third on Anton with 73.700.

Lisa Wilcox was second in the freestyle with her Brazilian-themed ride on Galant | Photo copyright 2015 by Nancy Jaffer

Lisa Wilcox was second in the freestyle with her Brazilian-themed ride on Galant | Photo copyright 2015 by Nancy Jaffer

Mikala said she came to Devon because, "This is a lovely show, it's always well-organized, it's fun to be here, everybody's here, and we always have such a good time." Though she did mention, "I did not bring enough clothes this time."

But there was another reason it was important for her to do well at the 3-star. The Danish team, you see, did not qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio at last summer's European championships. That means individual riders from the country must try to get themselves high in the rankings so the country can field a "composite team," courtesy of those riders' efforts.

"I decided when I came home that Lady was still in really good shape after the European tour, and it would be a good idea to do Saugerties and Devon and see if I could get my scores a little bit up, so we could get the individual qualifications for Denmark," Mikala said.

Interestingly, she is on the brink of getting U.S. dual citizenship, so someday you might see her riding for America, though at the moment, she's sticking with her native land.

I've been watching Galant progress and relax in the ring a bit as he becomes more proficient with the movements. Jacqueline Shear's 9-year-old Belgian warmblood gelding is quite interesting, and I've enjoyed witnessing his development.

I talked to Lisa about it. Click on the right-pointing arrow to hear what she had to say.

While we have our D at D freestyle favorites we enjoy every year, such as Jacquie Brooks and D-Niro, a former winner (sixth today on 71 percent), it's also fun to watch the newcomers.

In her first appearance in the Devon freestyle, adult amateur Alice Tarjan showed off her Elfenfeuer, an 8-year-old Oldenburg mare she has trained for the last four years. She's had help from Lars Petersen and Catherine Haddad-Staller, but most of the work has been done by Alice.

Fury, as the mare is known, still needs mileage. But she had some lovely moments in her work to, appropriately, excerpts from the score of the 2010 movie, "Alice in Wonderland."She finished 11th on 67.725 percent.

Alice Tarjan and Elfenfeuer were new faces in the freestyle | Photo copyright 2015 by Nancy Jaffer

Alice Tarjan and Elfenfeuer were new faces in the freestyle | Photo copyright 2015 by Nancy Jaffer

Alice, 36, who runs a trucking company with her husband, Dennis, marveled at being in the same ring with people she has admired for years. She recalled having a Lisa Wilcox poster in her room at one point, and now she herself has become part of the same Grand Prix scene.

Don't forget to go to facebook.com/dressagetoday and facebook.com/practicalhorseman for a look at more photos from Devon.

I'm going to spend the next few weeks thawing out before I go to the Dutta Fair Hill International, a three-day event that has had its share of rain over the years. Let's hope it's dry this time, so we can appreciate eventing against a spectacular backdrop of autumn leaves.

Until then,

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