August 26, 2009 -- The sun finally emerged at the spectacular Lamplight Equestrian Center August 23 to spotlight the nation's future dressage talent in the six-year-old and developing horse divisions. It was a competition worthy of champions as presented to judges Linda Zang, Jeanne McDonald and Hilda Gurney.
In the Six-Year-Old division, U.S.-bred Pikko del Cerro HU made America proud by claiming the Markel/USEF National Championship with an overall score of 7.9. Ridden by Mikala Munter Gundersen of Wellington, Fla., for Horses Unlimited, Inc. of New Mexico, the imposing dark bay Hanoverian stallion put in a consistent test to place third in the Final Test, enough for the overall title.
"We had a great warm-up, but he was a little disrupted by the applause for the horse finishing their round before us," said Gundersen. "He took a little while to settle in the test but I loved our canter work and he has a great walk. He's such a talented horse, it all comes easy for him."
Pikko del Cerro HU's next stop will be Devon, then back to Florida to pursue the FEI levels. Despite the long drive to Chicago, Gundersen can't wait to come back to Lamplight and bring more young horses through the program.
"This is a wonderful facility, the footing held up, and everyone here has been so helpful and such a pleasure to work with," said Gundersen.
Several young horses put in tremendous performances August 23 as they tackled the FEI Six-Year-Old Final Test, and as a result moved up in the overall rankings. One of these rising stars was "Faberge", ridden by Maryland's Jessica Jo Tate for owner Elizabeth Guarisco of Middleburg, Virginia. After Friday's fifth-place finish in the Preliminary Test, a strong second in the test was enough to propel Faberge in to the overall Reserve Championship spot.
"Everything came together today and he just lit up in the ring in a positive way," said Tate. "He's not the biggest mover in the world, but his rideability is outstanding. He was so with me today, easy and supple; I couldn't have asked for more."
Tate has only had the mount since April after finding the bay Westfalen gelding (Florestan - Baroness by Brentano II, bred in Germany by Eva-Maria and Hubertus ZG Hoff) in Europe for Guarisco.
"We had been looking for a schoolmaster, but his temperament was so fantastic that we brought him home, and decided to take him in the young horse division for show ring experience," said Tate.
Tate will next take Faberge to Devon and Region 1 championships before heading south to Florida for the winter season. As for moving on to the Developing Horse ranks next year, Tate says, "He has such a great attitude and is willing to do it all, he just needs strength. He'll tell me when he's ready."
Winning the Final Test with a score of 8.08 for an overall third-place finish with 7.664 was "Winsor", a dark bay Dutch Warmblood stallion (San Remo - Para Lady by Julio Mariner, bred in the Netherlands by P.P.W. Janssen) with owner/rider Nicole Bellah of Missouri. This pair was last year's 2008 Markel/USEF National Champions in the Five-Year-Old division.
The afternoon session became a showdown as the top developing horse and rider combinations in the nation contested the second phase of the USEF National Developing Horse Dressage Championship presented by the Dutta Corporation and Performance Sales International. Emerging as the victor was Hilltop Farm's "Cabana Boy", who with rider Christopher Hickey pulled off an unprecedented feat in winning two National Championships as a young horse (2007 as a five-year-old, 2008 as a six-year-old) followed by a victory in the Developing Horse division, earning the acclaim of the judges and an overall average of 73.440%.
"This horse is the poster child for American breeding," said Hickey. "This kind of accomplishment comes along once in a lifetime and I'm so thankful to Jane McElree (of Hilltop) and the sponsors of this program, the Dutta Corporation and PSI."
Cabana Boy, a bay Hanoverian gelding (Contucci - Britania by Bordeaux) was bred in Wisconsin by Douglas and Shannon Langer.
"He's a tremendous character, very confident, and this makes him a brilliant show horse," says Hickey. "I'm so proud of him."
Next stops for this pair include Devon, followed by a possible trip to Europe in the spring of 2010 to compete in the small tour internationally. Hickey was also pleased with the facility and continued growth of the Developing Horse program.
"It is great to have more and more High Performance riders participating in this division," said Hickey. "And Lamplight is such a beautiful setting, Lloyd Landkamer and all the staff know how to run a fabulous show and what is expected for a national championship. We appreciate everyone's efforts."
Finishing a strong second in the USEF Developing Horse Test (which was worth 60 percent of the overall average) was "Don Bailey" and George Williams, finishing with an overall average of 68.290 percent.
"This horse loves to show up and compete," said Williams. "Yesterday he was a little backed off, but today he was much more energetic and with me." Riding for owner Elizabeth Juliano of Ohio, Williams has only worked consistently with Don Bailey since May 1. The black Oldenburg gelding (Donnerhall - Pirola by Pik Bube) was bred in Germany by Renate Lange and purchased by Juliano from Performance Sales International in December of 2007.
Despite the short time together, Williams says, "We have a certain trust between us. He's very athletic and has a strong sense of self. He definitely has the potential for Grand Prix, and allows me to carry on with my dream of continuing to ride at the top levels of the sport. I'm thrilled to have been a part of this Developing Horse program."
Third in the Championship standings was California's Heidi Gaian and "Chicago", riding her own dark brown Holsteiner gelding (Calido I - Diana XI by Corleone, bred in Germany by Claus-Wilhelm Kuehl) to an overall score of 67.470 percent.