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Champions like Heather Salden Kurtz and Jjaguar B celebrate as the 2021 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® returned to the Kentucky Horse Park with record-breaking participation numbers. Photo by Susan J. Stickle.
After a year away due to the COVID-19 pandemic, horses and riders from across the country once again have descended upon the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington for the 2021 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, a unique national head-to-head competition being held November 11-14 which offers a wealth of championship titles and over $120,000 in prize money. After the disappointment from cancellation of the 2020 event, anticipation for a return to the Finals stage had reached a fever pitch, and even with COVID-19 protocols still in place on the grounds, there is no denying the excitement of competitors, officials, and volunteers to be back in the Bluegrass.
With entries representing all nine USDF regions from coast to coast, the record-breaking participation numbers prove that that the Finals are back, bigger and better than ever. The number of horses on the grounds for this year's Finals increased by almost 50% from two years ago to a total of 538, and the number of rides increased a whopping 55% (from 541 in 2019 to 839 in 2021). In addition, the 379 riders participating in this year's event reflect an increase of 25% over the previous Finals – a total which doesn't include an additional 67 youth competitors who are competing for national titles for the first time in the new Junior/Young Rider divisions for Training through Fourth Levels.
“We were prepared for a slight increase this year because of the combination of exhibitors who qualified for the Finals from both the 2020 and 2021 Regional Championships as well as the Juniors and Young Riders. But when the closing date came and went, the number of entries we received was so many more than we ever anticipated,” explained competition manager Debra Reinhardt. “Almost every championship class this year is so large that we have had to be a bit creative with scheduling, and this also necessitated the hiring of six additional judges (for a total of 18), as well as utilization of the Rolex Arena for the first time in order to add two more dressage rings there. Based on the reaction from competitors that I've spoken with so far, they are ecstatic about being here and my entire team is ready to put on a spectacular event for them this week.”
Tarjan is Untouchable in Intermediate II Adult Amateur Championship
Alice Tarjan and Serenade MF, winners of the Intermediate II Adult Amateur division. Photo by Susan J. Stickle.
Championship competition got underway on Thursday with three national titles on the line, even as horses and riders faced challenges from a cold front which began working its way across the Bluegrass in the afternoon. Despite high winds and storm clouds brewing over the Claiborne Arena, Alice Tarjan of Oldwick, N.J. (Region 1) and her nine-year-old Hanoverian mare Serenade MF (Sir Donnerhall x Duet MF by Don Principe, bred in the U.S. by Maryanna Haymon) were unfazed by the weather and dominated the Intermediate II Adult Amateur Championship division, earning the unanimous win under all three judges with a total score of 72.598%. After being crowned as the Markel/USEF Developing Horse Grand Prix Dressage National Champions at the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions in August as well as recently being named the 2021 Adequan®/USDF Horse of the Year for Intermediate II, Tarjan and Serenade MF capped off their spectacular season with one final national title.
Mason Successfully Defends 2019 Title in Intermediate II Open Championship
Sheltered from the weather in the comfort of the Alltech Arena, an impressive field of 23 riders from across the country battled it out in the Intermediate II Open Championship. Ultimately emerging victorious with a winning score of 71.422% was Region 8's Heather Mason (Lebanon, N.J.) who successfully defended her 2019 title at this level with her own 16-year-old Oldenburg/Holsteiner gelding RTF Lincoln, a horse she's known since he was a foal. The pair will now move on to compete in the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle divisions later in the week.
Watch their winning ride HERE, and watch the entire class on-demand from the USEF Network HERE.
“It feels great to be here and he was super today,” said Mason. “The last month has been rough with a foot abscess so we've only had about five rides in the last three weeks. But he's definitely matured, is getting more and more solid in the work, and I'm getting better at managing him. This Intermediate II test was a great way to start the weekend and build his confidence.”
Feldmann and Kurtz Brave the Rain to Tie for Third Level Open Championship
Despite the rain, Tammy Feldmann and Free Tyme became co-champions in the Third Level Open division. Photo by Susan J. Stickle.
Halfway through the field of 31 competitors in the Third Level Open Championship class, dark clouds delivered on their ominous promise as pouring rain began to fall. But the show must go on and the best-scoring rides ended up being delivered at the very end of the day, resulting in an unusual tie for top honors. Tammy Feldmann of Englewood, Fla. rode Debora King's 12-year-old Oldenburg gelding Free Tyme (Fidertanz x Kia by Landsieger) to a score of 70.875% to share top billing with Heather Salden Kurtz from Chanhassen, Minn. aboard Kristi Bloom's seven-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Jjaguar B (Spielberg x Apres Zelma by Uphill).
It was an emotional victory for Feldmann, who qualified from the Region 3 Championships via a wild card invitation. “My husband passed away in late August, and he was always so proud of me and this horse,” Feldmann explained. “Because of everything that's happened, we weren't going to come to the Finals but I wanted to do this for him, so we drove all the way up from south Florida for one ride. I wear a necklace that has his ashes, and right before I went in the ring I pulled it out and kissed it and said, ‘This is for you, Denny.' So I feel like this win was meant to be and it means more to me than anyone can imagine.”
Co-Champion Kurtz also had to face riding down center line in the pouring rain, and credited practice at home in inclement weather with helping to produce a winning performance today. “Luckily my horse was absolutely perfect and went along like a trouper,” noted Kurtz, who qualified in Region 4. “He didn't even bat an eye and did his best, and I'm so proud of him. He's not the fanciest mover, but he has a ton of heart and I can always count on him to be super consistent, no matter what.”
Championship competition resumes Friday – follow the action through updates on the USDF Facebook page and the US Dressage Finals website, as well as watch live online streaming on the USEF Network. To learn more about the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, download competition information, review day sheets and results, and read daily news releases, visit the official event website at http://www.usdressagefinals.com.