Wayne, Ill. – A total of 168 combinations are ready to compete at the 2022 US Dressage Festival of Champions during a week filled with exciting competition at HITS Chicago at the Lamplight Equestrian Center. The day started with jogs for the Para Dressage and Intermediate I horses, followed by the first of three events for each division. Charlotte Merle-Smith and Guata took the lead in the USEF National Dressage Championship, while Laura Graves and SenSation HW topped the USEF Intermediate I Dressage National Championship standings.
USEF National Para Dressage Championship
A small but seasoned field of competitors make up the USEF National Para Dressage Championship, and Grades I, II, and III compete in a single division. Charlotte Merle-Smith and Guata had a great test to score 70.735% in the FEI Para Dressage Grade III team test for the win. Merle-Smith (Ocala, Fla.) and Susan Merle-Smith’s 11-year-old KWPN mare punctuated their strong test with an impressive final center line to top the four-person field of accomplished combinations.
The Lamplight Equestrian Center has a special meaning for Merle-Smith, and she is delighted to be back at the site that served as the starting point for her para-dressage journey. “I came here once for the very first para show I ever watched 12 or 13 years ago,” she said. “And I was noted here for the first time and I haven’t been here since. It’s a full circle; it’s funny. It’s cool and it’s a wonderful atmosphere.
Sydney Collier (Ann Arbor, Mich.) finished second with a score of 66.606% in the FEI Para Dressage Level I team event with All In One, Going for Gold, LLC and Georgina Bloomberg’s 2009 Hanoverian gelding. Mia Rodier-Dawallo (Santa Barbara, CA) and Jayden, her 2014 KWPN gelding, finished third with a score of 66.514% in the FEI Para Dressage Grade II team test.
The FEI Para Dressage team test counts for 40% of the overall score, while the FEI Para Dressage individual test on Tuesday counts for 45%. The division will end on Wednesday with the FEI Para Dressage Freestyle test, which counts for 15%.
From the Mixed Zone:
Tell us about your trial.
Merle-Smith: “First of all I want to say how proud I am to be here and how excited I am to have paras here involved in the Festival of Champions. My test was great. It’s great to be here in this atmosphere. My horse is in the process of absorbing it and learning to manage everything. It’s so much fun to be part of this learning experience. I now have all the tools to make it better and better. That’s all it’s gonna be from here, even better.
What were the strengths of your test?
Merle-Smith: “The highlights were my ability to reflect on that. I felt like I was really able to do things like keep my reins short and keep thinking about not just the trial pattern but also the ride. I know there will be an improvement tomorrow. It’s great to be here in an atmosphere like this. I like! I really like being here and being in this arena.
What would you like to improve on your next test?
Merle-Smith: “Consistency of rhythm and consistency of attention for me and my horse.”
USEF Intermediate I National Dressage Championship
Fourteen pairs competed in the FEI Prix St. Georges class in their first class at the USEF Intermediate I National Dressage Championships. Laura Graves and SenSation HW won the class with an impressive score of 75.117%. Graves (Geneva, Fla.) and Carol and Scott McPhee’s 2013 Westphalian gelding wowed the judges with a smooth, flowing test to hold on to the top spot in a talented division. The pair have been developing a partnership since 2020, and the hard work has been on display in the arena.
“He’s such a supple horse. We had a few little mistakes. I was really happy with his canter pirouettes. His trotting half passes are always nice because of his suppleness,” Graves said. Overall I think it was a pretty tidy and very clean test. Hopefully he was able to show his power, but also trying to show some relaxation too. He has a great walk. We made a small mistake in one of the walking pirouettes. But in general, it does everything very well. Many strengths for this horse. The overall picture is exciting.
Nick Wagman (San Diego, Calif.) and Heatcliff, Beverly Gepfer’s 2012 KWPN gelding, finished second with a score of 73.529%. Emily Miles and Daily Show finished third with a score of 71.646%.
From the Mixed Zone:
Tell us about your trial.
Graves: “I was super happy with my horse. He was obviously shown here in the lot as a young horse. I didn’t quite know what to expect. He kind of took me by surprise with his experience in a few places being more than I expected, just with the tension catching up with him. So, being here on familiar territory, I wasn’t really sure what I would get, but he’s been amazing. Every day at school he was amazing at this stadium. I reached that point in my career with Verdades where we completed a test and it finally stopped feeling so daunting, and I got that feeling today. When I finished my last midline, I thought, “We could do it again.” It was just nice. And when the judges really appreciate that, that’s when I feel really confident in the work that I’ve done. I just can’t wait for the rest of this week and really the future with this horse.
Have you ever been to this place?
Graves: “Yeah. I’m super happy to be back. I was just chatting with the other competitors. It’s so much fun having us all together. The camaraderie of everyone really wants everyone to do well.
The FEI Prix St. Georges test counts for 40% of the overall score, while the FEI Intermediate I test on Tuesday counts for 45%. The split ends on Thursday with the FEI Freestyle Intermediate I test, which counts for 15%.
Competition continues Tuesday in the Grand Prix arena with the FEI Intermediate I class of the USEF Intermediate I National Dressage Championship at 9 a.m. CT, followed by the FEI Para Dressage Individual Class of the USEF Para Dressage National Championship.
Watch the US Dressage Festival of Champions live stream this week on USEF Network.