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Former and Defending Champions Book Tickets to 2023 US Dressage Finals Presented by Adequan®

October 5, 2023 - Lexington, KY

Franzsis HSR, a winner at the 2023 GAIG/USDF Region 2 Championships, competed at the 2022 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®.
Photo by John Borys Photography
Kathryn Fleming-Kuhn and Franzsis HSR topped the Championship classes at Fourth Level, Fourth Level Freestyle, and Prix St. Georges, all with scores over 70%.
Photo by John Borys Photography
Abigail Taft rode the four-year-old Haflinger/Belgian pony FKA Prince to win with 70% at Training Level.
Photo by John Borys Photography
Heather Mason and the 18-year-old RTF Lincoln will return again to the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® to contest their Grand Prix titles from 2022.
Photo by SusanJStickle.com
Shmoky Quartz and Heather Mason won the Second Level Open Freestyle in Region 2 with a massive 78.487% score.
Photo by SusanJStickle.com
The 2023 GAIG/USDF Region 7 Championships were just the third show of the year for Chelsey Sibley and Finale.
Photo by Terri Miller
Home-bred stallion Finale topped two Grand Prix classes in Region 7.
Photo by Terri Miller

The first weekend of 2023 Great American Insurance Group (GAIG)/United States Dressage Federation (USDF) Regional Championships, held across a total of nine USDF regions, kicked off with three shows on September 21-24. All events offered riders the chance to qualify for the 2023 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY, on November 9-12.

Family Affair at Region 2 Championships

At the GAIG/USDF Region 2 Championships held in Wayne, IL, the husband-wife team of Martin Kuhn and Kathryn Fleming-Kuhn scooped up five Regional titles between them. Three of Fleming-Kuhn’s victories came courtesy of consistently high-scoring tests on her own Franzsis HSR (Franziskus x Sandro Hit), and her fourth on the five-year-old Vholt. Both horses were bought at just two weeks old.

Fleming-Kuhn and Franzsis topped the Championship classes at Fourth Level, Fourth Level Freestyle, and Prix St. Georges, all with scores over 70% — the best being 75.85% in the Fourth Level Freestyle to music.

“Franzsis blew me away because he’s only seven,” said Fleming-Kuhn, who is based in New Berlin, IL. “I really came in with no expectation — particularly at Prix St. Georges, as that was only his third one. I wasn’t even sure I was going to do it, and when I decided he was good to go, my goal was just to get a wildcard score. It was a super competitive class [with 19 combinations], and the other horses have so much more experience at that level.

“He’s an amazing partner, but he has so much natural fire and a lot of sensitivities, so the journey with him has been about getting enough relaxation in the test. That’s come a long way this year,” added Fleming-Kuhn, who rode Franzsis at the 2022 Finals at Second and Third Levels and finished fourth twice. 

Her other Regional Champion accolade came at Second Level Freestyle where the five-year-old Vholt (by Vitalis x Romanov, bred by Mo Swanson) led the charge with 73.5%. He also picked up the reserve champion spot in the Freestyle class at the level. 

“He’s also a tremendous athlete and a super mover,” enthused Fleming-Kuhn. “He’s young, and I’m still getting the right dosage of how much energy I’m going to put in. It’s about riding the balance so there is enough relaxation in the test. 

“We like to buy U.S.-bred foals,” she noted. “I like to get them before they’re inspected because that’s when I can afford them. We have a lovely set-up for raising young horses and then we start and develop them.”

Not to be outdone, Kuhn led the Intermediate II piloting his wife’s 10-year-old gelding Ronin to 70.074%. The Blue Hors Romanov x Sir Donnerhall son, who was bred in the U.S. by Marcia Boeing, won the open Prix St. Georges Championship at the 2022 Finals. The horse is having a dream career and has won a Regional title at every single level he has contested so far, all under Kuhn’s guidance. The couple has participated in every edition since its inception apart from one — 2015 — when their son was born.
  
Fleming-Kuhn added: “We have a long window now until Finals as it’s only September, so we’ll go back into training mode aiming to develop a bit more engagement and expression between now and then.”

Heather McCarthy stood reserve champion to Fleming-Kuhn in the Prix St. Georges, chalking up 72.574% on breeder Janice Marquardt’s 10-year-old Liberty Gold mare, Lady In Red WS. They were also Intermediate I Freestyle reserve champions, pipped to the title by Angela Jackson (Holts Le’Mans), with both riders achieving over 72%.

McCarthy had an incredibly busy weekend, riding 16 tests on five horses over four days, and topping 70% in 11 of them. Riding Au Revoir, Sandi Chohany’s 12-year-old Ampere gelding, she topped the podium twice at Grand Prix, posting 71.2% in the Grand Prix Freestyle, and 65.761% to clinch the Grand Prix class.

An unusually-bred horse who has only been under saddle for four months will be heading to Finals via Region 2. The 2022 Adequan® FEI North American Youth Championships Junior Team rider Abigail Taft rode the four-year-old Haflinger/Belgian pony FKA Prince to top honors in the Training Level JR/YR class with 70% and have declared for Finals. They also claimed placings in three other classes, including standing reserve champions in the USDF Dressage Seat Semi Finals. 

Finals Winner Mason Solidifies Return at Regional Championships

Last year’s Open Grand Prix Finals Champion Heather Mason was in action on three different horses at the Region 8 Championships in Saugerties, NY. Riding her own RTF Lincoln, Mason claimed victories at both Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle, ensuring that the decorated duo will defend their 2021 and 2022 titles at the level in Kentucky.

Mason has competed at Finals every single year it has been held despite it being a 13-hour drive from her New Jersey base. Riding the now 18-year-old RTF Lincoln, by L’Andiamo, she topped the Grand Prix with 66.522% and went on to capture the Freestyle with a commanding 76.688%. 

“My plan was to do Regionals and Finals this year as this is my last season with him,” said Mason. “He will either retire or take a step down. I have a system for him that works for now: He lunges two to three hours before his ride in just a halter. He’s terrible to lunge and cuts in and runs around like an idiot, but at home he lives out overnight, so it’s like his turnout.

“He’s a character, but he’s fit and strong and feels better than ever,” she continued. “However, it’s time to focus on the young ones and see if he will step down to maybe fourth level with a client.”

Her other two rides, the six-year-olds Manuskript SCF and Shmoky Quartz, also went to Finals last year and picked up sashes as division champions. At Regionals, they both laid claim to their Kentucky tickets for 2023. Of the eight tests Mason rode on these two horses — four apiece — just one dipped below the magic 70% barrier. Her highest score of the weekend was awarded to Shmoky Quartz. The six-year-old Oldenburg, by the Sandro Hit son Shakespeare RSF, scooped the Second Level Open Freestyle blue ribbon with a massive 78.487% — with one of the two judges awarding over 80%.

In the Third Level Open Freestyle Championship, Shmoky Quartz — the First Level Open and Freestyle champion from the 2022 Finals — finished second to Manuskript (Jazz x Krack C), although both horses scored north of 74%.

“They’re the same age so I’ll be competing against myself for quite some time,” quipped Mason, who acquired Shmoky Quartz from his breeder Mo Swanson for an affordable price as he didn’t have ideal X-rays. “He was very good at the show, and the freestyle is very complicated, but it rides well and Shmoky is naturally supple. I just forget about the X-rays; he’s been perfect.”

Of Manuskript she added: “Skript is small and very handy and energetic at the shows. He has two very difficult freestyles, and Shmoky won’t be able to do Skript’s Fourth Level Freestyle — he’ll get a new one. The goal was to qualify them all for Finals and make the trip because we love it. The atmosphere is great, it’s a fun show, and it’s great to see the amateurs ramp up and get excited. It feels like a big championship.”

Mason will contest a total of 10 tests in Kentucky, two with Lincoln and four apiece on her six-year-olds. 

Sibley Takes Top Titles

At the Region 7 Championships in Rancho Murieta, CA, Chelsey Sibley repeated Heather Mason’s feat at the top level, claiming both the titles on offer at Grand Prix. She rode her own 13-year-old home-bred stallion Finale (Contester II x Jazz) to 65% in the Grand Prix, and just shy of 70% in the Freestyle. Finale has been lightly competed this year, and Regionals was just his third show of 2023.   

“We’ve had the freestyle for some time and know it well,” said Sibley, who has 50 horses at her ranch in Sonora, CA, including numerous offspring of Finale. “We hit the music right and didn’t have any mistakes, so I was pretty happy with that. He likes the freestyle — we both do — and he was really on for me.

“In the Grand Prix he missed the twos which is really unlike him, but he was a little tired by then,” she explained. “He has the best rideability of any horse I’ve ever had, and he’s never said no to me about anything.”

Sibley has been mentored by rider and judge Jeff Ashton Moore for almost 40 years and credits him for much of her success.

“Jeff owned Finale’s dam, who I rode a bit,” explained Sibley. “He bred a few foals from her and then gave her to me to breed one last one — hence the name. I also rode his sire Contester. I could tell from the beginning that Finale was an incredible mover — very soft and supple. I’ve had quite a few Grand Prix horses, and he’s the most solid.”

The 2023 US Dressage Finals will be held November 9-12 in Lexington, KY, at the Kentucky Horse Park and is a national championship competition that showcases the Adult Amateur and Open divisions. Classes run at Training Level through Grand Prix, plus divisions for Junior/Young Riders at Training Level through Fourth Level. There is $120,000 in prize money up for grabs over the four days. Learn more at www.usdf.org/usdressagefinals/index.asp.