By George Williams
With 2020 officially behind us, we can hopefully focus on the new year and all that it promises. After living through last year, many of us are full of hope going into 2021. Since this is a dressage column, I’ll focus on the international dressage competition world and what to look for over the next 365 days.
The biggest event of the year will no doubt be the Tokyo Olympics. Dressage is scheduled for July 23–August 8. The Grand Prix will be the team and individual qualifier, and will be held over two days, July 24 and 25, and is followed by a rest day. This time around, the actual competition determining the team medals will be the Grand Prix Special on July 27. The individual medals will be determined by the Freestyle on the 28th.
Due to the postponement of the Olympic Games, the new format that I wrote about in detail in my column last February has yet to be used in competition at the Grand Prix level. There are several significant differences between the format we’re all used to and the new one. It will be interesting to see how the athletes and the countries adapt and whether in the end it’s deemed successful.
Unfortunately, at least for the near future, the indoor shows still face major challenges. The FEI World Cup Finals are scheduled be held in Gothenburg, Sweden March 31–April 5. Let’s keep our collective fingers crossed that horses actually go down that centerline.
The plan, although not confirmed as of this writing, is for the European Championships to be held September 7–12, not quite six weeks after the Olympics. This is all part of the big preparations that many countries will be doing as they gear up for the 2022 World Championships in Herning, Denmark. This is the first time since the first World Equestrian Games were held in Stockholm back in 1990 that the FEI disciplines have been separated into their own championships. Herning will host four of the discipline championships, dressage, para dressage, vaulting and jumping, in 2022, August 5–10.
In the U.S. we have quite an ambitious schedule. There are currently 14 CDIs with a nice mix of World Cup Qualifiers, three-stars, a couple of two-stars, a four-star, a five-star and a CDIO3* on the FEI dressage calendar between January 1 and May 2. The FEI calendar picks up again in September with CDI-W Devon and goes through December 12.
In the first few months of the year, our top Grand Prix combinations will be trying to earn one of three spots on the U.S. Olympic team. As much as COVID-19 travel restrictions allow, we may see Olympic hopefuls from other countries at many of our CDIs trying to earn their required scores for Olympic qualification.
Not to be outdone, our top American U25 athletes will be vying for a chance to compete at CHIO Aachen June 29–July 4. Many have already started and will continue to compete in CDI-U25s in California and Florida to earn the top spots on their ranking list.
For our younger athletes, the calendar is quite full as well. As they have in the past, US Equestrian is planning on taking a team of three on a European Tour ending with the Hagen CDIOY. This is the Young Rider Nations Cup that is part of the Future Champions competition which the Kasselmann family hosts in June each year at their beautiful farm in Germany.
August is a full month. August 9–15, the North American Youth Championships will be held in Traverse City, Michigan. Competition consists of teams of three or four from the nine USDF Regions. FEI Junior and Young Riders have an opportunity to compete against the Canadians, Mexicans and island countries in the only FEI Continental Championships to be held in North America. It’s been around as a Continental Championship, first for eventing, then for dressage and jumping, for over 40 years. Many of our top athletes and professionals competed in them, including Ashley Holzer, Todd Fletrich, Jeremy Steinberg, Scott Hassler, Kathleen Raine, JJ Tate, Nick Wagman and Adrienne Lyle, just to mention a few.
The U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions, which is the National Championships for FEI Children, FEI Pony Rider, Junior and Young Riders is scheduled for August 24–29 at Lamplight Equestrian Center, Wayne, Illinois. Of course, this week-long Championships also includes the Dressage Seat Medal Finals, U25 (Brentina Cup), Developing Prix St. Georges and Grand Prix, Intermediate I, Grand Prix and 4-, 5- and 6-Year-Old Young Horse Championships.
For the first time ever, in November, Youth will also have its very own division at the US Dressage Finals at the Kentucky Horse Park alongside the Adult Amateur and Open Divisions. The Finals classes for youth are being offered from Training through Fourth Level.
We have to stay optimistic and plan for each of these events to actually happen. Understandably, it feels like we’re making up for lost time with the calendar being so full. But in reality, if 2020 had gone as planned we would have said 2021 is just another year.