By George Williams
As the year comes to a close, we find ourselves reflecting on the past 12 months yet all the while thinking about what the next year will bring. Looking back, 2023 could be referred to as the year of equine ethics, well-being and welfare. It certainly was a prevailing group of topics all year and seemed to be on everyone’s agenda, beginning with the US Equestrian meeting in January and culminating in the International Dressage Riders and Trainers Clubs meeting that I wrote about in last month’s column. Bringing it to the forefront has led to some well-needed discussions that will ultimately advance equestrian sport and improve the lives of our beloved horses. I am definitely looking forward to our continuing conversations on these subjects.
April brought some terrific riding to U.S. audiences with the FEI World Cup Finals in Omaha, Nebraska: Jessica van Bredow-Werndl and TSF Dalera BB were spectacular with a harmonious, dance-like quality in the freestyle; Nanna Skodborg Merrald and Blue Hors Zepter jumped onto our radar screens; and, for me, Isabell Werth’s freestyle on Quantaz was masterfully ridden. In fourth place and less than two percentage points behind her was our own star, Steffen Peters, riding the “Rave Horse,” Suppenkasper—known as Mopsie. Not far behind him, finishing sixth, was Anna Buffini, who piloted FRH Davinia la Douce in their second World Cup. After Omaha, it was fun to follow the European trio as they moved on to Aachen and, finally, to the European Championships in September, where they were up against Lottie Fry and Charlotte Dujardin for one of the most anticipated and exciting competitions of the year.
Excitement was not just limited to the European dressage community. The U.S. certainly had its share as well, and, quite honestly, in some respects ours was even more exciting as it is the segue to the future. We could perhaps refer to 2023 as the year of U.S. youth!
The US Equestrian Dressage European Young Rider Tour and our U25 athletes got the summer season off to quite a healthy start. Our U25 athletes, Ben Ebeling with Status Royal and Erin Nichols with Elian Royale, had splendid results.
The CDI, located in the 12th Century Dutch town of Geesteren, was Erin’s first time competing at the U25 level in Europe. She went against many of the best Dutch U25 riders, a number of who were high up on the FEI U25 World Ranking List that included the combination in the number one spot. Later, she had a clean sweep winning all three of the U25 classes in July at Kronenberg, also in Netherlands. Ben started his European tour in Belgium with a win at Grote Brogel in the U25 I-II and just recently won every U25 class at Crozet in France.
Young Riders Christian Simonson, Erin Nichols and Kat Fuqua were the bronze medal team at Hagen CDIOY, which is a part of the Future Champions competition hosted by the Kasselmann family in Germany. Christian and Erin went on to compete in the Young Rider classes at CHIO Aachen 10 days later.
Meanwhile, stateside, the efforts of our youth programs paid off at the NAYC in terms of the medals won. Our Junior and Young Rider teams captured almost all the medals. While the Canadians won the U25 team medal, Emily Hewitt on Fidens came back and won the individual gold for the FEI 16-25 Grand Prix and Alexander Dawson on Freedom took home the silver for the U25 freestyle.
Youth shined again at home at the Festival of Champions, both human and equine. The consensus was that this could possibly be the best group of 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds we have had at the Festival, and probably the greatest depth in the quality of riding by our youth athletes.
The qualifying process for the 2024 FEI World Cup Finals to be held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has already started with Ben Ebeling and Indeed winning the freestyle class at CDIW Devon and at the TerraNova CDIW. He now has 40 points, setting himself up as the one the others will have to chase after. Kevin Kohmann on Dunensee, the pair named the reserve combination for the U.S. at the Pan Am Games, placed second, earning 17 points.
I started this column while still in Quillota, Chile, and am just finishing after flying home from a fantastic Pan Am Games in Santiago. The equestrian venue was at Escuela de Caballeria, the Chilean cavalry riding school in Quillota where one of my early instructors trained. It is a beautiful venue that can boast of excellent footing and a friendly atmosphere. With an average age of 29, we had what may be the youngest U.S. dressage team to ever compete in a Pan Am Games. Our “Young Guns” team of three Grand Prix combinations and one small tour combo made the USA proud by winning the team gold. Anna Marek and Firefly went on to take individual bronze in the freestyle, with Sarah Tubman on First Apple in fourth and Codi Harrison with Katholt’s Bossco in sixth place.
It bodes well for our future that we have so many talented younger athletes moving through the ranks, yet one of the real beauties of dressage is that it’s not just a young person’s sport. Don’t forget that Reiner Klimke was in his 60s and still planning on the 2000 Olympics. Now that the Paris Olympics are just a few months away, I know it will be exciting to watch the international front to see what the next year brings.
The USA dressage team gold medalists, left to right, Sarah Tubman, Codi Harrison, Anna Marek and Christian Simonson at the Pan Am Games 2023 – Santiago.
Photo by FEI/MacMillan Photography