March 2, 2014 -- Adrienne Lyle last night got a half-pass closer to her goal of competing in the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Finals with a victory on Wizard in the Palm Beach Dressage Derby's freestyle.
It was Adrienne's second freestyle triumph in a week on the 15-year-old Oldenburg gelding, whose consistency level has skyrocketed this year.
She has one more competition to go at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in her effort to qualify for her first finals, which will be held next month in Lyon, France.
Wizard was marked at 76.525 percent, just 0.400 better than Mikala Gundersen and My Lady, who moved up from what was becoming her usual third place finish with a smoothly executed routine to pieces that included, "Hey, Big Spender" and "All That Jazz."
Wizard lights up for the crowd when he's performing to "Play That Funky Music" and "Dancing on the Ceiling." Adrienne takes it all in stride.
"He was a little spicy tonight actually, a little hotter than he was in the Nations' Cup freestyle (last Saturday) which surprised me," she said.
"I figured having two weekends back-to-back, he would have mellowed out a little but he got himself a little amped up. But when he's like that, if you can hold it all together like that, it gives you a phenomenal feeling, like no other horse I've ever sat on.The power and elasticity...it's amazing," enthused Adrienne.
It seemed as if Wizard didn't want to stop performing, continuing to put in a few steps of piaffe after his halt. Adrienne and I talked about that afterwards.
Discussing My Lady's performance, Mikala said, "She needs to get a little stronger still...to get a better score. When she's stronger and can do the lines better and more secure, the scores will go up even higher."
She has ramped up the challenges in her freestyle, and is still working on them.
"The most difficult is the mare is a really big mover, and I really use the entire arena all the time to show her gaits, but you have to also make some turns to show collection," she explained.
"I have a zig-zag in the canter where I go straight and make a flying change and a double pirouette right after that. For many horses, that's super easy, but this horse, because she's such a big mover and very supple and elastic...to get everything together and put her on the straight line into the pirouette...is the most difficult part for us at the moment."
Third place went to Cesar Parra on Van the Man (74 percent), who continues to improve with the help of U.S. coach Robert Dover. Cesar noted that whenever the team around a horse is changed "it takes a little while to adjust, but I think we are looking forward now to keep going up. He's a horse of great quality."
This morning's Grand Prix Special went as expected, with Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven winning on Don Auriello by a major margin, as she had in the Grand Prix.
Her score was 77.804 to 70.373 for Caroline Roffman on Her Highness O, in her first CDI (international competition), and Lisa Wilcox on Denzello (70.02), a horse who is in his third CDI with the Olympic medalist.
Tinne didn't need to go in the freestyle; she's already qualified for Lyon, which is her next stop. We talked about Don Auriello as she looks toward the finals.
Last night, I was waiting for the awards ceremony when an exhibition by two mustangs stopped me in my tracks. Eventer Elisa Wallace, whose father, Rick, trains mustangs, tried her hand at it too and was successful. The crowd loved it when she rode without saddle or bridle.
Her first horse, Rune, 4, was a nice mover who could do a pirouette that looked better than I some I had seen earlier in the day (I won't mention any names.) Fledge, her second horse, won the mustang makeover contest; Rune was 30th out of 200 horses.
I was awed by the performance, and asked Elisa about what it's like to train a mustang. I've heard they're very special.
Although it's only 31 years old, the Palm Beach Dressage Derby still can be considered a historic event. Originally held about 20 minutes away in once very rural Loxahatchee, the Derby was a landmark for the discipline in an area that was soon to embrace it.
The Derby nearly didn't happen this year after a management problem, but Mary Anne and Walter McPhail, who own the event, got together with Equestrian Sport Productions' impresario Mark Bellissimo to save it by bringing it to AGDF.
I spoke with Howald Pferdekamper, one of the founders, about how the Derby got started.
Discussing the Derby's move, Mary Anne said, "We were very sad to think the Derby was not going to go on again, But here we are for the 31st year, and it makes all of us happy."
Added her husband, with a grin, "All the people who were involved originally are still alive." That includes Janne Rumbough, who owns My Lady, and competed in the Grand Prix and Special on her own Junior, a PRE (Spanish) horse, who got the top award after the Special for being the best of his breed in the competition.
I asked Mark about his thought process in taking on the Derby.
"When I first heard it," he said of the cancellation announced last fall, "I was disappointed. I sat down with Walter and Mary Anne and tried to come up with a strategy to keep it going," he continued, calling it "such an amazing event, a legacy event in this area."
He added, "the whole crew that was behind this should be proud they were the inspiration for dressage in this community."
Mark also mentioned the roots of AGDF, recalling how he introduced the idea for the facility to Adequan's Allyn Mann (who enjoys taking selfies of himself with the competitors).
Only Mark would be bold enough put Allyn in a golf cart and drive to the top of a 40-foot pile of dirt so he could get a view of what was going to be built at the site, and only Allyn would have the vision to see what it could be and sign on his company as the sponsor. Voila, a facility that many call the world's finest for the sport, sprouting from a polo field that was in major disrepair.
That's it for my dressage sojourn. Now I'm heading over to the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center a half-mile away for the show jumping grand prix. Check out Equisearch.com tonight for my last postcard of this trip to Florida and I'll tell you all about it.