Postcard: 2017 Dressage at Devon

Canadians (and a former Canadian) swept the big classes at the USA’s iconic autumn show.
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Canadians (and a former Canadian) swept the big classes at the USA’s iconic autumn show.

October 1, 2017—O Canada as usual was on top of Dressage at Devon’s national anthem hit parade during the performance segment of the show over the weekend. Canadians accounted for blue ribbons in Big Tour classes with the exception of the Grand Prix for the Special and the Grand Prix Special, which were won by a former Canadian representative, Ashley Holzer, who now rides for the U.S.

Ashley Holzer won the Grand Prix Special on Havanna.

Ashley Holzer won the Grand Prix Special on Havanna.

While her mount, Havanna, showed some tension in the Grand Prix and had a few green mistakes, such as trotting in the one-tempi changes, the spirited mare blossomed in the Special.

“I really see this horse being a huge contender in the future. There were moments in there when I felt like I was floating,” Ashley said of the 10-year-old Hanoverian by Hochadel, noting any little wrinkles that may crop up are “an easy fix.”

One-two-three in the featured $10,000 Grand Prix Freestyle last night were entries from north of the border, led by Ashley’s student Britanny Fraser-Beaulieu on All In, who loves to compete but gets antsy in the presentations. (Check out facebook.com/dressagetoday to see his Lippizan imitation.)

Canada’s Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu stepped up to take the Dressage at Devon Grand Prix Freestyle with All In

Canada’s Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu stepped up to take the Dressage at Devon Grand Prix Freestyle with All In.

It was the duo’s second World Cup qualifier in a week, having won in Saugerties, N.Y., on Sept. 22. This time the score was a personal best, 75.500 percent. That’s a good credential for Brittany, who is opening a training business in Montreal. Hear what Brittany has to say about her horse and her plans by listening to this video. 

Second went to Friday’s winner of the Grand Prix for the Freestyle, Diane Creech with Danish warmblood Chrevis Christo. Third was Jacquie Brooks—riding the 2012 Devon winner, 18-year-old D Niro in his seventh, and likely last, D at D.

Jacquie Brooks revved up the crowd after her freestyle on D Niro

Jacquie Brooks revved up the crowd after her freestyle on D Niro.

Ontario-based Belinda Trussell dominated the Small Tour with Carlucci (and headed the list of Canadians in the Prix St. Georges, who took first through sixth.) She also was second in the GP for the Special and the Special with the eye-catching Tattoo, who is black with white stockings, a favorite equine color combo of mine.

Belinda Trussell and Carlucci dominated the Small Tour.

Belinda Trussell and Carlucci dominated the Small Tour.

Click on the video to hear what Belinda had to say about both horses. 

Other Canadian victories: Lori Bell and Flirt won the I-1 freestyle, in which Belinda didn’t compete, while Ava MacCoubrey topped the Junior Rider Individual test with the lovely Ritter Benno.

I could go on and on, but enough with the list of results. This 3-star show on Philadelphia’s Main Line used to attract more big names from the U.S. While the Canadians make it a priority, the elite U.S. riders tend to focus elsewhere, looking toward the big competitions, such as next year’s FEI World Cup finals and the World Equestrian Games.

Jacquie, Ashley and I chatted about the situation. Here’s Jacquie’s analysis: “There’s two seasons now, there’s Florida and there’s Europe. The real contenders, which the Americans have turned into, a team that in my opinion is a contender for a medal, have to be in those two venues. So the shoulder seasons are now fall and spring.” For people such as Jacquie, who don’t go to Europe, there’s another route.

“My rest for my horses and my training are at small (Canadian) shows in July and August. Then I prepare for Saugerties/Devon then they rest again and then Florida,” said Jacquie, one of the Canadians who has made Devon a priority over the years.

Ashley suggested what would help Dressage at Devon would be if the Tryon, N.C, September show could be held after Devon, instead of before Saugerties.

“If there were three (shows) people could hit on the way down (to Florida), it might make people think `Oh, I can have a little bit of a tour at these three shows,’ “ said Ashley, thinking it could create more participation. She also suggested if the Central Park show’s dressage segment last weekend had not been cancelled, it might have meant a few more riders coming to Devon, the way the 2016 Central Park winner, Judy Reynolds of Ireland, did last year.

At the same time, Ashley noted Devon does have atmosphere, especially on freestyle night, which makes it a good place to put mileage on a younger horse. This year was no exception. The stands were about 7/8 filled, and the crowd was as appreciative and enthusiastic as usual

“I’ve seen a ton of young horses here that are amazing, I’ve seen a ton of St. Georges horses and this is where people are going to be able to get their horses used to venues,” Ashley pointed out.

“The one detraction (about) Florida is it’s in the same venue all the time. Which is okay, but not so great if you have to change up the venue and you’re not so sure how your horse is. I’m glad this horse show is here.”

For more from Ashley, watch this video of another chat we had at Devon. 

Oh, and while I’m on the subject of Ashley, I asked about her talented (non-riding) children. Her daughter Emma is doing well with music, and her son, Harry, has just gotten the lead in a new Netflix movie. This is a family that is loved by the spotlight.

Speaking of atmosphere, D at D always has great entertainment, but never more so than this year. The Delaware Valley Combined Training Association put on several impressive and fun quadrilles. DVCTA’s Quad Squad is managed by Anne Miller, who comes up with these freestyles (you can see some photos of them at the Dressage Today facebook page referenced above).

You had to love the incongruous pairing of Downton Abbey (represented by two side-saddle riders) and Game of Thrones (represented by a horse masquerading as a dragon) in one quadrille. The two shows’ musical themes added to the drama. On a completely different note, the quadrille based on the Snow White story, with music from the Disney movie (“Some Day My Prince Will Come,” and “Hi-ho, Hi-ho, It’s Off to Work We Go”) was impressive in the sheer number of moving parts; er, people and horses, involved.

Not only did we have Snow White, the prince and the wicked queen, but also the queen’s huntsmen and of course, the Seven Dwarves. The riding was spot-on and the patterns were so smooth, it was like looking at a costumed kaleidoscopic view. Any show can hire an exhibition, but to have local people perform so professionally made the spectacle really special.

One thing I enjoy about D at D is the variety of breeds participating. Not every horse has Dutch, German or Danish bloodlines. In the past, I’ve written about a Morgan and a Cheval Canadien that competed there. This year, I was intrigued by Steeped in Luck, an adorable Irish draught stallion. How often have you seen that breed competing at Grand Prix? Previously ridden by Shannon Dueck and Danielle Gallagher, the 14-year-old son of Mount Diamond Flag appeared in the Grand Prix Freestyle with Elisabeth Austin aboard.

Elizabeth Austin and the Irish draught stallion, Steeped in Luck

Elisabeth Austin and the Irish draught stallion, Steeped in Luck

“He’s obviously not what you think of as a typical bred-for-dressage horse, but what’s amazing about him is he’s amazingly sound and tries very hard. He’s actually ridiculously talented for the really hard movements, piaffe, passage, pirouettes,” said Elisabeth.

“It’s only our fourth horse show together, so it’s always a learning experience.” Elisabeth was so happy, she was grinning during her ride.

She told herself, "Stop smiling, you’re riding at Devon, you have to be serious.” But she couldn’t help it.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of him. He is a saint, I never worry about him spooking about things. He’s a delight to have.”

He wound up with a respectable score of 68.175 percent, which was good enough for sixth in the eight-horse class and more than that, something to be proud of.

I’m switching gears and disciplines again. My next postcard will be from Fair Hill, Md., Oct. 15, where one of the world’s most testing 3-star three-day events is held.

Until then,

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