May 21, 2017— It was a clean sweep for riders trained by Debbie McDonald at the national dressage championships this weekend, a testament to the Olympic, Pan Am and World Equestrian Games medalist whose teaching proficiency matches her record as a rider.
Adrienne Lyle, who I met when she started out with Debbie 12 years ago as a working student, swept both the I-1 and Grand Prix freestyles. She also was champion in the I-1 division with Betsy Juliano’s immensely talented Horizon, and finished as reserve in the Grand Prix section on the still-developing Salvino to Kasey Perry-Glass, another Debbie protégé who rode her Olympic team bronze medal mount, Goerklintgaard’s Dublet, to the national title.
Horizon performed to a freestyle borrowed from competitor Katherine Bateson-Chandler, who became ill at the show after her first class and did not continue. The music, highlighted by, “It’s Raining Men” suited Horizon’s “so fun” attitude, which was important, because Adrienne needed a blow-out score to edge Jane Cleveland and her 8-year-old Monique for the championship.
“She loves to get out there and perform,” Adrienne said of Horizon.
“You kind of sit there and pilot her through it.”
Her 75.500 percent freestyle mark gave her the push she needed to earn the tri-color by a mere 0.199 percent, so all her supporters could breathe again. The freestyle counted 15 percent in the formula, which was 40 percent for Thursday’s Prix St. Georges and 45 percent for the I-1 test yesterday.
Although Salvino earned 76.325 percent in the Grand Prix freestyle, to Kasey’s 73.325 percent score after Dublet broke near the end of his performance, it wasn’t enough for the stallion to collect a championship cooler. In Thursday’s Grand Prix, which counted 45 percent, Kasey racked up a 3.1 percent lead. Even so, Adrienne fell short of catching up with Kasey by just 0.231 percent.
But considering it was Salvino’s first freestyle, he couldn’t be faulted. Adrienne rode to music I recognized immediately, a medley consisting of “Soul Man” and “Dancing on the Ceiling” that had been used by her 2012 Olympic and 2014 WEG mount Wizard, now retired. It was adapted for Salvino’s longer stride.
“I couldn’t be happier with what he gave me, and I think there’s a ton of power,” Adrienne said.
“He’s such a cool, level-headed horse that I think very shortly I’m going to feel comfortable tapping into more potential and pushing him for even more of what I have to offer,” continued Adrienne, who wisely has brought Salvino along slowly with Debbie’s counsel. Adrienne is heading to Europe this summer with both horses and Harmony’s Duval, who she started as an unbroken five-year-old. He finished third overall in the I-1 section.
Listen to what Adrienne had to say about the pressure she was under in the I-1 division, and how she handles competing at a national championship on three horses. Click on the right-pointing arrow to watch the video.
Kasey, who’s also bound for the European shows, said she’s pushing Dublet for more in his freestyle, and of course, it’s hard to know exactly where the boundary between “more” and “too much” is; it’s a determination that can only come with experience and development of both horse and rider.
Kasey talked to me about her program with Dublet and what she hopes to achieve as the polishing process goes on. Click on the right-pointing arrow to watch the video.
Kaitlin Blythe, riding Don Principe, took the Under 25 Brentina Cup presented by Dressage Today. It’s named for Debbie’s famous mount who was the star of U.S. international teams from the late 1990s until the mid -2000s. Although she normally trains with Anne Gribbons, Kaitlin was also part of the Gladstone contingent coached by Debbie, who was on hand for presentation of the trophy named after her famous mare, retired in California at the age of 27.
And get this—Adrienne won the Brentina Cup at the beginning of her career, so the whole thing makes a nice circle.
I chatted with Kaitlin, who is aging out of the under-25 ranks, about that. Click on the right-pointing arrow to hear what she had to say.
Don Principe’s freestyle is the same one used by his former riders, Courtney King-Dye and Michael Bragdell. It ends with a risky move; a piaffe fan to the final halt. If the timing is off, it doesn’t work, but Kaitlin got it.
For Adrienne and Kaitlin, there was more to the story than of the championships than just applause. The two nearly didn’t make the competition after Horizon and Don Principe tested positive for a medicated feed additive that is labeled a forbidden substance by the FEI (international equestrian federation).
The riders, who are scrupulous in the care of their horses, had done nothing wrong. But Adrienne and Kaitlin were suspended along with their horses, even though Cargill—which produced the supplement—came forward and said the substance was in their product, despite not being listed on the label. The FEI subsequently lifted the suspension on the riders, but not on the horses, even though the effects of the substance were long gone.
It took a mighty effort by Betsy Juliano, a USET Foundation trustee who owns Horizon, to push for the horses to come off suspension as well so they could compete in Gladstone. Luckily, Betsy has a legal services business and knew what to do.
Lawyer Sam Silver took the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled the horses could take part in the championships. There are more legal proceedings to come, but the riders kept training as if they were going to Gladstone, and were ready when they got the word nine days before the championships that they could take part.
It’s a reminder that things don’t always go smoothly for horse owners, who play such a big role in the success of their animals and the people who ride them. Betsy talked about that with me. Click on the right-pointing arrow to hear her comments.
You might be wondering in the midst of all this why I haven’t mentioned Laura Graves, who was on the Rio team with Kasey and is the USA’s highest-ranked rider internationally.
Laura felt that after the World Cup finals, where she finished second on Verdades, Diddy—as Verdades is known—was in need of a rest before heading off to Europe with Adrienne, Kasey and Olivia LaGoy-Weltz, another Debbie student who finished third in the Grand Prix championship.
But Laura graciously came out for the Olympian Experience, a new feature of the show presented by Dressage Today. She gave a private lesson to Gwen Powers, a Second Level rider on her Welsh cross, Calliope, but everyone at the show could listen in and pick up tips. Robert Dover, an Olympic multi-medalist and U.S. dressage technical advisor, did the same for Heather Mendiburu, who is getting ready to compete in Grand Prix with her mare, What Happen.
Dressage Today will have a video out soon showing not only the lessons, but also a Q and A with Laura, Robert and the riders.
Being at Gladstone was special for everyone; it’s a place with “real atmosphere,” as judge Gary Rockwell noted, and plenty of history to boot. The historic facility will be marking its 100 anniversary this year.
The amenities of the championship included an outdoor welcome dinner party at the golf clubhouse grounds, also located on Hamilton Farm, where officials, riders and horse owners mingled over Mexican food.
On Saturday afternoon, a cocktail party presented by Dressage Today in the stable’s rotunda saluted the bronze medal dressage Olympians, who shared tears and laughter as they recalled their time in Rio. It also included a salute to Dr. Rick Mitchell, a longtime team veterinarian, who has decided to stay closer to home and focus more on his practice rather than traveling with the horse and riders.
Next weekend, I’ll be at the Devon Horse Show writing about a new feature, arena eventing, in which both show jumpers and eventers will take part. Read my postcard about it on May 29.