By Alice Collins for Wellington International
Anna Marek and Fayvel got the crowd on their feet and clapping to the beat of their winning performance in the ‘Friday Night Stars’ FEI World Cup™ Grand Prix Freestyle, sponsored by The Dutta Corp on Friday, February 9. This is the second of three World Cup™ legs hosted this year by the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) circuit in Wellington, Florida. AGDF 2024, which hosts seven weeks of CDI competition, runs through March 31.
From last draw, Marek rode the 14-year-old Zizi Top x Houston gelding Fayvel to 78.457%, eclipsing their previous best of 77.715%, set during AGDF 1. The British five-star judge Stephen Clarke awarded the pair’s high score of 81.1%. Their win handed them 20 FEI ranking points, enough to secure a starting berth at the FEI World Cup™ Final in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (April 16-20).
Just as in Thursday’s qualifying Grand Prix class, Kevin Kohmann slotted into second behind Marek, chalking up 75.89% on Diamante Farms’s 15-year-old Hanoverian gelding Dünensee (Dancier x Davignon). Susan Dutta piloted her own and her husband Tim’s 14-year-old Don Design DC (Der Designer x Sir Donnerhall) to third with 73.31%, rounding out the all-American podium.
To strains of Kygo’s ‘At Least We Stole The Show’ and remixes of ‘Let’s Dance’ put together by Karen Robinson, Marek came out all guns blazing, pulling off a technically challenging test with power and risk. Spectators started whooping when she rode a half-20m circle of two-time changes which melted seamlessly into a diagonal of one-time changes. Marek’s groom Kate Esterline was awarded the $500 grooms prize, sponsored by Massa Horses.
“Today it was really a fun ride,” enthused Marek, who took over Fayvel’s competitive reins from owner Cynthia Davila full time only in the fall of 2023. “I was so happy with how willing he was even in such a big atmosphere; he can walk on a long rein next to all those cheering people.
“I’ve known him and ridden him for a long time, but not in CDIs or trying to qualify for a championship. The last couple of shows I’ve been thrilled with him and we’re getting better together so fast — it’s really great,” added Marek, who is based near Ocala, FL, and trains with Ann Gribbons.
Judge at C William Warren said, “Each of the rides had its own qualities, but when Anna started I had to really not blink. I didn’t want to miss anything. She actually made me tingle a little bit. There was so much power in that ride, she took such risk and she pulled it off.”
Kohmann also used strong beats and lyrics to emphasize Dünensee’s highlights. Quiet riding, a loose curb rein and a harmonious partnership produced a powerful and light-footed performance, which included a delightful canter to piaffe transition.
“Today was quite a bit better than last time here,” said Kohmann, who took over the ride on Dünensee from his trainer Christoph Koschel a year ago. “Last time he was very nervous, this time he was just nervous. I honestly felt so comfortable this time, riding at night and I felt like it was my best freestyle. I actually could enjoy riding the test. This is a difficult ring to show in, but I literally just thought this time, ‘I’m going to pat him a little bit more,’ and it worked. I just had fun tonight.”
Susan Dutta was riding in ‘Friday Night Stars’ for the very first time with her long-time partner Don Design. He, like Dünensee, was sourced through Christoph Koschel, and was a firecracker of a young horse.
“I’m enjoying how well he’s handling the environment and how grown up he’s gotten,” she said. “We bought him as a five-year-old from Hof Kasselmann and we’ve been on a nine-year journey. He was quite a handful as a young horse, and I needed a lot of help. He’s gotten so many riders off, but luckily not me. And in the end he’s turned out to be amazing.
“I had one small mistake in the one-time changes, but overall, I’m thrilled with him. I’m really happy to be in the top three — that was my goal for the night and I accomplished it,” she added.
Last year’s AGDF 5 World Cup™ Grand Prix Freestyle winner Frederic Wandres (GER) was in action in Friday’s CDI1* Prix St. Georges, sponsored by Centerline Stables. This time the German national anthem rang out for Wandres’s 71.941% performance on Alessa Marie Maass’ nine-year-old Fürstenball mare, Floricella.
In an all-American field of nine starters in the second of five rounds of the Lövsta Future Challenge FEI Intermediate II — a class for developing grand prix horses aged eight to 11 years old — Andrea Woodard claimed the top score. She rode the nine-year-old gelding Kaliber (Franklin x Rubin Royal OLD) to 69.941%, repeating their win in this class during AGDF 3.
Runner-up Amanda Perkowski scored 69.559% on Valour Performance Horses LLC’s nine-year-old Sir Donnerhall daughter Sonata MF, handing them a coveted place in the AGDF week 12 final. As Woodard had already qualified on Kaliber, the second direct ticket to the final passed down to third-placed Tina Konyot and J Everdale (68.412%).
“The nice thing about Kaliber is that you can fire him up and he has all this power, and then you can stop and drop the rein and just walk around,” said Woodard, who was born in New York, grew up in Denmark and now lives in Wellington, FL. “That’s one of the things I’ve never felt before on any horse: that combination of the willingness and the ability from the body, with the mind that can go into that challenging arena.”
Woodard has been training Kaliber since 2020, sharing the ride with his owner Anette Grant. She is coached by Israel’s Oded Shimoni.
“We realized that he was really talented and had an easy time coping with the more collected exercises without getting stressed, and with a lot of quality. So we decided to build towards the grand prix and he did that pretty quickly as he’s very smart. We’ve just been adding the layers, and this is really a good spot to be able to take a young horse in to the atmosphere.
Woodard was full of praise for the Lövsta Challenge, adding, “The interesting part is having riders and trainers and combinations that can take these good young horses and bring them up, but then when you feel like you have one, it’s important to have a place to go and test it. It gives us riders the chance to create awareness around ourselves, and maybe get scouted for programs or teams.”
Dressage competition resumes on Saturday with the CDI3* Grand Prix Special, sponsored by Blucreeq Spirits, as well as a CDI1* FEI Intermediate I sponsored by Centerline Stables — with 10 combinations on the start list — and action in Young Rider divisions, plus more. AGDF 5 continues through Sunday. For more information and results, visit www.globaldressagefestival.com.