Alice Collins for Wellington International
Anna Marek (USA) and Janet Simile’s 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood Fire Fly were the number-one pick of all five judges in the Grand Prix Special CDI3*, presented by Olympia Footing. Despite a two-hour storm delay mid-way through, the day’s marquee class produced some pleasing performances during week one of the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) in Wellington, FL. AGDF hosts seven weeks of CDI competition over three months and runs through March 31.
The youngest horse in the class, Harmony Sporthorses’ 10-year-old Harmony’s V-Plus slotted into second under his part-owner Susan Pape (GBR). The Oldenburg stallion by Vivaldi x Fürst Romancier was contesting his second ever CDI at big tour and finished with a new personal best in the Special of 69.234%. Pape has produced him since he was a youngster.
From first draw in the class, seven-time Swedish Olympian Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfvén held onto third place riding Lövsta Stuteri’s 12-year-old mare Hyatt (by Apache x Sandreo) to 68.83%. This was also the horse’s second big tour CDI, and her first run through the Special in international company.
Marek also topped Thursday’s qualifying Grand Prix class on Fire Fly (by Briar Junior x OO Seven), with whom she won a Pan American Games team gold medal in the fall of 2023.
“He was a little more tense than I’m used to in the Freestyle,” admitted Marek, who is based near Ocala, FL. “He had a giant spook in the same corner that my other horse Fyvel did. I thought it was the fern, then I was thinking to myself, maybe they’re not afraid of the fern; I’m afraid of the fern. Then we got our flow, and then he was great.”
Marek’s tactics for keeping the spooky gelding happy include him living out 24/7 at her home farm.
“I call it pampered outdoor living,” said the 34-year-old. “But Fire Fly’s such a tense horse that as soon as he started living outside with another horse, it completely changed his riding. And he adapts no problem to being in a stall at horse shows. It’s been so great for him.”
Marek took over the ride in 2021, despite being pregnant, and Fire Fly turned out to be one of the horses she continued to ride until late on. She then picked him up again in December 2021, a month after her daughter was born, and the pair have been on the rise ever since.
“When he first came to me, he would over sit and get scared in the piaffe. I spent a long time never putting the piaffe on the spot and I make sure I never let him feel trapped again. Sometimes he’ll still over-sit, but he doesn’t panic like he used to. It’s taken him time to realize he’s never going to get in trouble.”
Her goal this year is to be selected to be among the U.S. squad of riders to go to Europe for the summer, somewhere she has never competed before.
In the FEI Young Riders Individual test, presented by Prestige Italia USA, Australian teenager Kate Kyros extended her unbeaten run this week, riding the 11-year-old stallion Intro K (by Apache x Rousseau) to 71.5%.
“This is our first ever season in Wellington with the horses,” said the 19-year-old. “It’s been so exciting to hear the Australian anthem played so many times. It’s hard coming from a different country; you never really know where you’re going to stand with scores and the other competitors, but we’re over the moon. I’m looking forward to being able to compete so often because that’s what we miss out on at home.”
Kate’s mother — who owns both the horses the family brought to Wellington — flew with the horses in early December on a mammoth journey from Queensland to Hong Kong, on to Alaska, and then finally flying to Miami for a week of quarantine.
“We gave them a month to settle in,” added Kyros, who is competing internationally outside Australia for the first time. “Luckily the weather is similar to home, but it’s a big trip for them. The rest of the season we’ll keep trying to improve on the scores and try to get my world ranking up, as well as getting competition experience for me.”
Frederic Wandres (GER) was also giving competition experience to his employer Hof Kasselmann’s Desperado NOP-sired chestnut stallion Diamor 4. The pair captured the blue ribbon in the Preliminary Test for seven-year-old horses, presented by Palm Beach Equine Clinic, with 73.55%.
Fresh from the sale of her top horse Serenade, Alice Tarjan (USA) was back between the boards bringing on one of her next stars in a long string of home-produced horses. She rode her own 10-year-old Jane — another by the Vivaldi son Desperado NOP — to a 70% victory in the CDI2* Intermediate A. The black Dutch Warmblood mare is unbeaten in all 10 of her CDI starts, and has never scored below 70%.
Dressage competition in AGDF1 concludes on Sunday, with Young Riders, the CDI1* Intermediate I Freestyle class and an Under-25 Grand Prix. For more information and results, visit www.globaldressagefestival.com.