By Alice Collins for Wellington International
The International Arena at Wellington International — permanent home of show jumping’s Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) — hosted the CaptiveOne Advisors CDI5* Grand Prix Freestyle and the CDI5* Grand Prix Special, sponsored by Wellington Equestrian Realty, on Friday, March 17.
This show during week 10 marks a change of venue for the five-star classes at the 2023 Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) in Wellington, FL, which operates out of the nearby Equestrian Village. AGDF 2023 hosts seven weeks of CDI competition over three months and runs through April 2.
Frederic Wandres is no stranger to the winner’s circle and he and the phenomenally talented Bluetooth OLD chalked up 82.31% as the penultimate combination in the class to ensure the German anthem rang out again. All five judges had the pair to win, and all awarded over 80%. Two American female athletes filled the remaining steps of the podium, with Sarah Tubman securing second — and ticking an item off her bucket list — with a 77.58% ride on Summit Farm’s 13-year-old Vivaldi stallion, First Apple. Ashley Holzer scooped third place, riding her own 13-year-old Sir Donnerhall mare, Valentine, to 76.295%.
Wandres did not shy away from a high degree of difficulty, riding 19 one-time changes on a curving line to a new 80s music compilation. Bluetooth looked confident and secure in the piaffe fans and the passage half-passes, which are both optional elements of a freestyle, but add to the degree of difficulty — and therefore risk — that a rider chooses to take. It paid off for the duo, whose balanced test was also bursting with power. This is their sixth consecutive victory at this year’s AGDF and their highest score of the season.
“Six out of six is really amazing,” said a delighted Wandres, who rides for Bluetooth’s owner, Hof Kasselmann. “It shows that the horse and I have improved a lot. We started already high, and it’s not so easy over three months to keep the level that high — you have to keep the horses happy and sound — and they’re not used to the heat.”
Bluetooth had an easy period after the World Cup qualifier in AGDF 8, and Wandres felt he had benefited from the break.
“He was very fresh in the Grand Prix and I had a super feeling,” enthused the delighted 35-year-old. “He’s very with me during the tests. Even though there were a lot of spectators, he was very focused and with me.
“You can always take the experience that you get here back with you to Europe and show how you have improved,” he added. “So I am looking to do that for sure and carry the results and experience into the European dressage arenas.”
Wandres’ new freestyle soundtrack was a modern twist on 80s music, and it was rewarded with a 10 from the judge at C, Stephen Clarke.
Clarke said, “It was a great evening, really good for the sport. The level was really high and we had an outstanding winner, but also three or four riders were really close together and had real highlights. The atmosphere here is electric and I think it gave a real edge.”
Tubman was especially pleased with First Apple’s piaffe, which has been a little tricky in the past, during their Terry Ciotti Gallo-made freestyle. This was also her debut five-star show.
“We have been using the freestyle to help build Apple’s confidence,” she said. “I can set the test up so it’s the best for him. Tonight I think was some of my best piaffe I’ve had in the ring and he felt super reliable. He’s a showman – he loves the lights; the more people and the more noise, the better. I was really happy to feel honest energy with relaxation.
“We’re also really excited to take what we’ve learned over the season to Europe this summer. I’m pretty new at this in this big ring; this is my first five-star, so it’s a bucket list item to be sitting here with these guys.”
Holzer’s mare Valentine has been intimidated by large venues in the past, so her two podium finishes this week in Wellington International’s atmospheric International Arena were of particular note.
“This is a really challenging venue for her and she was a little tense in the beginning, but I think the last centerline with the piaffe and passage was amazing,” she said. “She was feeling really energetic and forward. I’m excited that she’s able to come to these atmospheres now and cope. It’s been a bit of a challenge, so the more I can do it the better she gets as far as confidence is concerned. It’s great to have these venues in America.”
Barbançon Plays it Smart
In the Wellington Equestrian Realty CDI5* Grand Prix Special, Morgan Barbançon credited her victory to a tactical ride and an SOS call to her trainer in England, Gareth Hughes. Barbançon — who formerly rode for Spain before switching nationalities to represent France — returned to winning ways with Habana Libre A after a sub-par performance in the qualifying Grand Prix, where they finished third.
The penultimate competitor in the class — which was also held at Wellington International under a stunning dusk sky — 30-year-old Barbançon put 72% on the board. She edged out Germany’s rising star, the 22-year-old Felicitas Hendricks, and her own 12-year-old Destano gelding Drombusch 2 (71.532%). The winner of the qualifying Grand Prix, Pablo Gómez Molina (ESP), finished just behind, claiming third with 71.043% on Javier Bacariza, Cristina Danguillecourt and the breeder Yeguada de Ymas’s 13-year-old PRE gelding Ulises De Ymas.
“Wednesday was a new arena and Habana’s first time under the lights, so I had to push a bit too much and that’s when I get mistakes,” she explained of the 11-year-old gelding by Zizi Top, who was the youngest horse in the class. “Today I decided to ride a very conservative test because if we are fault free then he automatically gets between a seven and an eight.
“Passage is our strong point, so I was really focusing on that. The piaffe was still a bit shy and not enough steps, but I came here to Wellington to give him as much experience and mileage as possible. I am not reaching out for big scores at the moment. He needs to understand that in there, it’s ok. I tried to ride a little bit smart today.
“I’m so proud of Habana tonight after Wednesday; he really kept it together,” added the Swiss-based rider. “I’ve been training with Gareth for a year now, and he’s helped me a bunch recently. Two weeks ago, the show really didn’t go well and both Havana and I had a huge loss of confidence, so I called Gareth ‘SOS!’ and he found the time for me. We did some sessions on the Pivo system and that really helped.”
After the final week of AGDF 2023, Barbançon will head back to Europe with Habana, whom she rates extremely highly. “He is the best horse I ever rode. He has everything — no weak points. It’s just a matter of fine-tuning everything.”
Dressage competition resumes on Saturday at Equestrian Village, with the showcase class of the day, the Fair Sky Farm CDI3* Grand Prix Special, which begins at 11:40am and has 15 combinations on the start list. France’s Morgan Barbançon will be looking to repeat her victory from Thursday’s qualifying Grand Prix. AGDF 10 runs through Sunday. For more information and results, visit www.globaldressagefestival.com.