By Alice Collins for Wellington International
A nail-bitingly close class heralded the start of week three 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 top five combinations in the CDI4* FEI Grand Prix, sponsored by US PRE Association, all topped 70%, and just 0.044 percentage points split the winner, Felicitas Hendricks, from the runner-up, Susan Pape (GBR).
Hot off her double of World Cup™ wins in week 1 of the AGDF, the 23-year-old Hendricks (GER) once again showed her widely praised, quiet and effective riding to nab a new personal best score. She and her own 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding Drombusch OLD scored 72.457% from first draw.
Pape’s performance with the 10-year-old Harmony’s V-Plus was also richly rewarded by the judges (72.413%), while Sweden’s Caroline Darcourt piloted the 14-year-old Lord Django to third with 70.196%.
Hendricks is now unbeaten at the 2024 AGDF on the Destano x Dimaggio gelding, whom she bought through her trainer and uncle, Christoph Koschel.
“The horse is just getting better and better and I’m really glad that our scores are reflecting that,” enthused Hendricks. “And the best thing is that there’s still room for improvement. I feel like the sky really is the limit for this horse because he wants to do it, and I know he will.”
Last summer, the pair won team and individual golds at the Under-25 European Championships in Hungary, and since then have only competed in senior ranks despite still being eligible for under-25 classes. The tactic is paying off as Hendricks is more than holding her own in senior company.
“We’re doing a lot of work on the details to get everything super smooth and on point,” she added. “I’m glad that we’re making that progress and developing so well; it makes me unbelievably happy to show him off like that and to know that I’ve got such a happy horse underneath me who’s willing to give everything for me in the ring.
“The score was amazing and I was very happy with my changes. They were straight, uphill, and he was really focussed waiting for my aids. That made it possible for me to give very light aids,” she added.
The next stop for this talented duo is the ‘Friday Night Stars’ CDI4* Grand Prix Freestyle, sponsored by US PRE Association, on Friday evening. They will surely have their previous best freestyles score of 79.105% — set in July 2023 — in their crosshairs.
Jennifer Williams (USA) topped the FEI Grand Prix CDI3*, sponsored by ProElite®, putting herself in pole position heading into Saturday’s Grand Prix Special. She and Joppe K led the 18-strong field on Thursday, claiming the winner’s sash with 68.848% despite the horse’s sensitivity to noise.
Sandwiched between Americans, Susan Pape took another runner-up spot with 68.609%, riding her own and Harmony Sport Horses’ 15-year-old stallion Harmony’s Eclectisch (by Zenon x Olivi). The 20-year-old Erin Nichols clinched third riding Premiere Sport Horses’ 15-year-old gelding Elian Royale, by Glock’s Johnson. This was the pair’s second ever senior CDI Grand Prix and they earned a new personal best in this company of 67.696%.
At 10 years old, Joppe K was the equal youngest horse on the start list. This is the Harmony’s Rousseau gelding’s second year at the level, having made his international grand prix debut at AGDF in 2023.
“He was quite rideable in the piaffe/passage, he stayed in front of my leg, kept pretty on the spot and reactions were good,” said Williams, who splits her time — as well as her two children’s schooling — between Washington and Florida. “We had an unfortunate mistake in the ones, and those are usually a strong suit for us. He just started to feel a bit tired toward the end of the test and I was working a bit more than I’d have liked to, but he gave really good answers and tried to do the best he could.”
A number of combinations encountered issues in the blustery conditions, with four opting to retire mid-test.
“Joppe is a very noise sensitive horse, so I think the conditions in the arena today were a bit tough, as noted by a lot of folks having problems.” added Williams, who has had Joe since he was five. “There are a lot of spectators, and dishes clashing. When you have a noise sensitive horse they get excited, so keeping calm and relaxed was what we were trying to achieve. Today was good, but I still think the fitness could be better, and him being more comfortable in different environments.”
Williams, who is 43, is hopeful of a place on the short list to go to Europe to train and compete with the U.S. squad this summer. On Thursday she also picked up a third place in the CDI1* Prix St. Georges riding Babylon Berlin. The class was spearheaded by Luuk Mourits (NED) on Harmony’s Sarotti OLD with 69.118%. It was another tight-at-the-top contest; just 1.76 percentage points covered the top seven combinations in the class.
Dressage competition during AGDF 3 resumes on Friday morning with 11 classes across the day, including Young Riders, Under-25s, Paras and the opening round of the five qualifiers for the Lövsta Future Challenge, which is an FEI Intermediate II test open to developing Grand Prix horses aged 8-11.
The evening session hosts the CDI4* FEI Grand Prix Freestyle under lights, sponsored by US PRE Association, dubbed ‘Friday Night Stars’. It is free for spectators to watch, both in person and on the live stream. For more information and results, visit www.globaldressagefestival.com.