By Alice Collins for Wellington International
Germany’s 23-year-old sensation Felicitas Hendricks allowed herself to smile as she and Drombusch OLD performed their final piaffe at X in the CDI4* Grand Prix Freestyle, presented by US PRE Association, as the audience clapped enthusiastically to the beat of their lively music.
The pair — unbeaten in all four of their starts at the 2024 Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) in Wellington, Florida — added week three’s marquee ‘Friday Night Stars’ class to their burgeoning tally with a delightful 78.79% performance on January 26. AGDF, which hosts seven weeks of CDI competition over three months, runs through March 31.
Sweden’s Lövsta Stuteri riders filled the remaining two podium places, with Tinne Vilhelmson Silfvén piloting the 15-year-old Devanto (by De Chirico x Lorentin) to 77.11%, and Caroline Darcourt and the 14-year-old Lord Django (by Stalypso x Londonderry) tucking in behind on 76.89%.
Hendricks and her own 13-year-old Drombusch OLD (by Destano x Dimaggio) have exploded onto the senior stage in 2024, and their freestyle was full of technical complexity: curving lines of changes, double pirouettes, passage half-pass and piaffe pirouettes. Hendricks was just 0.3 percentage points shy of her career high score with Drombusch, and would probably have bettered it but for two very small blips in the test.
“It was so much fun,” said Hendricks, who has ridden Drombusch since he was six, acquiring him through her trainer and uncle, Cristoph Koschel. “People clapping is exactly what I want to achieve with my music. I want to have good vibes and a party in the house — I’m so happy that we achieved that.
“Even though we had some small miscommunications we had a lot of highlights and they were definitely much brighter than the lowlights,” added Hendricks, whose groom Lauren McNabb was awarded the $500 Grooms Prize, sponsored by Massa Horses. “I’m always up for a challenge, and grand prix is challenging. But I’ve got a great horse by my side who makes this whole journey — learning as much as I possibly can — so much fun.”
The seven-time Olympian Vilhelmson Silfvén used a reworked version of her familiar “Puttin’ on the Ritz” freestyle from a decade ago and rode Devanto to it for the first time — which brought its own challenges.
“It was a whole new floor plan, which I never rode before, so that was an adventure and I really had to use my brain and think about where to go,” she admitted. “I think it suits Devanto much better. I’ve had him for three years now and he’s a fun horse. He has a lot going on and you have to be smarter than him all the time. He wants to do a lot — much too much sometimes.
“Here [at AGDF] we have this super opportunity to show a lot without traveling, and to get to train and present new freestyles, try them, and try them out again. We can compete with a lot of atmosphere, and in there it feels like it’s a huge crowd because it’s really loud — it’s so good for the horses to get to do that.”
Darcourt, who is in Wellington for her fourth AGDF season, said, “Django felt very happy. Every time I enter the arena on a Friday night, he’s so motivated. He goes up a gear and really loves to perform here. I also changed the floor plan tonight and I think this one suits him better.”
Judge from C Henning Lehrmann (GER) enjoyed the opportunity to reward the rides with high marks, commenting, “It was fun and an honor to judge, because all three top riders did a really positive presentation in a very horse-friendly way. That is what we want to see.”
Two horse/rider combinations qualified for the Lövsta Future Challenge Final via the Lövsta FEI Intermediate II class on Friday, with two U.S. ladies — Andrea Woodard and Caroline Roffman — both riding horses sired by the Ampere son Franklin. This is the first of five qualifying rounds to earn a starting berth in the final in AGDF12 at the end of March, and a chance to share a slice of the $15,000 prize-money.
Winner Andrea Woodard rode Anette Grant’s nine-year-old gray KWPN gelding Kaliber to 70.647%. Caroline Roffman slotted into second with 69.706% on the eight-year-old mare Libertee.
The blood of Ampere came through in the CDI1* Prix St. Georges, with Kristin Stein (USA) topping the leaderboard with Sally Alksnis’s direct Ampere son Elbrasco-L from first draw in the class of eight starters.
This is the 40-year-old rider’s second international small tour season with the 15-year-old gelding, and their 68.912% earned their first ever CDI victory. Runner-up Charlotte Jorst (USA) was snapping at Stein’s heels, finishing just 0.08 percentage points adrift riding Kastel Denmark’s 12-year-old Atterupgaards Botticelli (by Benetton Dream).
Dressage classes resume on Saturday morning, with both the CDI4* and the CDI3* Grand Prix Special classes, as well as Young Riders, Paras and a host of national classes. For more information and results, visit www.globaldressagefestival.com.