By Alice Collins for Wellington International
At the conclusion of the Grand Prix Special CDI4*, sponsored by Donato Farms, the British anthem rung out during the prizegiving. Susan Pape and Harmony’s V-Plus took the spoils in Saturday’s top class during Week 3 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.
Pape was the unanimous choice from all five judges, finishing on 71.979%. Pablo Gómez Molina (ESP) landed second place honors riding the 14-year-old PRE Ulises De Ymas — apt during a week whose headline sponsor is the US PRE Association. In a truly international podium, Germany’s Michael Klimke claimed third, riding Uwe Kappel’s 12-year-old Domino 957 to 68.149%.
At 10 years old, Harmony Sporthorses’ Oldenburg stallion by Vivaldi was the youngest horse in the class, and his score marked a new career high at this level.
“It’s only V-Plus’s third Grand Prix Special,” said Pape, who is based in Europe but is a regular at AGDF. “In the beginning he wasn’t sure where he had to go, but he felt focussed and stayed very with me. He’s pretty amazing already, but give him a couple more months to gain strength and he will be a really nice grand prix horse. He doesn’t even technically turn 10 until August, he was born really late.”
Pape has ridden V-Plus since he was bought by her sponsors Leslie and John Malone of Harmony Sporthorses for €1.2million at the PSI Auction in December 2018.
“He picked up really well when he was about seven; before that he was just a huge horse with no strength and long legs,” she added. “Now his body is ready and he needs to gain some more strength. I still have to help him a lot at this level, but once he knows what’s coming we’ll have that extra little spark. Apart from the jog — where he’s an absolute idiot — whenever you’re on him, or grooming or tacking up, he’s a darling.”
Pape usually trains with her husband Ingo, but a visit from British rider/trainer Gareth Hughes — his first to Wellington — gave Pape an extra boost with both V-Plus and Harmony’s Eclectisch this week.
“Gareth came to our barn in Germany a couple of times, but then Covid kicked in,” she explained. “Last year he had to focus on the Europeans, but then he came twice in the fall and I asked if he could find time to come to Wellington. Him being here has been very helpful — it’s been all about the basics and ensuring the right setup for every movement. It’s good to have someone else seeing different things and working on the tiny things that make so much difference to the test.”
Both of Pape’s stallions are stabled in a quarantine barn for CEM import protocols (for horses staying temporarily in the USA to compete), and the stalls they are living in for the 2024 season are the ones used at the London 2012 Olympics. Both horses will have a competition break until the end of February, when they will contest another CDI before heading back to Germany.
Pape also finished second in the Grand Prix Special CDI3*, sponsored by ProElite®, riding the 15-year-old Harmony’s Eclectisch to 69.617%. It was the young gun Erin Nichols (USA) who — at just 20 years old — topped the list of 12 starters. This was her and Elian Royale’s second ever senior CDI show together and they posted a new personal best of 70.468%. Jemma Heran (AUS) rode her own 25-year-old San Amour mare Saphira Royal 2 into third with 68.787%.
Nichols was awarded over 70% from all five judges, and is drinking in the experience of moving up into the senior ranks.
“I was amazed and so excited,” said Nichols of the score she earned on the 15-year-old Glock’s Johnson gelding whom she bought through Dirk Glitz two years ago. “I knew going down that centerline I put in the best effort that I possibly could — and there are still places where I can improve. It’s been a really awesome experience moving up, and I’ve had amazing support from USEF.
“It’s been very cool to learn the ropes of the grand prix level, and to get experience at this age is really special — I’m taking it all in,” added Nichols, who credited training from David Wightman and Charlotte Bredahl. “We’ve been working on the basics — a bunch of transitions — and on getting a strong, clean test and showing off Elian’s highlights.”
Over the past two years the pair have traveled to Germany, The Netherlands, California and Florida to compete.
“Elian had a lot of national experience before, but I’ve given him lots of CDI experience,” she added. “He’s really grown over this last summer — going to Aachen and traveling through Europe — and we feel confident as a team now. It’s very cool to be able to step into this level with that trust.”
Just as she did in AGDF Week 1, Alice Tarjan (USA) led the CDI2* Intermediate A, sponsored by Illustrated Properties. Once again she rode her own 10-year-old Desperado NOP daughter Jane, achieving 68.382%. The mare, whom Tarjan has had since she was a three-year-old, remains unbeaten in all 11 of her international starts.
Dressage competition in AGDF 3 concludes on Sunday, with Young Riders, the CDI1* Intermediate I Freestyle class and both Adult Amateur and Under-25 Grands Prix as well as Para action in all grades. Sunday also hosts the opening round of the Buffalo Wild Wings Future Challenge FEI Prix St. Georges, with eight combinations vying for a start in the final, held during AGDF 12. For more information and results, visit www.globaldressagefestival.com.