Alice Collins for Wellington International
The much anticipated first ‘Friday Night Stars’ evening of musical freestyle competition at the 2024 Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) in Wellington, FL, brought impressive performances on a balmy night in front of packed stands during Lloyd Landkamer Memorial week. AGDF, which hosts seven weeks of CDI competition, runs through March 31.
In the week’s highlight class, the FEI World Cup™ Grand Prix Freestyle, presented by Palm Beach Equine Clinic, the podium finishers all came from the final three combinations, spearheaded by a spellbinding performance of power and grace from Germany’s 23-year-old Felicitas Hendricks. She rode her own 13-year-old Drombusch OLD (Destano x Dimaggio) to 78.49%, the pair’s second highest score to date.
“This is huge for me because I did my first senior classes here last year and I never thought that I would be here in this position today,” beamed Hendricks, who has been a regular at AGDF since her debut season as a junior in 2015. “I was just happy if we got through the grand prix and now I’ve won this class — it’s unreal.”
Their test hit all the high notes, including double pirouettes, changes on a curve and down the centerline, piaffe fans and passage half-pass — carrying a challenging degree of difficulty score of 9.7.
Riders from the USA filled the remaining two places, with Anna Marek and the 14-year-old Fayvel (Zizi Top x Houston) setting a new career high of 77.715%, far exceeding their previous best of 75.235%, set in Ocala in December. Kevin Kohmann secured third place from final draw on Diamante Farms’ Dancier x Davignon gelding Dünensee with 76.305%.
Many of the highest scoring freestyles featured big, modern beats and powerful lyrics.
Fresh from her team and individual gold medals at the under-25 European Championships, Hendricks put on a masterfully mature display with Drombusch, her partner of seven years.
“It felt awesome,” enthused Hendricks, who trains with her uncle Christoph Koschel, from whom she bought the horse. “Drombusch was on fire but 100% with me and 100% focused. I think that’s kind of rare. Sometimes when horses are so electric they start looking at stuff and being not 100% concentrated, but he was really trying his heart out.
“I wanted the music to be fun because he’s a fun horse, to be around and to ride,” added Hendricks, whose groom Lauren McNabb won the Massa Horses-sponsored $500 Grooms Award. “I bought him when he was six — Christoph told me this was going to be the right horse for me. That’s why I know him so very well, and he knows me, so that helps a lot, for sure.”
AGDF Director of Sport Thomas Baur said, “Felicitas is a perfect example of what Global can do: she came here in 2015 as a junior, and left as number-one junior in the world after the season. Now she’s back here winning grand prix. You cannot compare that to anywhere else in the world, which is what makes it really special here.”
Anna Marek picked up 20 valuable points towards qualification for the 2024 World Cup™ Final (April 16–20 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) on her new ride, Fayvel. This was just the pair’s third CDI show together. The horse was formerly competed at the level by his adult amateur owner Cynthia Davila, but when she was injured Marek took over the reins. It went so well that Davila and Marek’s coach Ann Gibbons suggested she keep the ride for the year.
“Anne said that if we were going to really do the senior Grands Prix, we’d need a harder freestyle,” said Marek, who is based near Ocala. “We worked with Karen Robinson and I told her that the horse is so handy he can do some really cool stuff. So we put together this really complicated freestyle and it’s like a walk in the park for him. He’s like a little bouncy ball — he doesn’t even think it’s hard.
“I had no idea what to expect,” added Marek of Fayvel’s ‘Friday Night Stars’ performance. “He went under the lights in Ocala, but the atmosphere is way quieter up there, so I didn’t know how he’d handle it, but it was so much fun.”
Another rider coming fresh from high-scoring performances in Ocala and handling the electric atmosphere in AGDF’s stadium arena was Kevin Kohmann, who also trains with the horse’s former rider, Christoph Koschel.
“It’s way more quiet up there; the energy here, I hadn’t experienced it with my horse like this,” he explained. “I actually really loved it, and next time I’ll know what to expect. Dünensee was awesome, what a cool guy.”
Kohmann knew the horse as a five-year-old — when he could already do tempi changes — but he then went to Europe and the pair only relinked much later, making their CDI debut a year ago.
Friday’s daytime classes were dominated by Australian riders, who picked up all three winner’s sashes on offer. The 19-year-old Kate Kyros accounted for two of the blue ribbons, picking up the FEI Young Riders team test, presented by Prestige Italia USA, and the Under-25 FEI Grand Prix, sponsored by Diamante Farms. She rode two stallions both owned by her mother, Heather Kyros. This is Kate’s first CDI outside her home country.
In the Young Rider class, she rode the 11-year-old stallion Intro K (by Apache x Rousseau) to 69.441%. She also scooped the Under-25 FEI Grand Prix on the 12-year-old Connoisseur x Clock’s Johnson TN son Chemistry (68.077%).
Her fellow countryman Hope Beerling scored the third Aussie win, topping the CDI1* FEI Intermediate I, presented by Harmony Sporthorses. The team NorCordia rider piloted Sternentanzer 5, an 11-year-old gelding by Surprice, who was contesting his first ever CDI.
“It was a super day for Australia and it’s really nice having a lot of Australians here this year, it’s good for the future,” said Beerling, who led the class with 67.647%. “I’ve only been riding the horse since October,” explained the 24-year-old Beerling. “NorCordia bought him and he came over and we clicked right away. I’ve only ever competed him in one test before — at Prix St. Georges — so this was the first time we had ever done an inter I and there were no real expectations.”
Beerling, who has a couple of horses whom she plans to compete in this season’s developing Prix St. Georges horse series, added, “Now I get to enjoy him and compete him until he sells. He’s so trainable and every day is fun.”
Dressage classes resume on Saturday morning, with the CDI3* Grand Prix Special starting at 11:15am. For more information and results, visit www.globaldressagefestival.com.