Wayne, Ill. – Aug. 24, 2019 – As the morning sunlight shone through the trees surrounding the Frey Arena at Lamplight Equestrian Center, Michele Bondy and Sonnenberg’s Kain were named the Markel/USEF 4-Year-Old Dressage National Champions. Later in the day, Emily Miles and Sole Mio wowed the judges with a ‘10’ trot to strike gold in the Markel/USEF 5-Year-Old Dressage National Championship.
The Markel/USEF 4-Year-Old Dressage National Championship led the day of young horse competition, crowning Bondy, of Wilsonville, Oregon and the Sonnenberg Farm LLC’s KWPN gelding Sonnenberg’s Kain (El Copone–Girona T, Carlton Hill VDL).Bred by G. Talsma in Holland, the Sonnenberg’s Kain has only been partnered with Bondy for about eight months.The pair had a strong start to the championship during their first test on Wednesday earning an 8.46 and then they followed up in the final test with a score of 8.34. The judges awarded Sonnenberg’s Kain with a score of 9 for his high-quality, uphill canter, as well as an 8.5 for his submission score.
Alice Tarjan and her Oldenburg mare, Summersby II (Sezuan–Summer Night, Sandro Hit) rode away with the reserve championship with an overall score of 8.18 after receiving the same score from the judges panel in both of the tests. The panel of judges were impressed with the elasticity and suspension of the mare, and commented on her potential once she is stronger in her balance and cadence. Bred in Germany by Nicole Wanning, Summersby II Tarjan bought her as a foal. At the end of her two-year-old year, Summersby II was started and she was shown in the Materiale at the Devon Breed Show where she won the Young Horse Championships in 2018. Following the conclusion of U.S. Festival of Champions Summersby II will return home for a rest before starting to learn lead changes for the 6-year-old year ahead.
Completing the podium in the Markel/USEF 4-Year-Old Dressage National Championship was Jackie Ahl-Eckhaus and her KWPN Dutch Warmblood gelding Kitalis MVS (Vitalis–Ember MVS, Westpoint). A horse breeder since 1994, Ahl-Eckhaus not only owns Kitalis, but she also bred and developed him at her base in San Luis Obispo, California. The pair improved their four place score of 7.92 from Wednesday, to receive an 8.18 from judges during Saturday mornings competition. Ahl-Eckhaus accredited their overall score of 8.076 and their third place finish to the confident brain the young horse posses and the judges complimented the horse for his three quality gaits and elasticity in his walk.
In Saturday’s test, Petra Warlimont actually rode away with the highest score of 8.44 aboard the Lusitano stallion, Leon De Matecana (Dragon Comando–Godiva Matecana), but their score of 7.26 from the Preliminary test kept them out overall in fourth place.
Following the 4-year-old division, the Markel/USEF 5-Year-Old Dressage National Championship took to the arena. Fifteen young horses trotted down centerline throughout the afternoon, hoping to display what they have learned so far in their development. One extraordinary horse however, caught the attention of judges for the second year in a row, Sole Mio (Stanford–Donna-Rafaela, Donnerschwee), the 2018 Markel/USEF 4-year-old Dressage National Champion owned by Leslie Waterman. Returning to Lamplight aboard Sole Mio, Miles was focused on adding another title to her Markel/USEF Dressage National Championship resume, giving her a win in each division of the national championships she has been competing in for ten years.
Judges were impressed by the Hanoverian stallion bred in Germany by ZG Wencek, awarding him an impressive score of 10 for his striking trot and a 9.5 for their prospective score. Sole Mio showed off strong development since winning his 4-year-old title, increasing his canter score with more ground cover and uphill balance. For their test, judges awarded a 9.16, giving Sole Mio his second national championship title with an overall score of 9.056.
In the reserve national championship position was Rebecca Rigdon and Ad Astra Collective’s Jagger (Apache–Volumia, Osmium). Rigdon and the KWPN gelding, who was bred by S. Van Zeeland in Holland, rode to a score or 8.58 for Saturday’s performance, giving them a total score of 8.356. According to Rigdon, the test was Jagger’s best he has ever had and the judges remarks, highlighted with a 9 for their canter and 8.8 for prospective, reflected her ride well.
Merita Hagren of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, and Jida Selly A earned the final position in the top three. Despite riding with a broken hand, Hadren and the KWPN mare owned by Cesar Parra and bred by A. Adriaansen in Holland, received a score of 8.44 from judges, giving them a total of 8.136. This is Hagren’s second time at the U.S. Festival of Champions and she hopes to return with the mare in the coming year for the Markel/USEF 6-year-old Dressage National Championships.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Michele Bondy – Markel/USEF 4-Year-Old Dressage National Champion
On Sonnenberg’s Kain:
“When we got him in November from Holland the goal was to do four year olds but from getting him there to going to the qualifiers and now being here, it is just a huge thing. It takes so much time and so much effort, and the horse has to be ready too. You just don’t know if they are going to be ready, be able to tolerate it and if they are going to handle the atmosphere. He has just surpassed every expectation I have had. To bring him here and, beside the awards, he has been really quiet and so good, kind hearted and fun. It is a three day trip from Oregon so he has been a superstar. ”
On choosing Sonnenberg’s Kain:
“Sonnenberg Farm bought him as a weanling to be a stallion prospect. When he turned three he didn’t quite have the stallion presence so we decided to geld him, bring him over here and see what we could do. His bloodlines are super good Dutch horses, his movement was super, he was super uphill even though he was a foal, plus super supple and elastic so that is why they bought him and I was the one left to ride him. He came in November and the rest has been history!”
On the judge’s remarks:
“Their comments both Thursday and today were spot on.The canter was super so I was really happy to hear he got the 9 because I feel that is what he really deserves. Today he was a little hotter. It is a long week so you don’t really know how they are going to be everyday but I thought judges were great. I couldn’t be happier really. I felt the judging was super this year – I knew what they were looking for and they were rewarding really correct basics for young horses.”
On being at the championship:
“I came last year with a 6-year-old who finished 11th or something. This year I wanted to try again with a 4-year-old and hopefully next year we will have more horses coming as well. The facility and location is gorgeous. It really gives young horses a plan of where they should be. Not every horse is going to make it or they might not be ready for whatever reason but it gives you an idea of what they are looking for each year and what to work on, whether you come here or not. Then, when you come to these championships and see the quality of horses and riding it really inspires you to keep going. You see struggles too because it’s not butterflies and rainbows everyday, its training horses. It is a super venue, it’s far for us but totally worth coming each year.”
Alice Tarjan – Markel/USEF 4-Year-Old Dressage National Reserve Champion
On placing in the top two:
“I am really happy with the horse today — she was a good girl and she showed what she can do. She has been pretty consistent all week so I am pleased with that. I like bringing up young horses so we have a lot of them on the farm. I have a lot of opportunities to learn how to do it correctly or incorrectly.”
On what makes Summersby II special:
“I bought this horse as a foal. She is a very beautiful horse and it has been fun bringing her along. She has been relatively easy — she can be a little hot sometimes but she is not that bad. She has been super behaved all week so I am really happy with that. I wanted a Sezuan [sired foal] and her mother had done really well in her mare performance. With [Summersby II] she did Materiale at Devon last year. She was successful with that and she did two 4-year-old shows this year and then came here.”
On her test:
“I think that she got three decent gaits to start with and she has a nice uphill balance. She does have a hard time holding her balance but she is four and she has these big gaits. She just has to develop more. Their 4-year-old year is working on developing the gaits and the balance so we will do that a little bit more. Then we will start playing around with some counter canter and start training her a little bit more rather than trying to just focus on the test.”
On how long she has been focusing on young horses:
“Since I started dressage because I wanted to ride at Devon and I looked at the prize list to find the cheapest way I could do it was to buy a foal and wait until it was three becuase there was no qualification. I figured a Fourth Level horse would be really expensive and I probably couldn’t ride at that level yet. I really enjoy training them so that is what I have done. I have bred a couple but not very many, I usually buy them as foals or at the latest at the end of their 3-year-old year.”
Jackie Ahl-Eckhaus – Markel/USEF 4-Year-Old Dressage National Championship third place
On her test:
“I am excited about this horse everyday that I ride him. He has a good brain, he tries hard and as he gets stronger, het gets better. He was really listening and he didn’t look around. To me, the highlight was just being here. We came from California so it is a long drive but it is a lot of fun. The young horses get a lot of good exposure and as a rider it keeps you on our toes. We get to see a lot of the top young horses in the country and step up a little bit more, so I like that about the program as well. I would like to thank Christine [Traurig], she is great. We have a huge country and I wish we could meet with her every couple of months. I would also like to thank Kathleen Raine, she had been helping me for the past 15 years and I don’t get to work with her regularly but she is always there. Also, my husband because he supports me 200%.”
On breeding Kitalis MVS:
“I started breeding Dutch Warmbloods in 1994 and I have had a number of them through the years. I just pick a stallion that I love for one reason or another, look at my mare and see if it would be a great match and this one has turned out to be everything you could want in a really nice horse. Not that the others haven’t been good horses, but he has a little extra special everything. He has a very relaxed mind and will to work so was like hitting the gold spot of breeding. You can breed a lot of horses and not have one that has everything. I have been very fortunate and we will see how far we can get. I think he has the talent and the mind to do it.”
Emily Miles – Markel/USEF 5-Year-Old Dressage National Champion
On winning back-to-back championships:
“This was actually the last division I had yet to win. Wake Up went to Verden and then he didn’t come here because the times were so close. Now, I have won every division and that is also kind of fun! This is my tenth year here and I love Lamplight. I mean look at the day we have, look how pretty it is, look at the trees! I am from Kansas so this is home to me.
On her test:
“I was so nervous for today. I think because I love that horse — no one could understand how awesome I think he is so I just wanted everyone else to know how awesome I think he is too. I am blessed to ride him. Last year the commentary was that his trot is brilliant but that the canter still looked like a 4-year-olds canter. For him to come out this year and actually get a higher canter score than trot score [in the first test], and today our canter wasn’t as good, but it is still a super solid high canter score. That is where I think he improved the most, in building the strength to hold all of that canter work. Christine [Traurig] told me to ride shoulder-in forever and I think it is paying off. I am so proud of him and he has had a tough summer with me trying to qualify for Ermelo and going to Ermelo. He had five days off, I rode him once, then came here. I just adore him and I am so thankful to Leslie [Waterman] for letting me ride him and trusting me with him.”
On receiving a 10:
“He has got a phenomenal trot. Sometimes he has a lot of gears to him though so I am always wondering if I should ask for more because it feels so nice and easy. My mother said I came out and showed so much range but that it was effortless for him, which it is, it is just him doing his thing. When I heard that ten I was so excited.”
On what is next for her:
“My horse is going home and having a really long rest. He is going to relax, do some trotting poles, hack around a little bit and then we will get into flying changes and aim for the 6-year-olds.”
On the U.S. Festival of Champions:
“I would like to thank this program because it is so amazing to have a place to showcase young horses. I think it is really special to cultivate a broad base and having coming back from Verden, which is like the Hanoverian center of the world, you see how much worth is placed on foals, young stallions and young horses. I think it is so important that in the United States we also have a really great place to showcase our young horses and show that this what our goal is for the average horse too. Yes, some horses are going to trot for a 10, but horses that trot for a 7 or a 6.5 need the same fundamentals of being able to start to carry behind, show uphillness, having lightness and doing transitions with adjustability so I think it is so important to be able to have that showcase for young horses. Then the fact that we are right next door to the big tour and the small tour horses is a really special thing. It is amazing that we get to have both of these championships at the Festival together. It is an amazing program to be a part of.”
Rebecca Rigdon – Markel/USEF 5-Year-Old Dressage Reserve National Champion
On improving this year:
“It is fantastic. That horse gave my every single ounce of energy, strength and everything that he had to give today. I was a little apprehensive because the Freestyle was going on but he relaxed as the test went on and let me ride him a little bit more. I got a little greedy at one point and had to remember that he was not twelve, he was five. I am really happy he had his best test here at Lamplight.”
On his strong points:
“I truly think he is meant to be a Grand Prix horse and that was the whole reason that I got him. He is built so uphill, he as three correct gaits. He might not be the best raw mover out of the starting gate but he is so trainable that I think that is more important than anything. He is absolutely a very special horse for the future.”
Merita Hagren – Markel/USEF 5-Year-Old Dressage National Championship third place
On her performance:
“I am here for only the second time ever. I have been working with [Cesar Parra’s] Performance Farms for five years now here in America. I am so thankful that he gave me the chance with this young five year old. She is such a sweet thing but hot and nice – I just love to ride her. We have been training a lot and we showed several shows in New Jersey so I was really excited that she qualified. Yesterday was my mistake, we had a little extra flying change so that brought the score down a lot. I wanted to show what the horse could do because she is amazing.”
On her broken hand:
“I broke my hand last week – I came off of another 5-year-old. [Jida Selly A] is helping me a lot because I can’t do as much as I should. She has been the sweetest thing on earth and I think she knows I am not there so she figures to do it for me.”
Results: Markel/USEF Young Horse 4-Year-Old Dressage National Championship
Rider / Horse / 4-Year-Old Prelim / 4-Year-Old Final / Total Score
1. Michele Bondy / Sonnenberg’s Kain / Sonnenberg Farm LLC / 8.46 / 8.434 / 8.388
2. Alice Tarjan / Summersby II / Alice Tarjan / 8.18 / 8.18 / 8.18
3. Jackie Ahl-Eckhaus / Kitalis MVS / Jackie Ahl-Eckhaus / 7.92 / 8.18 / 8.076
4. Petra Warlimont / Leon De Matecana / 7.26 / 8.44 / 7.968
5. Ashlyn Dodge / Kasanova DG / DG Bar Ranch / 7.82 / 7.74 / 7.772
6. Craig Stanley / Kayenne CWS / Craig Stanley / 7.92 / 7.56 / 7.704
Results: Markel/USEF Young Horse 5-Year-Old Dressage National Championship
Rider / Horse / 5-Year-Old Prelim / 5-Year-Old Final / Total Score
1. Emily Miles / Sole Mio / Leslie Waterman / 8.90 / 9.16 / 9.056
2. Rebecca Rigdon / Jagger / Ad Astra Collective / 8.02 / 8.58 / 8.356
3. Merita Hagren / Jida Selly A / Cesar Parra / 7.68 / 8.44 / 8.136
4. Alyssa Doverspike / Figaro / 7.68 / 7.88 / 7.8
5. Nadine Schwartsman / Jhocolate R / Nadine Schwartsman / 8.26 / 7.44 / 7.768
6. Marcus Orlob / Spirit Of Joy / 7.92 / 7.54 / 7.692