-- by Kim Miller
At the 2023 CDI Temecula on Friday 5 May 2022 the atmosphere was a little looser than at Anna Buffini and Davinia La Douce's last outing -- the 2023 World Cup Finals in Omaha, where they finished 7th. Yet Anna still had a mission to accomplish on the opening day of the Dressage Association of Southern California's Spring Benefit CDI, held at Galway Downs Equestrian in Temecula.
Trying a Few New Things
"We were trying a few new things to get ready for the rest of the year," said Anna after earning a 72.609% to top the 3* Grand Prix.
"I think her piaffes were the best they've ever been since I've had her. We are working on a little bit of a different frame, more relaxation and to make sure we are getting all the points we can. Often at the bigger shows, you have to be a bit conservative to have a clean test," Anna continued. "Here, I wanted to be able to ride her more uphill, to push to make her movements a little bigger. Instead of trying to keep it safe for a 7, we want to make it bigger and go for a 7.5 or an 8."
There's a flip side to that with the high-spirited Hanoverian mare by Don Frederico x A Jungle Prince.
"When we tried to go a little more uphill in the two-tempis, she missed one of them, so it goes both ways!" Overall, pushing for more paid off. "To get that high of a score -- even with the mistake -- is very encouraging." It was the pair's second highest score, and Anna guessed they could have topped it without the bobble.
The native Californian is a longtime supporter of California dressage -- long before she hit the international stage at the 2022 World Cup in Leipzig, Germany. "I love having these CDIs on the West Coast. We need them and I'm going to continue supporting them as much as I can."
Competing on both coasts enabled Anna to fulfil another mission -- "I know it's a bit of a dicey subject, but some people seem to think that scoring is easier out here than it is in Florida. I'm really happy I can show on both coasts and show that scores are actually the same. This year, I've competed twice in California and once in Florida and my scores in Florida were actually a little higher. I'm not saying one coast is higher than another -- I'm saying that both coasts are scored equally. I want to take that bias and opinion away from the sport and demonstrate that judging-wise, it's an equal playing field on both coasts."
Not one to rest on her laurels -- ever -- Anna plans to keep upping her and "Diva's" game. The goal is to stay on the radar for Pan Am Games and/or Nations Cup team selection.
Amy Miller and Encore, a 14-year-old KWPN by Jazz, earned a 67.739% for second, followed by Daniela Groenke and Bardolino on a 63.565%. Bardolino is a 12-year-old Oldenburg by Bordeaux.
Sneak Peek of Stardom
Erin Nichols and Elian Royale were the only contenders in the U25 Intermediaire II, but they put on quite a show. A pair for just eight months, 19-year-old Erin and the KWPN by Johnson earned a 69.441%, putting the world on notice before joining the U-25 European Tour next month with Team USA.
"He's very hot," said Erin, who juggles prepping Elian and her longtime partner Handsome Rob for Europe while finishing her freshman year at Chapman University. "He's a little firecracker and has lots of go and so much power. I'm always like 'Easy buddy... We don't need any more than this.'"
The DASC Spring Benefit class is the perfect prep for Europe, Erin said. "He only had one CDI under his belt before we got him and we wanted him to get a little more experience with the bigger arena, atmosphere and all the judges."
Erin's trainer David Wightman found Elian while on the European tour last year. "He's a hot, tricky horse and they'd had some trouble finding a match for him," Erin recounted. It was love at first ride for Erin, though. "We clicked automatically. His owner, his trainer Dirk Glitz and David were like, 'Wow!'"
Erin makes the most of his hot temperament by "being his Zen, telling him it's okay."
The judging panel for the CDI3* Grand Prix and the CDIU25 Intermediaire II was comprised of Maria Schwennesen, Sarah Geikie, Stephen Clarke, Brenda Minor and Jane Weatherwax.
Close Friends Finish Close Atop Young Rider Team Test
Continuing the showcase of talented young riders in steep ascent mode, Ellanor Boehning and Sir Junior earned a 68.432% to lead the Young Rider Team Test. Sir Junior is a 12-year-old Hanoverian by Sir Stauffenberg.
"Today's test felt fantastic," said Ellanor of their performance in the class sponsored by It's A Good Life podcast. "We've been working with Steffen Peters to help clean up areas of the test, especially the canter pirouettes and to make everything go smoother overall. I think that showed today and I'm really happy with it."
They were just a tick ahead of Josephine Hinnemann and Copa Cabana MRF. Riders and horses are close friends, having represented USDF Region 7 together twice.
"We always work better together," said Josephine. "The horses love each other. Junior always calls out to Copa," Elanor concurred.
Josephine described her test as "one of our best of the year and it's our best score." Their 68.186% was the result of restraint. "I wasn't trying to push for grand," said Josephine. "I was trying to go for a clean test today and that helped us get the focus we needed to put us higher in the rankings."
Josephine rides primarily with her mother Natalie Hamilton-Hinnemann, and weekly with David Wightman and Kathleen Raine. They've all been a big help in this year's quest to qualify for the North American Youth Championships and the Festival of Champions.
Grace Dugan and Farruco LXXXIX, an 18-year-old PRE sired by Lego, finished 3rd, earning a 62.451% from judges Jane Weatherwax and Stephen Clarke.
New Ride, Same Standing for Steffen Peters
With Suppenkasper resting after their 4th place finish at the 2023 Dressage World Cup Finals and his Small Tour star Be Happy recently sold, Steffen turned up with a new ride in the Prix St. Georges today.
Peters and El Torro B earned a 74.804% to top the class, even with a spook early in the test. "He is a very sensitive, hot horse," says Steffen. "I went in with a lot of horse to start with and the first few minutes and the last five minutes he's very hot."
Throughout, however, the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood by Painted Black showed off extravagant gaits and pizazz aplenty. "He is a wonderful horse. Really nice in the contact, he already does his one-tempis, his passage is beautiful, and his zig-zag half-passes are very nice." Keeping the energy in check is the challenge as they prepare for a hopeful Grand Prix entry in the fall CDIs. "In the piaffe, he wants to trot so big, the point is now to make it a bit smaller and in place."
Steffen's protegé Dawn White-O'Connor had ridden El Torro until recently. He's grateful to longtime owners Mary and Jim Keenan for adding him to his string. "I feel honored to ride a horse like him. After all the horses I've ridden, he and Mopsie give me a very similar feeling. So, I'm blessed."
(Steffen hopes to keep Mopsie stateside through the summer, but a call to represent the States at the Aachen CDIO has already been placed by USET Dressage technical advisor Debbie McDonald. "I've always looked at it this way -- if the team and Debbie really need us, we'll be there. But my preference is to stay home this summer.)
Elizabeth Ball and Vivalia, a 9-year-old German Sport Horse by Van Vivaldi, finished 2nd on a 71.471% and Lindsay Seidel-Wassenaar and Gaga, a 12-year-old KWPN by Contango, were third on a 68.578%.
Brenda Minor, Sarah Geikie and Stephen Clarke judged the Prix St. Georges.
Spring Benefit Honors A Beloved Benefactor
The DASC Spring Benefit Show is staged in tribute to Mark Carter, a long-time supporter, competitor and friend of the West Coast dressage community. Mark died in a helicopter crash on March 24, leaving a large hole in the hearts of all who knew him and in the community he passionately supported. At the opening day exhibitors' party, Steffen Peters and David Wightman spoke about their close friend. Steffen recalled giving Mark lessons that required twice the normal 45-minute session. "Some of it was training, but we always talked a lot, about so many things," Steffen shared. "I learned so much from Mark -- about life in general, about business. What an incredibly funny, kind and good-hearted man he was."
David Wightman recounted Mark approaching him and his wife Kathleen Raine many years ago at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. "He wanted to get into the equestrian market with his E-Z UP Tents," David said. "He gave us an E-Z UP tent, but it had to have an emblem on it that was almost as big as the tent." It was the start of a long friendship that included Mark helping Kathleen and David complete their farm, Adventure Farm, on property next to Mark's.
"He was a person who always had a smile on his face and who made the world a better place," David concluded. "We are going to miss him forever."
The Spring Benefit continues through Sunday with International CDI and National show competition.