This special report from Jennifer Ward “on the Canadian Scene” is another preview provided by PhelpsSports.com. Look for the debut of this brand new, dynamic and exciting equestrian news website during the World Equestrian Games in August. PhelpsSports.com is going to change the standard of equestrian sports coverage on the Internet and will be your best source for up to the minute video, unique and personal audio interviews and late breaking news of the High Performance disciplines. Stay tuned!
‘On the Canadian Scene’…………… with Jennifer Ward
Ottawa, CAN – June 1, 2006 – It is time to turn our attention to the world of dressage. In eastern Canada, things got off to a strong start when the Ottawa Spring Dressage Classic held May 18-21 was a complete a sell-out. Held at the Nepean National Equestrian Park in Ottawa, which also plays host the popular Capital Classic Show Jumping Tournament in July, organizer Cara Whitham of Equivents, Inc. was booked solid by the time the closing date for entries had rolled around, leaving those who were not punctual with their entries out in the cold, or should we say, out in the rain.
Now Cara, who happens to be the only FEI judge in the world to hold her 'O' cards in both dressage and eventing, has a reputation for putting on a great show, but she has no control over the weather. By the time Sunday rolled around, Ottawa was counting its tenth consecutive day of rain, depressing enough to dampen the spirits of even the most enthusiastic competitor. But there were still lots of smiles to found on the show grounds, especially on the face of Erin Josey who had just made her Grand Prix debut. Weather, veterinary and other concerns had reduced the Grand Prix field to just two starters, but they were evenly matched, making for a true competition.
In the Grand Prix, Josey tied with Karin Davis, an Australian native now living outside of Toronto, with a score of 59.167%. Breaking the tie using the rider score, Josey was the winner - in her first Grand Prix competition! While Davis eventually went on to earn the Grand Prix Championship with riding Mighty Heights, a 21-year-old Australian thoroughbred gelding who once enjoyed an eventing career, Josey was thrilled to be the Reserve Champion riding Handsome Iz. Josey's coach, Ruth Koch, who is known for her incredible generosity towards her students, owns the 17-year-old grey Dutch Warmblood gelding.
A native of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Josey, now 22, came east to Ontario two years ago as a working student for Koch.
"Tell her how it happened!" Koch chirps from twenty feet away, somehow managing to keep an ear on our conversation while warming up another student.
"I was riding my old thoroughbred mare in a field at one of our shows in Nova Scotia and Ruth saw me off in the distance and said, 'Who is that girl? Somebody get me a phone number for her mother, she needs to come and ride for me'," recalls Josey, painting an accurate picture of Koch's direct nature.
Koch interjects, "My instincts were right. Erin is super talented with a good work ethic, and she has the natural ability and the dedication to go all the way."
Josey, now the stable manager at Koch's Oxford Ridge Stables south of Ottawa, she couldn't be happier with her decision to move half-way across Canada to train with Koch. "I love how Ruth is so driven, and she loves coaching so much - it doesn’t matter what time of the day it is or if it is raining or snowing, she is there for us. She has so much energy that you can't help but get caught up in it and excited yourself. And she is so knowledgeable when it comes to training and the sport itself. Every day I feel like I learn something new."
Incredibly, all of Koch's students earned a red ribbon signifying first place (and what lovely ribbons they were!) during the Ottawa Spring Dressage Classic. Most notable was hometown favourite Amy McIlwham who took home the FEI Young Riders Championship title.
A Public Affairs and Policy Management major at Carleton University, McIlwham won the FEI Young Riders' Team test with a score of 65.481% and finished second in the Individual test with 62.333%. McIlwham is aiming for her second consecutive North American Young Riders' Championships this August in Lexington, Virginia. Extremely talented, she was only 16 when she began riding Marzipan, then a five-year-old stallion, for owners Susan and Mike Nash. Four years later, the pair has formed a strong bond and, as McIlwham explains, "His rideability is a lot better since we gelded him last September, and he is more concentrated."
Belinda Trussell, an Athens Olympian who coached Kristin Evans and Loyal to the Reserve Young Riders' Championship title, also trains the FEI Junior Championship title winner. Breanne Willoughby Brown was third in the Team test and came back to win the Individual test with an impressive score of 67.25% riding Espar, a 13-year-old Hannoverian gelding by Espri that she purchased two years ago in Denmark with Trussell's help. The 18-year-old is aiming for the North American Junior Dressage Championship that will be held for the first time this year in conjunction with the North American Young Riders’ Championship. It would be a nice send-off for Willoughby Brown who will head to England in the fall, having been one of the lucky few accepted into the Equine Academy’s Elite Squad at Hartpury College, University of Southwestern England.
At the advanced level, the 22-horse Prix St. Georges starting field whittled down to just four competitors by the time Sunday's Intermediaire Freestyle rolled around. Although the muddy conditions were less than ideal (finding a dry path back to the stables was more challenging than memorizing a dressage test!) Gillian Sutherland stuck it out to the final day and was rewarded with a score of 69.267% for her Celtic-inspired Freestyle program. Sutherland's partner is Great Tyme, an athletic nine-year-old live chestnut Oldenburg gelding by Granulit that she has been riding for two years.
"My plan this year is to get Great Tyme as much experience in the ring as I can," said Sutherland, who has her eye on next year's Pan American Games. "I can count on him to do everything for me, but he still needs the consistency and the quality, as well as the relaxation and steadiness, that comes with experience. I can honestly say that this horse is a joy, and I look forward to riding him every day."
In Friday's Prix St. Georges, Diane Creech and Wiona topped the field with 66.167%. A nine-year-old Hannoverian owned by Doug and Louise Leatherdale of Minnesota, Creech describes the Weltmeyer mare as being, "very bold and one who carries her emotions on her sleeve, letting you know immediately how she feels about something."
Although two of the three judges had her to win, Sutherland settled for second with 65.50%. She came out on top in Saturday's Intermediaire I however, earning 67.833%. When the results were tabulated, Sutherland was crowned the Advanced Champion while Creech earned Reserve.
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