Meet 2023 U25 Series Champion Georgia Knight

When 19-year-old Georgia Knight laid out her short- and long-term goals for her 2023 season at Thunderbird Show Park, she hoped she could get her feet wet in the U25 division—that way, she could be a real contender in 2024.

She may have underestimated herself.

Knight, 19, won her U25 debut at tbird in May, and when the series concluded at September’s Harvest Celebration, Knight captured the overall series title with her runner-up finish in the MarBill Hill U25 League final. The Victoria, BC native has gone from strength to strength this summer with her two mounts, Onyx and Ecolano vs Romano, while training under the tutelage of Lizzie Gingras.

“My goal was to maybe get to the U25 this year—but for sure, next year. And then things just started to come along really well with both of my horses,” Knight said.

It’s the juxtaposition of two horses with strong characters, along with Gingras’ coaching, that has helped the former hunter rider take her riding to the next level. Onyx, an 18-year-old veteran gelding, has been around longest; Knight initially leased the fiercely brave and competitive gelding for a year from owner Joelle Froese. That has since been extended.

“He took me from 1.20m to 1.40m,” Knight said of Onyx. “Actually, we jumped a couple 1.45m [classes] in California this year, and I never thought I would be able to do that until Onyx came into my life. He’s not easy—he’s a horse you have to partner with and ride him the way he wants to be ridden.”

Onyx’s enthusiasm for showing has been a tremendous source of confidence for Knight, while also helping her improve her physical strength. While many horses can tend to become more energized at horse shows, Onyx is more laid back in the show ring, choosing to save his antics for training at home.

“He’s the hottest horse I’ve ever ridden, except he doesn’t do it when he’s in the show ring,” Knight revealed. “I’ve gotten very strong riding Onyx.  At home he’s so hot, and then when I get in the show ring here, he actually becomes quite lazy.”

Onyx also kept Knight going in the face of tragedy. Seeking a horse of her own with which to climb the ranks long term, Knight thought she found the perfect partner when she acquired “Cass” in early 2022. Two weeks into their partnership, a freak accident resulted in the horse having to be put down.

It took a several months for Knight to recover from the loss and move forward, as she re-started her search to find a suitable mount. In July 2022, she made a last-minute decision to travel to Calgary for a trial aboard Ecolano vs Romano. “Romeo” landed off of a jump, brought his head up abruptly and knocked Knight squarely in the face.

She bought him anyway.

“He’s such a nice horse, it was something I could deal with,” Knight said. “I could figure out a way not to get hit in the face.”

Still, there was a learning curve, and Romeo proved to be a demanding partner, intolerant of repeated mistakes. The bay forced Knight to evolve from her light, hunter-styled seat and ride every fence accurately—not to mention, he added a layer of complexity to her warm-up with his distaste for head-on traffic. When Romeo challenged Knight, Onyx built her confidence back up. Then a turning point came in July at Rocky Mountain Show Jumping.

“I wanted to jump the Grand Prix there, because they tend to be slightly softer than Thunderbird,” Knight recalled. “Even though I’d only jumped the 1.25m there, I said I was just going to do it. I said [to myself], ‘I’m going to ride really hard and try to get it done, and I did, and then it just went up from there.

“I think pushing myself to just jump bigger made me ride better,” she added, “and it got me over the hump with [Romeo].”

Thunderbird Show Park recognized Knight’s commitment to her sport as one of three riders awarded the George & Dianne Tidball Legacy Scholarship (18–25 age group) in mid-September. The scholarship—which includes horse show benefits like waived entry, nomination and stall fees, along with a $1,000 cash riding bursary—is awarded annually to “individuals who exemplify hard work, dedication to the sport of equestrian, good sportsmanship, and leadership.”

“I actually did not expect to win. It was a nice surprise,” Knight said. “To be able to help my parents next year, because they’re letting me take this time off [from full-time university studies] to achieve my goals, is really cool. But also, I’ve always really wanted the scholarship, because I feel like I’ve been coming to tbird for a really long time, and it’s honestly like home for me. Just to be able to represent it [is special].”

While Knight is unsure of whether she’ll pursue show jumping as her profession, she’s eager to take the sport as far as she can, with her eyes set on the U25 division at the Royal Horse Show later this fall. She’ll tell you, what drives her most is simply a love for the animal. Knight forwent a university soccer career to commit fully to riding after high school, and when she’s not working with her own horses, she’s helping to treat others, working part-time as a veterinary technician.

“I honestly just can’t imagine my life without horses in it,” Knight said. “I love them, and I love being around them, and I had a decision to make: Do I play soccer, or do I ride? And it was a [no-brainer]. I can’t imagine never riding.”

“Easy” Win for Tiffany Foster and Brighton in CSI3* tbird Speed 1.45m

At 17 years old, Artisan Farms’ Brighton is still at the top of his game. Tiffany Foster (CAN) and her longtime mount put the strength of their 10-year partnership on display Wednesday at Thunderbird Show Park, recording a confident win in the CSI3* tbird Speed on the opening day of international competition at the CSI3* Summer Fort Welcome.

Foster and “Brighty” topped a field of 19, crossing the timers of Peter Holmes’ (CAN) 1.45m track in 60.75 seconds. Robert Blanchette (IRL) and Chardonnay finished second (61.13 seconds), while John Perez (COL) and Desperado DN finished well back in third (67.61 seconds).

“This horse is so fast, I save a half-second over every jump just because I know that his footspeed is really fast, and he’s a super efficient jumper,” Foster said. “The jump itself is really fast. I think it’s probably one of the fastest horses in the air that I’ve ever seen—definitely that I’ve ever ridden.”

Indeed, Brighton is a speed specialist. While he has recorded a win at the CSI4* 1.60m Grand Prix level, the remainder of his wins have come at 1.50m or below. The bay gelding has now recorded 28 FEI victories in his career, with all but one of those wins coming with Foster in the irons. According to Jumpr App, the pair has jumped clear at the 1.45m height at a rate of 60 percent since 2015.

“I try really hard with him, especially in the last few years, [to] aim him for classes that I think he can be competitive in, that are going to be easy for him,” Foster said. “He’s such a competitive horse, so you’d like to enter him in every single class, because you always know that you have a chance to win. But I try to pick things that I think are going to be easy for him, and I think that’s kept his heart in the game as long as it has.”

The class was decided early. Blanchette and Chardonnay set a stiff early test, taking a clear lead as fourth to jump. That gave Foster and Brighton a target, jumping just two positions later. Foster used her extensive knowledge of her horse to her advantage, knowing that if she had the right plan, she could execute it. The plan included a bold turn back to the plank on course. Executed proficiently, none of the remaining competitors could match it.

“With horses, it’s ‘best laid plans…,’ but with [Brighton], a plan is actually really easy to execute, because it’s like he thinks with me,” Foster said. “So, I opened up that turn [and] got a good shot on the plank. I knew for him, it was smarter to do the nine [stride option] than the eight to the last jump. But I knew if I took a slice on the plank, I could open up the nine, and it could be fast.”

Foster, who grew up showing at tbird, is now closer than ever to home, basing her operation at a newly constructed farm down the street to the venue.

“It’s been awesome, because this year was the first year that we’ve kind of been able to base here in Langley properly at our own facility,” Foster shared. “Thunderbird was great, and they let us [stable] here for a couple of years, but it’s obviously different when you have your own place and your own arena to work in, paddocks for the horses, walker for the horses, everything for the horses…The horses have been super happy, and it’s been so nice to be home.”

CSI3* tbird Speed 1.45m
Horse / Rider / Nationality / Owner / Faults / Time

1. Brighton / Tiffany Foster / CAN / Artisan Farms, LLC / 0 60.75
2. Chardonnay / Robert Blanchette / IRL / RTS LLC / 0 61.13
3. Desperado DN / John Perez / COL / John Perez / 0 67.61
4. Gallup / Shauna Cook / CAN / Gallup Syndicate / 0 68.3
5. Cunningham 4 / Christopher Lowe / CAN / Christopher Lowe / 0 72.35
6. Igor GPH / Kara Chad / CAN / Fordville Farm Inc / 4 64.94
7. Easy Boy d’Aubey Z / Kara Chad / CAN / Alexandre Zambaux / 4 66.21
7. Electrique / Tiffany Foster / CAN / 5 Roosters / 4 66.21
9. Cadeau Z / Mandy Porter / USA / Risen Eq Holdings LLC / 4 66.58
10. Havana / Kassidy Keith / CAN / Kassidy Keith / 4 67.14

Erin Silo’s “Dance Monkey” Scores New Personal Best

Canadian dressage rider Erin Silo didn’t have the ride she was hoping for on Saturday at the Thunderbird Dressage CDI, presented by Winifred Steinkopf Hall, Gordon & Wendy Christoff, and Blue Heron Farm. Come Sunday, she turned that setback into a comeback.

Aboard her nine-year-old KWPN gelding Jett, Silo scored a win and a new personal best in the CDI1* FEI Intermediate I Freestyle, sponsored by Winifred Steinkopf Hall.

“I didn’t ride my test very well yesterday,” said Silo of her performance in Saturday’s CDI1* class. (They finished third on a score of 67.147%.)

“I let one mistake rattle me a little bit and I didn’t give my horse the confidence that he needed in the arena. I had to take the lesson from yesterday and go out there today and apply it and be present, which was a good lesson. Today, it was all about keeping him in front of my leg and just going out there and enjoying it, not overthinking it.”

It was a feat accomplished. Silo and the 16.1 hand gelding earned a score 71.755% from the judges, the best score to date for a pair that only started competing at the CDI level in June.

“He was a good dance partner today,” smiled Silo.

No doubt playing to their advantage on Sunday was their infectiously upbeat freestyle music featuring Tone and I’s “Dance Monkey.”

“It’s definitely different,” said Silo of the musical arrangement. “It’s super playful and kind of bouncy to match his personality. He’s a small, weird little guy. I don’t think classical music or anything traditional would suit him in the slightest. So I wanted to play off the fact that he’s tiny and bouncy and quirky.”

The judges concurred. Silo and Jett’s highest mark on the day, a 73.757%, came from Jane Weatherwax, the Judge at E. Acclaimed FEI 5* judge Stephen Clarke, the judge at C, awarded the pair a 71.375%—it was the second highest CDI score he issued that week. (Only Silo’s coach, Shelley Lawder, earned a higher mark from Clarke for her winning Small Tour performance on Friday).

Winning is becoming a habit for Silo and Jett at Thunderbird Show Park. In June, they scored a pair of personal bests at the Touch of Class CDI, winning both the Prix St. Georges and the Intermediate I. Sunday’s victory in the Freestyle completes their Small Tour trifecta.

“It’s always a work in progress,” said Silo. “But, every time I get to go in the arena with him, I learn. I learn more about him, and I feel like it grows our relationship.”

Carol Robinson (CAN) and Lightfoot took second in the Small Tour Freestyle on a score of 70.090%. Amy Wellburn (CAN) and Dinamico TG finished third on 66.440%.

Silo and Jett will dance one more time next week at the CDI in Calgary, Alberta.

CDI1* FEI Intermediate Freestyle Results
Rider / Nation / Horse / E / H / C / M / B / Total 

1. Erin Silo / CAN / Jett / 73.575 72.500 71.375 69.925 71.400 71.755
2. Carol Robinson / CAN / Lightfoot / 73.550 68.350 68.250 71.225 69.075 70.090
3. Amy Wellburn / CAN / Dinamico TG / 66.900 67.575 64.750 67.475 65.500 66.440

Gloria Schriever Has “Best of Both Worlds” & Personal Best in Hilton

“We always joke when [Hilton] comes out of the ring, ‘Oh, my mom’s so happy. Her boy did so well!’ And she’ll say, ‘My girl did well, too,’” laughed Gloria Schriever.

The Canadian rider, 36, may be the one in the saddle, but she’ll be the first to tell you that the striking black gelding belongs to her mom, Iris, in the stable. It’s been that way since they imported the 16-hand Portuguese Sport Horse as a five year old.

“I found [Hilton] through a friend in Portugal. She had imported him from Spain as a yearling and he turned out to be too small for her. And that was perfect for me,” said Gloria, who is a diminutive 1.50m (five feet tall) “on the dot.”

“Everybody in our stable knows I’m the rider, but my mom is his person. He bonded with her immediately. Even today, she gets him ready in the stable at home, but also at the show. She’s his number one person, his number one fan.”

Iris Schriever was no doubt smiling on Saturday at the Thunderbird Dressage CDI, presented by Winifred Steinkopf Hall, Gordon & Wendy Christoff, and Blue Heron Farm. Her daughter and “her boy” rode away with a win and a personal best score of 69.500% in the CDI1* FEI Intermediate I, sponsored by Winifred Steinkopf Hall. It’s the pair’s first time cracking the 69% mark and first CDI win.

Shelley Lawder (CAN) and Balancee, winners of Friday’s Small Tour class, took second on a score of 68.176%. Erin Silo (CAN) and Jett finished third on 67.147%.

Gloria credits Hilton’s warmblood and Lustiano breeding—he’s sired by famed KWPN stallion Totilas and out of a Lustiano dam—for providing “the best of both worlds” in terms of his naturally aptitude for collection and extension, skills they showed off to good effect on Saturday.

“Because of his Portuguese influence, the pirouettes were easy and they were definitely one of our highlights. They’re quite solid, so I can usually go into the ring and I know he knows what to do when we go into the pirouette. The changes were also quite good today. The two [tempis], it almost felt like I could just sit back and he took those away from me in a good way. He knew they were coming and they were expressive. They were straight. He did very well on those.”

In fact, the biggest challenge for Hilton this week wasn’t in the saddle at all, said Gloria. It was being in a stall.

“Coming to a CDI and being stalled for almost a week, that’s always a big challenge for him mentally because he basically lives outside at our house,” she explained, noting that Hilton has a busy mind and a busy mouth. At home, they keep him entertained with multiple Jolly Balls in his paddock and an assortment of hanging toys in his shelter.

“He can’t wear blankets. He can’t wear a stable wraps because he will take them off. He’s a Houdini! He has a huge personality.”

As of Saturday, he’s also a CDI winner.

Jennifer Williams Trusts the Training with Joppe K

USA’s Jennifer Williams and Joppe K moved up the leaderboard on Saturday at the Thunderbird Dressage CDI, presented by Winifred Steinkopf Hall, Gordon & Wendy Christoff, and Blue Heron Farm, to captured their third CDI3* win in the past five weeks.

In a head to head competition against Friday’s CDI3* winners Pia Fortmüller and Frieda, Williams and the nine-year-old KWPN gelding came out ahead in the CDI3* FEI Grand Prix Special, sponsored by Wendy Christoff, earning a score of 69.362% from the judges to Fortmüller’s 68.553%.

“I thought that the overall picture and harmony was better today [than on Friday]. He gave me a great feeling in the energy and yet remain very relaxed through most of the test. [He had] a lot of power in the extended canter, sat nicely in the pirouettes. I had some mistakes in the tempis that were unfortunate. Those are usually a strong piece for us.

“But what I was really focused on was good quality reactions in the piaffe and passage, and he was answering all of those questions with a great attitude and a lot of a super effort.”

The part Williams was most proud of, however, was their improvement over Friday’s Big Tour class, where they finished second on 65.913% but withered in the heat.

“I won the warm ups yesterday,” joked Williams. “I tested things just a little more than maybe necessary [in the warm up] and so then he got a little tired by the end of the test. I stayed up [last night] really thinking about how I could do a better job for him and ride him better today and kept the warm up very short and sweet and just tested a few reactions.

“He’s very obedient. He’s very correct in a lot of the things that he does. So I just had to really trust that training.

“I was very proud of how I adapted the warm up from yesterday to today. I felt like I was able to make some adjustments that kept him more fresh the second day—that was a win for me.”

Joppe K is a “future horse,” said Williams, and new to the Grand Prix level. The pair moved up to the Big Tour in February. Last month at the Touch of Class CDI at tbird, they cracked 70% for the first time at the level, winning both the CDI3* Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special.

Williams and the nine-year-old gelding have since been named to the U.S. Dressage short list for the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games. But while Williams said it would “be amazing” to ride for the senior team in Santiago, she’s focused on their long term goals.

“I want, number one, that my horse is sound and happy and healthy. And number two, I’m looking for a feeling in the ring that he’s rideable and giving me the reactions that I would like. If those two things happen and we score well and score high enough and place well, great. But when you start looking for the end result first and you try to skip the soundness or the throughness or the ride-ability, then it’s not going to work out anyway.

“He’s so young. He’s a future horse. So, I want him to always feel proud of himself and love the game. I’m just going to keep building him for the future and enjoying the ride. I have so much gratitude for everybody that’s helped me get to this point and especially him.”

Pia Fortmüller and Frieda Get in the Grand Prix Groove

Pia Fortmüller and Frieda are no strangers to the pressures of CDI competition.

Partnered since 2013, the Canadian rider and 2011 black Hanoverian mare first began touring the 20 x 60 in 2015, methodically advancing from green horse to Grand Prix over the past decade. They’ve earned 18 CDI podium finishes since 2016, including nine wins.

On Friday, the pair collected their most recent victory with the FEI Grand Prix CDI3*, sponsored by Wendy Christoff, at Thunderbird Dressage Show, presented by Winifred Steinkopf Hall, Gordon & Wendy Christoff, and Blue Heron Farm.

And it was a decisive one at that.

Fortmüller and Frieda bested the competition by over two percent, garnering a 68.457% score from the judges for their expressive trot tour and quality of movement. USA’s Jennifer Williams and Joppe K took second with a score of 65.913%. Canada’s Rochelle Kilberg and Florentino, third on 64.391%.

“The trot tour, I’m super happy with,” said Fortmüller of their test. “I had a little mistake in the two [tempis]. She just got a little bit tense in the canter and she wants to get a little bit too much in a knot.

“But what I’m really happy with is we were able to undo the knot and we got our one [tempis], which is normally the most difficult thing for her. I’m so happy with her that within the test that we could get a knot undone and then continue building on that.”

Now 12-years of age, Frieda is in her second year in the Grand Prix with Fortmüller. The pair made their Big Tour debut in Wellington, Florida in January 2022 and won their first CDI3* with an impressive 70.457% score. Their marks over that first season fluctuated between 63 to 67% in the Grand Prix as they found their footing. This year, they’re trending just below 70.

“The first season, it’s always green,” said the Foothills, AB-based rider. “And now the second season we’re starting to get in the groove of things. Of course, there’s still tons of things that we want to improve. But I’m really happy with how her confidence continues to grow.”

So has the consistency of their scores. In five Big Tour classes this year, the pair hasn’t scored below 68%.

“Now we’re figuring out she has a really expressive trot and then she gets a little bit tense in the canter,” said Fortmüller. “So I have to try to keep the balance between being able to show off what she can do in trot. But then I still need to make sure I have enough internal balance so that my canter tour stays settled. Those are probably the biggest things that’s stand out to me.”

The Canadian rider credits their longtime partnership and early exposure to stadium atmosphere on the Young Horse Tour in Europe for their current success.

“She’s supersensitive. So that’s why being able to do the whole journey with her, the trust has been huge,” she explained.

“She’s definitely a horse that’s clearly talented, but she’s got a whole lot of heart and that’s probably one of her biggest strengths. She’s a fighter and it’s very, very special.”

A decade into their partnership, Fortmüller is focused on the journey with the striking black mare. After all, it’s one that had an unexpected start. Frieda wasn’t a horse she was hunting for but one that her partner, Lars Busch, discovered and bought at a mare and foal auction in Germany on a whim and good feeling.

“It’s one of those wonderful stories. She was two and a half at the time and I had just lost my top Grand Prix horse, Orion. Lars said, ‘I have something that’s going to cheer you up. I need to show you this horse I found!’ And it was Frieda.”

Fortmüller was understandably dubious of the horse’s Grand Prix potential, given that the mare was only two at the time. Lars, however, had no such reservations.

“He said, ‘You just wait. You just wait, Pia,’ and here we are doing the Grand Prix. I mean, it sounds crazy when you look back.”

FEI Grand Prix CDI3* Results
Rider / Nation / Horse / E / H / C / M / B / Total 

1. Pia Fortmuller / CAN / Frieda / 67.283 / 67.174 / 70.652 / 68.804 / 68.370 / 68.457
2. Jennifer Williams / USA / Joppe K / 63.261 / 65.217 / 66.304% 66.087 / 68.696 / 65.913
3. Rochelle Kilberg / CAN / Florentino / 65.000 / 64.239 / 65.109 / 64.022 / 63.587 / 64.391

Shelley Lawder and Balancee Step into Small Tour Win

Canadian dressage rider and 2023 Pan American Games hopeful Shelley Lawder had a mission with Balancee heading into the Thunderbird Dressage CDI Show, presented by Winifred Steinkopf Hall, Gordon & Wendy Christoff, and Blue Heron Farm.

“We’ve been trying really, really hard to crack the 70s since March. And we finally did it!” smiled the Langley-based rider.

Lawder and the nine-year-old Westphalian mare made their international debut in June this year, competing in a CDI1* in Sherwood, Oregon followed by the Touch of Class Dressage Show CDI1* at tbird. They closed their CDI tour that month at tbird with a win in the FEI Intermediate Freestyle CDI1*. On Friday, they picked up where they left off in Langley, taking victory in the CDI1* FEI Prix St. Georges, sponsored by Winifred Steinkopf Hall.

Seven combinations took to the tbird ring for the Small Tour class. Lawder and Balancee were the only combination to break the 70 barrier, earning a 71.382% from the judges. Stablemates Erin Silo (CAN) and Jett took second on a score of 69.588%. Gloria Schriever (CAN) and Hilton finished third on 68.588%.

“I’m happy that we’re making some progress, that the scores are coming up, and that the judges see improvement because that’s what we’re trying to do,” said Lawder, 56. “We’re trying to get better.”

Specifically, she’s been working to better Balancee’s self-carriage over the past four weeks.

“That has been our number one priority in training at home and we’ve just been 100% staying on that topic. That’s our drumbeat: hind legs under, self carriage and no gray zone,” continued Lawder, who trains with [Canadian Olympian] Leslie Reid.

“For these CDI [shows] and for this level of judging, they absolutely want to see the horse in self-carriage, engaged, in front of the rider, and on the hind leg—no ifs, ands or buts.”

For Lawder, who hopes to represent Canada at the Santiago 2023 Games, the result is simply the next step in her bigger plan.

“We try to really focus on each necessary step. Step one was getting through the FEI jog. Step two was cracking the 70s in the Prix St Georges because the Prix St George counts more than the Intermediate I [toward team selection]. [On Saturday], it will be to try to take the suggestions and observations from these judges and show them that we’ve read our tests and we’re able to respond to the corrections and adjustments that they want to see,” she explained.

“And so we just do it step by step by step.”

Lawder and Balancee will contest the CDI1* FEI Intermediate I on Saturday at tbird.

FEI Prix St. Georges CDI1* Results
Rider / Nation / Horse / E / H / C / M / B / Total 

1. Shelley Lawder / CAN / Balancee / 68.529 / 73.529 / 72.941 / 70.588 / 71.324 / 71.382
2. Erin Silo / CAN / Jett / 71.324 / 69.853 / 69.412 / 67.941 / 69.412 / 69.588
3. Gloria Schriever / CAN / Hilton / 769.706 / 67.794 / 68.529 / 68.676 / 68.235 / 68.588
4. Amy Wellburn / CAN / Dinamico TG / 69.118 / 69.706 / 69.118 / 66.471 / 66.618 / 68.206
5. Kelly Irving / CAN / Fresco LD / 65.882 / 64.265 / 67.647 / 68.529 / 65.588 / 66.382
6. Carol Robinson / CAN / Lightfoot / 66.912 / 64.706 / 64.706 / 62.353 / 65.294 / 64.794
7. Eiren Crawford / CAN / Hendrix / 63.529 / 63.676 / 63.529 / 62.206 / 63.529 / 63.294

Lawder Finds Balancee in the Music and the Moment

In ballet, a balancé is a beautiful rocking step where a dancer moves while alternating balance between their feet in a three-step “down, up, down” motion with the legs.

In dressage, Balancee is the name of Shelley Lawder’s upcoming international mount and the winner of Sunday’s FEI Intermediate 1 Freestyle CDI1*, sponsored by Bonnie Brae Farm—a feat they accomplished with a beautiful and balanced dance to ballet music.

Lawder has been knocking at the door of a win all weekend at the Touch of Class CDI. She was sixth with Epona in the FEI Prix St Georges CDI1* on Friday and second with Balancee in the FEI Intermediate I CDI1* on Saturday. Both mares are just nine. Both had only contested one CDI previously.

“This is such a unique and special opportunity for West Coast riders to have CDIs here on the West Coast,” said Lawder of her decision to bring two green horses to Thunderbird Show Park. “So even though I didn’t feel ready with either mare, because they were both not competing at this level yet, I decided to take advantage of this opportunity.

“My goal was that we would go for the big upgrade, which is giving the horses some mileage and experience in this kind of environment and with these great judges and for this overall CDI atmosphere and experience.

Her roll of the dice was rewarded on Sunday. Lawder and the aptly named Balancee danced to the top of the leaderboard with a score of 72.850%, besting a field of 10 in the most competitive division of the show. Their fluid, floating and, yes, balanced Freestyle was set to a Nutcracker theme.

“I think the ballet music might have won the [judges] over,” smiled Lawder, noting that she was reticient to use music often associated with Christmas in a freestyle that would performed in the summer. The horse’s owner, however, had no such reservations.

“The owner of Balancee, Molly Brewer, loves ballet,” explained Lawder. “All her horses have ballet names. And so she said, ‘We must have ballet music, it must be Tchaikovsky.’

“So I had to acquiesce.”

The music is a fitting tribute to both the mare and its connections. Lawder and Brewer were brought together by a mutual friend, Randi Nelson-Shipley, who was dying of cancer. Brewer, an oncologist by trade, used to ride with her friend but had since given up horses. Lawder was helping train lead changes on Nelson-Shipley’s horse. When Nelson-Shipley made the introduction, it was with instructions for both women: Brewer was to have horses in her life again and Lawder was tasked with finding right ones.

Randi Nelson-Shipley passed away in September 2018. But her legacy lives on in both women.

“It’s a very special story. She was an amazing woman and rode right until her last day. And so she was such a powerful inspiration to me as a dressage rider because there are so many ups and downs in the sport and there are so many times that you think to yourself, why am I doing this? It makes no financial sense. This is so much work. And, you know, I was successful 20 years ago, and now I don’t feel successful. There’s a lot of ongoing challenges of every sort that you have to overcome.

“And then, with Randi, this is what she wanted to do on her last days on Earth. And so that was such a profound inspiration to Molly and I. And that’s what really seals our partnership.”

They made good on Randi’s directive with Balancee, an Westphalian mare discovered at Olympic coach Johann Hinnemann’s farm in California.

“She was the second horse that we tried and we fell in love with this incredible temperament. She’s just such an easy going, easy to ride horse. She’s the most trainable horse I’ve ever encountered,” said Lawder, noting that she’s so taken with the mare’s mind, she’s since bred her own mares to the same stallion.

Balancee’s CDI career is only beginning and there is still much work to be done, said Lawder. But at this moment, she’s embracing the journey.

“I’m very, very grateful to everybody that made this happen. I know it was a huge undertaking to host an event like this. And I’m just incredibly grateful to everybody that participated and supported this event at every level and obviously very grateful to my team.”

FEI Intermediate I Freestyle CDI1* Results
Rider / Nation / Horse / E / H / C / M / B / Total 

1. Shelley Lawder / CAN / Balancee / 69.500 / 72.600 / 74.875 / 71.525 / 75.750 / 72.850
2. Erin Silo / CAN / Jett / 72.050 / 73.975 / 72.750 / 68.750 / 70.625 / 71.630
3. Eiren Crawford / CAN / Hendrix / 71.675 / 72.100 / 68.625 / 71.525 / 72.250 / 71.235
4. Dominique Buckland / CAN / Spangkaergaards Ramulus / 69.850 / 68.625 / 66.500 / 68.200 / 71.875 / 69.010
5. Eleanor Klawer / CAN / Dantesse / 64.275 / 67.150 / 67.000 / 68.125 / 68.750 / 67.060
6. Amy Wellburn / CAN / Dinamico TG / 66.725 / 67.475 / 65.925 / 65.475 / 66.625 / 66.445

Erin Silo Rides Every Stride to Second CDI1* Win

Erin Silo (CAN) was feeling the pressure on Saturday ahead of the FEI Intermediate I CDI1*, sponsored by Bonnie Brae Farm, at the Touch of Class Dressage Show. Hot off an international win in Friday’s Prix St. Georges CDI1*, her first with the nine-year-old KWPN gelding Jett, and contesting their second ever CDI1* event, expectations were high for the green pair. And their first-in-the-order draw didn’t help.

“It was definitely more pressure today!” said Silo. “And then even more pressure being the first in the ring. You’re the initial one laying down the track and clearly, you want to do well.”

Her trainers, Canadian Olympian Leslie Reid and USDF Gold Medal Rider Shelley Lawder (CAN), offered encouraging words and strategic advice to help focus the 39 year old rider.

“I had a good pep talk [in the morning] with both Leslie and Shelley with regards to not overthinking it,” she continued.

Reid’s advice: “Ride every step and don’t forget that the parts between the movements need to be ridden as focused and as structured as movements themselves.”

Silo put their combined wisdom to practice, executing a fluid test with Jett to earn a second personal best score of 69.951%—and her second win—of the week.

“I was really proud of how focused Jett was and how he stayed with me in that big environment. Yesterday, he had a big spook in the test, whereas today he really felt like he was with me and tried really hard for me,” she noted.

“Jett is still green in the arena. He still needs a lot of miles and a lot of experience to get really confident. But I would say that having had a day in there yesterday and then returning to it today, he felt more settled.”

There was one hiccup outside the arena though…

“Ironically enough my horse pulled a shoe in the warm up arena, but I did not know until after the test. So we did the entire test with only one shoe on the front foot!” laughed Silo.

“So that’s horses. You have to learn to be adaptable and go with it, because you can never be as prepared for things as you want to be.”

Silo’s coach Shelley Lawder (CAN) took second aboard Balancee on a score of 68.137%. Dominique Buckland (CAN) and Spangkaergaards Ramulus finished third on a score of 67.843%.

Touch of Class Dressage continues Sunday with the CDI Freestyles. Catch all the action on tbird TV.

FEI Intermediate I CDI1* Results
Rider / Nation / Horse / H / C / B / Total 

1. Erin Silo / CAN / Jett / 71.029 / 69.118 / 69.706 / 69.951
2. Shelley Lawder / CAN / Balancee / 67.941 / 67.206 / 69.265 / 68.137
3. Dominique Buckland / CAN / Spangkaergaards Ramulus / 67.206 / 69.412 / 66.912 / 67.843
4. Eiren Crawford / CAN / Hendrix / 67.647 / 68.235 / 67.206 / 67.696
5.  Kelly Irving / USA / Fresco I.D. / 66.629 / 66.618 / 67.941 / 67.063
6. Lindsay Seidel-Wassenaar / CAN / Iko / 66.471 / 67.500 / 66.176 / 66.716

Joppe K Carries Confidence Forward, Earns Second Personal Best at Touch of Class

Langley, BC — American dressage rider Jennifer Williams had one focus in mind for Joppe K heading into Saturday’s FEI Grand Prix Special CDI3*, sponsored by Wendy Christoff of Delta BC,  at the Touch of Class Dressage Show: fitness.

“I think, at this point, he really just needs to be fitter in the test,” she said of the nine-year-old chestnut gelding.

“For some reason, the last five years, I’ve always had a day off in between the Grand Prix and the Special and all four of [the CDI] shows I’ve done with Joppe, they’ve been back to back and it’s a lot.”

Joppe K rose to the occasion at Thunderbird Show Park. The pair returned to the 20 x 60 “sandbox” on Saturday and reclaimed the top spot on the CDI3* leaderboard with a personal best score of 70.638%. Williams and Joppe K also won Friday’s FEI Grand Prix CDI3* with a personal best score.

“I did feel that he was a bit more tired today, but he was very honest in the work. And he just was getting better and better at the test went on,” said Williams.

“I really felt like the confidence from yesterday carried through to today, and I didn’t find myself testing him as much to make sure that he was with me. I just knew that he was with me.”

The highlights of the test for Williams were the piaffe and the passage and “a clean, quality test.”

“He was 100% honest. I had the feeling that he was willing to give me more [in the piaffe and passage] if I would have asked for more. And that is a great feeling, especially on the final centerline. I was really proud of his effort.”

Joppe K is owned by the Joppe Partners, a group that includes Bob and Tina Desroche, Lisa Norling and his rider. Williams believes the KWPN gelding has championship potential.

“He’s a horse that I really believe in for the future. So whether he’s ready this year [for the Pan American Games] or not, we’re just going to keep doing our thing and keep him confident and happy and healthy. If things work out, great. And if not, we just keep going,” said Williams, who trains with Christophe Theallet and Oded Shimoni.

For the immediate future though, Joppe can look forward to some time off.

“The horses live outside 24/7 at our place in Washington. He’ll get a few days off in the paddock,” she continued.

“I think the downtime for him is just as important as trying to make him fit. So we’ll keep some fitness routine going that’s outside of the dressage ring, because when he’s just having fun and fresh he is just such a blast to ride and I want to keep that in him.”

Pia Fortmuller (CAN) and Frieda took second in the Grand Prix Special CDI3* on a score of 67.771%. Sara Pocock (CAN) and Connaisseur, third on 65.596%.

FEI Grand Prix Special CDI3* Results
Rider / Nation / Horse / E / H / C / M / B / Total 

1. Jennifer Williams / USA / Joppe K / 71.277 / 71.489 / 70.319 / 70.319 / 69.787 / 70.638
2. Pia Fortmuller / CAN / Frieda / 67.774 / 68.404 / 67.774 / 68.511 / 66.391 / 67.771
3. Sara Pocock / CAN / Connaisseur / 65.426 / 67.553 / 65.000 / 65.106 / 64.894 / 65.596
4. Rochelle Kilberg / CAN / Florentino / 65.638 / 65.213 / 65.745 / 63.617 / 61.489 / 64.340