Frederic Wandres (GER) and Bluetooth OLD lit up the capacity crowds on a balmy Florida evening for the ‘Friday Night Stars’ FEI World Cup™ Grand Prix Freestyle, presented by Havensafe Farm. The barnstorming duo captured the week’s showcase class with over 80% at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) in Wellington, FL. AGDF 2023, which hosts seven weeks of CDI competition, runs through April 2.
Last to go of the 11 starters, Wandres and Hof Kasselmann’s 13-year-old gelding (Bordeaux x Riccione) demonstrated a rhythmic, powerful and balanced test that was brimming with expression and elasticity. As a three-year-old in Germany, Bluetooth OLD sold for €1 million ($1.3 million USD), and his quality, talent and consistency at Grand Prix justify that price tag. This result represents the pair’s fourth straight victory at the 2023 AGDF and the audience began to cheer wildly before the final halt. Wandres finished on 80.565%, with a high score of 82.2%.
Two American ladies joined Wandres on the podium. Ashley Holzer rode her own 13-year-old Sir Donnerhall mare Valentine in just her fourth international Grand Prix Freestyle, filling second place with 77.4%. Just behind Holzer, with 77.27%, came Sarah Tubman on Summit Farm’s stallion First Apple — another 13-year-old.
Wandres, who works for Kasselmann and is an AGDF regular, said, “It was the second Friday Night Stars this season for me and I really love the atmosphere — it’s always so crowded and the people are cheering for everyone. I am very happy with Bluetooth; he gets more and more consistent and the important things are getting better and better. I am really looking forward for what’s coming next.”
Bluetooth OLD — who was bred by Paul Schockemöhle’s Gestüt Lewitz — was formerly ridden at national Grand Prix by Ingrid Klimke, and Wandres took over the reins almost two years ago.
“In the beginning we needed time to come together as he’s a very sensitive horse,” added Wandres, who is eyeing the CDI5* show in Week 10 for Bluetooth OLD. “He needs routine and it took a little while to figure all that out. Now I know him and he knows me and we know what we can risk and what we can’t — that’s the positive thing about a partnership. Coming down the centerline is what the spectators see, but behind that there is so much more to think about and do; it’s a 24/7 passion for all of us and if it all comes together in the arena, then even better.”
Holzer was particularly emotional about Valentine’s performance as she had a very difficult ride at the World Championships in Denmark in August 2022, where the mare had a major loss of confidence in the ring. This was their first big tour international since then.
“Yesterday in the Grand Prix she was really willing, but tonight was a huge question mark,” said Holzer, who rode for Canada at four Olympic Games before switching nationalities. “This is a lot of atmosphere and you pray to God the PTSD doesn’t come back. She was a little tricky in the warmup. Katherine [Bateson-Chandler] was helping me and we didn’t do much of the grand prix work in the warmup and I finally felt her relax.
“In the ring, she slowly came more and more to me as the test went on. That last centerline, my mare was back. It’s a journey with these horses and you have to find the right solution and find a way forward. I feel so happy that this path is working for her,” added Holzer, who rode to a Tom Hunt freestyle.
She also has a new freestyle in the works for Valentine, which will feature vocals from her daughter Emma.
Tubman, who is based at Donato Farms in Wellington, catapulted herself and First Apple up the leaderboard after finishing seventh in the previous day’s qualifying Grand Prix.
“There was nothing more I could ask for from him tonight,” she said. “He was completely with me and, for where we are at, we laid it all out on the table. Our goal was to put down another mistake-free test. We started going down this path and doing freestyles because it brought a lot of confidence to this horse. He loves the crowd, he loves the nighttime, so we always see a large improvement in him at home and in the other tests after showing the freestyle. I had a ton of fun and he was 100% with me.
“We will see how he feels the next week or so, then come up with a plan,” added Tubman. “We are really fortunate to have that flexibility here in Wellington — we can pick any weekend we want. I really hope to go to Europe and spend the summer there and get more mileage.”
Judge at C Janet Foy said, “It’s so amazing to sit there and see people you have watched really come along with their horses have these amazing successes in front of this huge crowd. This was just the most wonderful night.”
Betsy Juliano of class sponsor Havensafe Farm reiterated the riders’ appreciation of AGDF, saying, “We’re so lucky to be here in Wellington. We have a fantastic opportunity to show the horses in different types of competitions, different star levels with excellent judges. It’s like no place else in the world. It makes a huge difference for our country and our sport.
“I love the process and I love watching these riders and horses develop more and more. I’m so happy to see everybody’s tests get better and better. That’s what I absolutely love about this sport. If you are only in it go to the championship, you will be disappointed. If you are in it to watch the horses develop and grow, you will enjoy it every step of the way.”
A large field of 28 combinations stepped into the Equestrian Village International Ring to contest the FEI Grand Prix CDI3*, sponsored by MTICA Farm, which serves as a qualifier for Saturday afternoon’s CDI3* Grand Prix Special. France’s Morgan Barbançon clinched the blue ribbon riding her own Habana Libre A to 71.174%. Two young German riders shared the podium with her: Anna-Christina Abbelen (26) rode Sam Donnerhall into second with 70.913% while 22-year-old Felicitas Hendricks made her senior international Grand Prix debut on Drombusch 2 and claimed third with 70.565%.
Barbançon admitted that she slightly misjudged her warm-up, so the test had some minor glitches. “I badly calculated my time today and was missing five minutes to really work into the piaffe/passage, so Habana was a little bit surprised in there and although I’m happy with him, we could have done better,” said Barbançon of the 11-year-old gelding by Zizi Top x United.
“The piaffe was better than last time but he’s still a growing Grand Prix horse,” she added. “Havana is a good student. He likes to do everything well — almost too much sometimes as he winds himself up. Now it’s about reassuring him and giving him as much confidence as possible. I’m not pushing him to his limits, I want to give him confidence that he knows his job in the ring and then we can start pushing up a notch.”
Barbançon, who is spending her first season in Wellington, is appreciative to be able to show her horses at multiple CDIs at AGDF without having to haul them for hours from her base in Switzerland.
“Here you can compete, compete, compete without having to travel all the time,” she enthused. “If I calculate all the shows I could have done in Europe for all the shows I’m doing here, I saved almost 30,000km of travelling for the horses.”
For more information and results, visit www.globaldressagefestival.com.