The Florida sun was once again shining for Canadian eventers and hundreds of other competitors from 12 nations at the Ocala International Festival of Eventing held at the Florida Horse Park. And across the Atlantic, Canada continued its increased presence in the world vaulting arena in Belgium.

Kendal Lehari Finishes Second in Ocala International CCI 4*-S

Offering a CCI4*-S division for the first time since it began in 2006, the Ocala International Festival of Eventing from April 20 – 23, 2023 at the Florida Horse Park in Ocala, FL. did not disappoint with twelve countries represented and 500 entries across four Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) divisions.

Fresh off posting their best score in the four-star short at the Event at TerraNova on March 30, Kendal Lehari of Uxbridge, ON, and her own Audacious (Iron Man x Meagan’s Mayflower) contested the CCI4*-S in fine form finishing in second place in a field of 20 athlete and horse combinations. Riding “Junior”, the 10-year-old Canadian Sport Horse gelding she co-owns with Gwen and Rein Lehari, the pair started the weekend on a dressage score of 37.5 and down the leaderboard in 15th place.

With only one rail down in the show jumping round, the 36-year-old Lehari then moved up to 10th overnight on a score of 41.5. In the cross-country phase, Lehari and Junior took an option early on in the track and were the only pair to achieve a double clear on the very technical course laid out by Canadian Jay Hambly. Their flawless cross-country saw them add nothing to their score and finish on a personal best 4*-S score of 41.5, behind USA’s Sharon White and Claus 63 who finished with a final result of 35.5.


Jessica Phoenix and Freedom GS navigating a water jump.

Jessica Phoenix and Freedom GS. (Xpress Foto)

Fellow Canadian Jessica Phoenix of Cannington, ON, finished in fifth place riding Freedom GS (Humble GS x Fidertanz), an 11-year-old Trakehner mare owned by Charlotte Schickedanz. The three-time Olympian began the CCI 4*-S on a dressage score of 38.2, just one place below Lehari. The pair followed suit with one rail down in show jumping, moving them up to 11th. The 40-year-old Phoenix and Freedom then headed out over the cross-country track on a score of 42.2. Adding only a 1.6 time penalty, the duo finished on a final score of 43.8.

Coming off their top-three placing in the CCI3*-S at the Event at Terra Nova, Melissa Boutin of Ascot Corner, QC, was proud of her 11-year-old Trakehner mare Obeah Dancer GS (Humble GS x Buddenbrock) in her four-star debut, when together they finished sixth with a score of 46.4.

Dana Cooke of Merrittvile, BC, who resides in North Carolina and Quatro (Quaterstern x Coriograph B), a nine-year-old German Sport Horse gelding owned by Kingfisher Park finished with a score of 47.7 in seventh.

Kyle Carter of Calgary, AB, who resides in Florida and the oldest horse in the CCI 4*-S division, G Star Van de Klinkenberg (Furst Romancier x Zarina), a 19-year-old Dutch warmblood gelding owned by Leila Saxe, finished with a score of 61.3 for eighth place.

To round out the top 10, Karl Slezak of Tottenham, ON, rode Chevalier, an 11-year-old Canadian warmblood owned by Carol Wiley in the gelding’s first-ever four-star, finishing with a score of 70.0 for 10th.

In a field of 44 athlete and horse combinations in the CCI 3*-L division, 36-year-old Lehari finished in ninth place aboard her own Mitchell (Giant Gizmo x Skip Away), an eight-year-old Thoroughbred gelding.

The Canadian pair opened the weekend on a dressage score of 31.5 for 22nd place before receiving zero time penalties in the cross-country course to move up to 11th place. On the final day in show jumping, the duo took down just one rail to add four and finished on a score of 35.5.

Eventing Chef D’Équipe Rebecca Howard said, “Ocala had a strong Canadian attendance, both with some having good success as first runs at the level and others working on and showing improving their results.” She added, “I am very much looking forward to Kentucky where I can be there on the ground to watch and support the riders in person.”

Canadian eventers will now switch their focus to The Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event this upcoming weekend from April 27 – 30, one of the world’s premier equestrian 5* events showcasing the world’s highest level of equestrian eventing.


Vaulter Averill Saunders doing a flying dismount off a bay horse.

Averill Saunders dismounts off Rockemotion.

Averill Saunders Rocks into Second Place in Grote-Brogel CVI3* WCupQ

Nineteen-year-old Canadian vaulter Averill Saunders from Sundre, AB who is currently residing and training in Germany, posted an exceptional second place finish at the Grote-Brogel Vaulting CVI3* World Cup Qualifier in Belgium from April 21-23, 2023.

Saunders was competing with her FEI World Championship partner Rockemotion (Rockwell 3 x Di Versace), the 15-year-old Westphalian gelding owned by Hans-Peter and Marlies Krukenburg and Kai and Nina Vorberg and groomed and lunged by Nina Vorberg.

In her Compulsory round, Saunders scored an exceptional 8.441 and started the Technical Test in first place in a field of 20 competitors representing seven countries. With another excellent performance and a score of 8.216 she finished the second phase holding onto the top position. Her freestyle routine suffered some unfortunate challenges and her score of 7.916 brought her combined score down to 8.191, finishing the competition in second behind Germany’s Alina Ross paired with Baron R who finished on a combined score of 8.263.

“Unfortunately, in my technical test dismount, I injured my foot, forcing me to adapt my freestyle the following day,” said Saunders when asked what had caused the change to her routine. “Although the scores reflected my limited capabilities in the freestyle, I’m still incredibly happy with what I was able to show under the circumstances. Fortunately, my foot is not fractured, and I am able to now set my sights for CVI Ermelo taking place May 5-7 in the Netherlands where I will again start with Rockemotion and Nina.”