Germany’s Felicitas Hendricks emerged victorious during “Friday Night Stars” in the penultimate week of CDI action at the 2024 Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) in Wellington, FL.

The Douglas Elliman Real Estate CDI5* Grand Prix Freestyle and the Havensafe Farm CDI5* Grand Prix Special took place in the International Arena at Wellington International — permanent home of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) — on Friday, March 15. AGDF 2024 hosts seven weeks of CDI competition over three months and runs through March 31.

The 24-year-old Hendricks, who finished second in the five-star Special last year to Frederic Wandres (GER) went one better, topping the line-up with her own 13-year-old Destano gelding, Drombusch OLD. They scored 77.245% dancing to a disco soundtrack in their first ever five-star Freestyle. It’s easy to forget that Hendricks is still eligible to ride in the Under-25 division and not in senior ranks.

Sweden’s Tinne Vilhelmson Silfvén rode Lövsta Stuteri’s 15-year-old Devanto (by De Chirico) to second with 74.565%, slotting between two Germans. Anna-Cristina Abbelen finished third on her own and Silke Abbelen-Mooren’s 17-year-old Samarant gelding, Sam Donnerhall, with 73.895%.

Hendricks, who with Drombusch is the reigning European Under-25 Championship gold medalist, said, “It was super fun. I loved it here last year already and I think we improved from last year, which is something really special. The atmosphere was amazing, the crowd was great and it was super nice to experience a different atmosphere. I love Global [dressage’s usual venue], but it was really fun to come here too and do it at WEF.”

Hendricks’ freestyle is of high technical difficulty, but she rode with quiet hands and invisible aids. She moved seamlessly between movements, and included tough transitions and a testing floorplan, like double pirouettes immediately out into canter half-passes. She finished with a metronomic passage and a one-handed piaffe to halt.

“Drombusch has a great passage which really feels like being on a cloud,” she enthused. “I’ve had him since he was six. I bought him from my uncle and trainer Christoph Koschel who thought that he might be the right match for me, and he turned out to be right. It’s been a long journey, but it was very rewarding and I couldn’t wish for a better dance partner. It’s even more special because we’ve gone all the way together.”

This was Drombusch’s final show of the Florida season — where he has won seven of his eight starts — as he will fly back to Germany in a week. After giving the horse a break, Hendricks will map out his summer season in Europe.

Having ridden at seven Olympics, Vilhelmson Silfvén has much experience to draw on, and she had to think on her feet when a mistake crept into her freestyle test on Devanto, which she rode to her well known “Puttin’ on the Ritz” soundtrack.

“I actually had a super feeling — the best I’ve had in a freestyle,” she explained. “Until I had a mistake, and then I lost him. So then there were more mistakes because he got upset. He thought he was going into an extended canter, but I wanted to do two-tempis, so he almost fell over. But anyway I’m happy. This is the third time he’s gone in here [the WEF arena] and every time it gets easier. The atmosphere was great tonight.”

Abbelen’s ride, the 17-year-old Sam Donnerhall, was the oldest horse in the class and she increased the degree of difficulty of her floorplan for this show.

“After every ride I’m super happy to have him, that he’s super sound and that every day he’s willing to work,” she said. “That he’s fresh and that I made it into a five-star grand prix and freestyle is really a great gift.

“The music is pretty explosive and powerful, like Sam, and I’m sporty too and the music covers that really well. I changed my floorplan for this five-star because I thought we were ready now that we’ve known each other for three years, so I wanted to take the risk and it worked out really good,” added the 28-year-old.

After Frederic Wandres’ win in Wednesday’s qualifying grand prix, he said he would “try to go for a little risk to shine bright” in Friday night’s Havensafe Farm CDI5* Grand Prix Special, and he did just that. Riding his employer Hof Kasselmann’s 14-year-old Bordeaux x Riccione gelding Bluetooth OLD, Wandres pulled off a near-flawless performance, garnering a new personal best in this test of 78.34% for the talented duo.

The remaining two podium places were taken up by female athletes from the USA: Anna Marek rode Cynthia Davila’s 14-year-old Zizi Top gelding Fayvel to second place with 70.617%. This was the duo’s second ever CDI grand prix special, and they set a new personal best, beating their previous high score by 2.34 percentage points. Ashley Holzer put a tense performance with Hansel in Wednesday’s grand prix behind her, slotting into third. She rode PJ Rizvi’s 11-year-old Blue Hors Don Olymbrio gelding to 70.149%. (Canada’s Naïma Moreira Laliberté placed 5th in the class with Statesman, scoring 68.979%.)

Last to go in the class, Bluetooth exuded power and grace with a light, consistent contact and Wandres presented him in an uphill frame with the hind legs always engaged. They were rewarded with a high score of 80.957% from the judge at E, Janet Lee Foy.

“It felt like a flawless, harmonious ride,” said Wandres. “I had a wake up call in the grand prix when I had that mistake [in the one-time changes] and I was angry with myself because normally our strength is that we can show mistake-free rides, but that pushed me even more for today.

“I felt like where I could go for risk, I rode it out more tonight. For Bluetooth it’s the beginning of the season, but he’s going back to Europe next week. Here [in Florida] this season we really invested in working on the details and I think it worked out. I spend a lot of time with my horses — not just the riding — and here I can really do that, so I am very happy tonight.”

Katherine Bateson Chandler (USA) capitalized on her CDI3* Grand Prix win on Thursday to take another winner’s blanket on Friday in the Fair Sky Farm CDI3* Grand Prix Special. Last to go in the class, she rode Jennifer Huber’s 12-year-old KWPN mare Haute Couture (by Connoisseur x Krack C) to 70.043%, the only one of the 15 starters to crack the 70% barrier.

Dressage competition resumes on Saturday at Equestrian Village, with small tour action, Young Riders and Juniors. AGDF 10 runs through Sunday. For more information, results and to watch the live stream, visit the Global Dressage Festival website.

Click HERE for full results from AGDF 10.