Washington, D.C. – Ashley Holzer of New York, New York, aboard Pop Art wowed the crowd and the judges with their Grand Prix Freestyle at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. to win the class with a score of 72.565%, which when added to her second place score of 67.813% in the Grand Prix the night previous, gave her a total overall mark of 70.189% and victory in the $25,000 Washington International Horse Show Invitational Dressage Championship. As winner of the event, Holzer takes home $10,000 in prize money.

Holzer, 43, a Toronto native who has represented Canada at two Olympic Games, two World Equestrian Games, and two Pan American Games, came into this competition as the defending champion, having won it last year with the 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion Gambol. Pop Art is a nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Holzer and Ian Nicoll, her father, who made his Grand Prix debut at this championship event. Mr. Nicoll attended the show and watched his horse win the Invitational Championship.

Holzer rode a freestyle to Irish-inspired music track created by Karen Robinson of Applause Dressage, based on music from the theatrical show Riverdance. Though Pop Art started his test showing some tension, he relaxed as he performed the movements, especially his precision piaffe and passage, which he nailed dead on to the music. Holzer included movements that elicited applause from the crowd several times, such as a machine-like piaffe that burst into an energetic extended trot.

The freestyle also showed how creative and clever Holzer is as a rider. As this was Pop Art’s first Grand Prix Freestyle, Holzer acknowledged that she had to “wing it” during some of the ride. “I did a little adlibbing in there because he was very nervous,” Holzer explained and added that because Pop Art is so young, she did not want to over-face him. “Normally the freestyle is pretty difficult and he was worried in the beginning. I took him off the pattern and then he was normal and he really settled in. He’s a fabulous horse to ride. I’m very lucky to have him. He’s just Mr. Dependable. He’s never bad. He was just looking at the crowd. He’s never seen anything like this, so to get him to turn around today and do what he did, I’m thrilled.”

Courtney King, 28, of New Milford, Connecticut, riding Idocus owned by Christine McCarthy earned 70.00% in the freestyle competition to place third, and combined with her winning Grand Prix score of 68.854%, she finished in second place overall with a combined score of 69.427%. King takes home $7,500 in prize money.

Suzanne Dansby-Phelps of Atlanta, Georgia, with her own Cooper earned a score of 70.94% for their wonderful freestyle to Irish music and placed second in the final competition. Combined with their third place finish of 66.250% in the Grand Prix, this duo finished third overall with a score 68.595%. Dansby-Phelps earned $5,000 from the purse.

Officiating on both nights were two international judges. For the Freestyle, USA judge Gary Rockwell of Wellington, Florida, officiated at C and Peru’s Marian Cunningham of Middleburg, Virginia, judged from E.

Judge Cunningham summed up the $25,000 Washington International Horse Show Invitational Dressage Championship, saying, “It’s great. I’m glad that they’re doing it.”

Judge Rockwell gave his overall impression of the 2006 WIHS Invitational Dressage Champion Ashley Holzer and Pop Art, pointing out first that it was the youngster’s inaugural Grand Prix. “From here she’s going to build because first year Grand Prix is always rough around the edges,” Rockwell said. “It’s a spectacular horse!”