It was Ashley Holzer’s night to shine, and shine she did, with her long-time partner Pop Art piaffing and passaging to one last victory together at the 90th Royal Horse Show.

While the scores for tonight’s $20,000 Dominion Regalia Royal Invitational Dressage Cup Freestyle to Music were closer than might have been expected, the level of confidence and maturity which exuded from Holzer and Pop Art put them in a class of their own. It takes a lot of guts to passage into piaffe at “C” (smack in front of three judges.) If you’re going to do it there, you had better do it well. Holzer and Pop Art did it flawlessly tonight.

“I think tonight, “Poppy” did the best he’s ever done,” said Lorraine MacDonald, the judge at position “E” tonight. “She rode an extremely technically difficult test and the horse was so fluid and so obedient. It was fabulous. Tonight it was a question of obedience and relaxation – Jacquie Brooks’ horse D’Niro was a bit tense, she had a few miscues, she missed her music a couple of times. Pop Art never did – he never missed a beat. Pop Art was the clear winner tonight.”

“This is my last show with Poppy,” declared Holzer with clearly mixed emotions. “He owes me nothing. He’s going to be 16 next year and he’s happy and fit and feeling good. It’s so great to go out on a high note – so great to have your last ride be one of the best rides you’ve ever had. He was thrilled to be in front of the crowd. It was easy for me to ride. He wanted to be good. I think that’s the best way to say ‘that’s enough!’”

Runner up Jacquie Brooks officially retired her long-time partner Gran Gesto in a ceremony in the ring tonight, after contesting the class with her London Olympic mount D’Niro.

“D’Niro has wonderful music, and fantastic choreography,” explained MacDonald. “On another day, he could easily win. He has great potential, when he’s more relaxed, but this is the first time the horse has shown indoors. He was much better tonight than yesterday, which is encouraging.”

Earlier in the evening the International show jumpers competed in the $32,000 MNP International “Top Score” challenge, a class where each jump is assigned a points value and each rider has to design their own course in an attempt to amass the highest tally. A “joker” jump is optional and worth 200 points – for the better if you make it, but for the worse if you don’t.

Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam wowed the crowd as he guided Cyklon 1083 down the middle of the ring, serpentining over the jumps as though it were an equitation test and not a speed class for maximum points. He quickly racked up 1290 points, a score which stood until fellow countryman Dermott Lennon followed nearly the same path but managed to add 100 points along the way to top out at 1390.

“The fences weren’t so big so we were able to jump them off short strides and tight turns,” explained Lennon. “I had the course in my head before I went in, and I just went for it. But I very nearly got lost halfway through! Jump the high numbers and don’t ride past any jumps, and leave them all up!” was his seemingly simple plan for the night.

As predicted, the outstanding roster of American riders has provided stiff competition – none was more evident than in this afternoon’s $32,000 “Brickenden Trophy” International Jumper Class, where it was a clean sweep by the USA across the leader board. First through fifth went to the United States, led by Lauren Hough (Wellington, FL) and her mare OhLaLa, who had the luxury of riding last in the jump-off.

Equestrian action returns to the Ricoh Coliseum Friday evening, after the Royal celebrates the prestigious National Holstein Show in the big ring all day.

The 48th Highlanders will perform Friday night, as well as the crowd-pleasing Lit Dressage exhibition and the $50,000 Weston Canadian Open for International jumpers. The 90th Royal Horse Show will conclude Saturday with an exciting matinee lineup prior to the evening’s sold-out performance featuring the $75,000 Ricoh Big Ben Challenge

$20,000 Dominion Regalia Royal Invitational Dressage Cup – Freestyle to Music

Rider / Hometown / Horse / Overall Score
1. Ashley Holzer / Bronx, NY / Pop Art / 76.708
2. Jacqueline Brooks / Mount Albert, ON / D’Niro / 72.750
3. Jaimey Irwin / Stouffville, ON / Lindor’s Finest / 70.83
4. David Marcus / Campbellville, ON / Chevri’s Capital / 68.875

$32,000 MNP International “Top Score” for International Jumpers

Rider / Hometown / Horse / Score
1. Dermott Lennon / Ireland / Loughview Lou Lou / 1390
2. Shane Sweetnam / Ireland / Cyklon 1083 / 1290
3. Olivier Philippaerts / Belgium / Chicago VH Moleneind / 1250
4. McLain Ward / Brewster, NY / Rothchild / 1190
5. Nicola Philippaerts / Belgium / Diebrich de Kalvarie / 1150

$32,000 “Brickenden Trophy” International Jumper Class

Rider / Hometown / Horse / Faults : Time
1. Lauren Hough / Wellington, FL / OhLaLa / 0 : 32.77
2. Laura Kraut / Middleburg, VA / Belmont / 0 : 33.84
3. Christine McCrea / Windsor, CT / Wannick WH / 0 : 34.81
4. Kent Farrington / Wellington, FL / Voyeur / 4 : 31.45
5. Jessica Springsteen / Colts Neck, NJ / Temmie / 4 : 31.96