Friday: Pia Fortmüller and Frieda Get in the Grand Prix Groove

Pia Fortmüller and Frieda are no strangers to the pressures of CDI competition.

Partnered since 2013, the Canadian rider and 2011 black Hanoverian mare first began touring the 20 x 60 in 2015, methodically advancing from green horse to Grand Prix over the past decade. They’ve earned 18 CDI podium finishes since 2016, including nine wins.

Pia Fortmüller and Frieda. ( photo)

On Friday, the pair collected their most recent victory with the FEI Grand Prix CDI3*, sponsored by Wendy Christoff, at Thunderbird Dressage Show, presented by Winifred Steinkopf Hall, Gordon & Wendy Christoff, and Blue Heron Farm.

And it was a decisive one at that.

Fortmüller and Frieda bested the competition by over two percent, garnering a 68.457% score from the judges for their expressive trot tour and quality of movement. USA’s Jennifer Williams and Joppe K took second with a score of 65.913%. Canada’s Rochelle Kilberg and Florentino, third on 64.391%.

“The trot tour, I’m super happy with,” said Fortmüller of their test. “I had a little mistake in the two [tempis]. She just got a little bit tense in the canter and she wants to get a little bit too much in a knot.

“But what I’m really happy with is we were able to undo the knot and we got our one [tempis], which is normally the most difficult thing for her. I’m so happy with her that within the test that we could get a knot undone and then continue building on that.”

Now 12 years of age, Frieda is in her second year in the Grand Prix with Fortmüller. The pair made their Big Tour debut in Wellington, Florida in January 2022 and won their first CDI3* with an impressive 70.457% score. Their marks over that first season fluctuated between 63 to 67% in the Grand Prix as they found their footing. This year, they’re trending just below 70.

“The first season, it’s always green,” said the Foothills, AB-based rider. “And now the second season we’re starting to get in the groove of things. Of course, there’s still tons of things that we want to improve. But I’m really happy with how her confidence continues to grow.”

So has the consistency of their scores. In five Big Tour classes this year, the pair hasn’t scored below 68%.

“Now we’re figuring out she has a really expressive trot and then she gets a little bit tense in the canter,” said Fortmüller. “So I have to try to keep the balance between being able to show off what she can do in trot. But then I still need to make sure I have enough internal balance so that my canter tour stays settled. Those are probably the biggest things that’s stand out to me.”

The Canadian rider credits their longtime partnership and early exposure to stadium atmosphere on the Young Horse Tour in Europe for their current success.

“She’s supersensitive. So that’s why being able to do the whole journey with her, the trust has been huge,” she explained.

“She’s definitely a horse that’s clearly talented, but she’s got a whole lot of heart and that’s probably one of her biggest strengths. She’s a fighter and it’s very, very special.”

A decade into their partnership, Fortmüller is focused on the journey with the striking black mare. After all, it’s one that had an unexpected start. Frieda wasn’t a horse she was hunting for but one that her partner, Lars Busch, discovered and bought at a mare and foal auction in Germany on a whim and good feeling.

“It’s one of those wonderful stories. She was two and a half at the time and I had just lost my top Grand Prix horse, Orion. Lars said, ‘I have something that’s going to cheer you up. I need to show you this horse I found!’ And it was Frieda.”

Fortmüller was understandably dubious of the horse’s Grand Prix potential, given that the mare was only two at the time. Lars, however, had no such reservations.

“He said, ‘You just wait. You just wait, Pia,’ and here we are doing the Grand Prix. I mean, it sounds crazy when you look back.”

FEI Grand Prix CDI3* Results
1. Pia Fortmuller / CAN / Frieda / 67.283 / 67.174 / 70.652 / 68.804 / 68.370 / 68.457
2. Jennifer Williams / USA / Joppe K / 63.261 / 65.217 / 66.304% 66.087 / 68.696 / 65.913
3. Rochelle Kilberg / CAN / Florentino / 65.000 / 64.239 / 65.109 / 64.022 / 63.587 / 64.391

Shelley Lawder and Balancee Step into Small Tour Win

Canadian dressage rider and 2023 Pan American Games hopeful Shelley Lawder had a mission with Balancee heading into the Thunderbird Dressage CDI Show, presented by Winifred Steinkopf Hall, Gordon & Wendy Christoff, and Blue Heron Farm.

“We’ve been trying really, really hard to crack the 70s since March. And we finally did it!” smiled the Langley-based rider.

Shelley Lawder and Balancee. ( photo)

Lawder and the nine-year-old Westphalian mare made their international debut in June this year, competing in a CDI1* in Sherwood, Oregon followed by the Touch of Class Dressage Show CDI1* at tbird. They closed their CDI tour that month at tbird with a win in the FEI Intermediate Freestyle CDI1*. On Friday, they picked up where they left off in Langley, taking victory in the CDI1* FEI Prix St. Georges, sponsored by Winifred Steinkopf Hall.

Seven combinations took to the tbird ring for the Small Tour class. Lawder and Balancee were the only combination to break the 70 barrier, earning a 71.382% from the judges. Stablemates Erin Silo (CAN) and Jett took second on a score of 69.588%. Gloria Schriever (CAN) and Hilton finished third on 68.588%.

“I’m happy that we’re making some progress, that the scores are coming up, and that the judges see improvement because that’s what we’re trying to do,” said Lawder, 56. “We’re trying to get better.”

Specifically, she’s been working to better Balancee’s self-carriage over the past four weeks.

“That has been our number one priority in training at home and we’ve just been 100% staying on that topic. That’s our drumbeat: hind legs under, self carriage and no gray zone,” continued Lawder, who trains with [Canadian Olympian] Leslie Reid.

“For these CDI [shows] and for this level of judging, they absolutely want to see the horse in self-carriage, engaged, in front of the rider, and on the hind leg—no ifs, ands or buts.”

For Lawder, who hopes to represent Canada at the Santiago 2023 Games, the result is simply the next step in her bigger plan.

“We try to really focus on each necessary step. Step one was getting through the FEI jog. Step two was cracking the 70s in the Prix St Georges because the Prix St George counts more than the Intermediate I [toward team selection]. [On Saturday], it will be to try to take the suggestions and observations from these judges and show them that we’ve read our tests and we’re able to respond to the corrections and adjustments that they want to see,” she explained.

“And so we just do it step by step by step.”

FEI Prix St. Georges CDI1* Results
1. Shelley Lawder / CAN / Balancee / 68.529 / 73.529 / 72.941 / 70.588 / 71.324 / 71.382
2. Erin Silo / CAN / Jett / 71.324 / 69.853 / 69.412 / 67.941 / 69.412 / 69.588
3. Gloria Schriever / CAN / Hilton / 769.706 / 67.794 / 68.529 / 68.676 / 68.235 / 68.588
4. Amy Wellburn / CAN / Dinamico TG / 69.118 / 69.706 / 69.118 / 66.471 / 66.618 / 68.206
5. Kelly Irving / CAN / Fresco LD / 65.882 / 64.265 / 67.647 / 68.529 / 65.588 / 66.382

Saturday: Jennifer Williams Trusts the Training with Joppe K

USA’s Jennifer Williams and Joppe K moved up the leaderboard on Saturday at the Thunderbird Dressage CDI, presented by Winifred Steinkopf Hall, Gordon & Wendy Christoff, and Blue Heron Farm, to captured their third CDI3* win in the past five weeks.

In a head to head competition against Friday’s CDI3* winners Pia Fortmüller and Frieda, Williams and the nine-year-old KWPN gelding came out ahead in the CDI3* FEI Grand Prix Special, sponsored by Wendy Christoff, earning a score of 69.362% from the judges to Fortmüller’s 68.553%.

“I thought that the overall picture and harmony was better today [than on Friday]. He gave me a great feeling in the energy and yet remain very relaxed through most of the test. [He had] a lot of power in the extended canter, sat nicely in the pirouettes. I had some mistakes in the tempis that were unfortunate. Those are usually a strong piece for us.

“But what I was really focused on was good quality reactions in the piaffe and passage, and he was answering all of those questions with a great attitude and a lot of a super effort.”

The part Williams was most proud of, however, was their improvement over Friday’s Big Tour class, where they finished second on 65.913% but withered in the heat.

“I won the warm ups yesterday,” joked Williams. “I tested things just a little more than maybe necessary [in the warm up] and so then he got a little tired by the end of the test. I stayed up [last night] really thinking about how I could do a better job for him and ride him better today and kept the warm up very short and sweet and just tested a few reactions.

“He’s very obedient. He’s very correct in a lot of the things that he does. So I just had to really trust that training.

“I was very proud of how I adapted the warm up from yesterday to today. I felt like I was able to make some adjustments that kept him more fresh the second day—that was a win for me.”

Joppe K is a “future horse,” said Williams, and new to the Grand Prix level. The pair moved up to the Big Tour in February. Last month at the Touch of Class CDI at tbird, they cracked 70% for the first time at the level, winning both the CDI3* Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special.

Williams and the nine-year-old gelding have since been named to the U.S. Dressage short list for the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games. But while Williams said it would “be amazing” to ride for the senior team in Santiago, she’s focused on their long term goals.

“I want, number one, that my horse is sound and happy and healthy. And number two, I’m looking for a feeling in the ring that he’s rideable and giving me the reactions that I would like. If those two things happen and we score well and score high enough and place well, great. But when you start looking for the end result first and you try to skip the soundness or the throughness or the ride-ability, then it’s not going to work out anyway.

“He’s so young. He’s a future horse. So, I want him to always feel proud of himself and love the game. I’m just going to keep building him for the future and enjoying the ride. I have so much gratitude for everybody that’s helped me get to this point and especially him.”

CDI3* FEI Grand Prix Special Results
1. Jennifer Williams / USA / Joppe K / 67.766 / 68.617 / 70.000 / 71.277 / 69.149 / 69.362
2. Pia Fortmüller / CAN / Frieda / 68.830 / 68.830 / 67.340 / 68.830 / 68.936 / 68.553

Gloria Schriever Has “Best of Both Worlds” & Personal Best in Hilton

“We always joke when [Hilton] comes out of the ring, ‘Oh, my mom’s so happy. Her boy did so well!’ And she’ll say, ‘My girl did well, too,’” laughed Gloria Schriever.

The Canadian rider, 36, may be the one in the saddle, but she’ll be the first to tell you that the striking black gelding belongs to her mom, Iris, in the stable. It’s been that way since they imported the 16-hand Portuguese Sport Horse as a five year old.

“I found [Hilton] through a friend in Portugal. She had imported him from Spain as a yearling and he turned out to be too small for her. And that was perfect for me,” said Gloria, who is a diminutive 1.50m (five feet tall) “on the dot.”

“Everybody in our stable knows I’m the rider, but my mom is his person. He bonded with her immediately. Even today, she gets him ready in the stable at home, but also at the show. She’s his number one person, his number one fan.”

Iris Schriever was no doubt smiling on Saturday at the Thunderbird Dressage CDI, presented by Winifred Steinkopf Hall, Gordon & Wendy Christoff, and Blue Heron Farm. Her daughter and “her boy” rode away with a win and a personal best score of 69.500% in the CDI1* FEI Intermediate I, sponsored by Winifred Steinkopf Hall. It’s the pair’s first time cracking the 69% mark and first CDI win.

Shelley Lawder (CAN) and Balancee, winners of Friday’s Small Tour class, took second on a score of 68.176%. Erin Silo (CAN) and Jett finished third on 67.147%.

Gloria credits Hilton’s warmblood and Lustiano breeding—he’s sired by famed KWPN stallion Totilas and out of a Lustiano dam—for providing “the best of both worlds” in terms of his naturally aptitude for collection and extension, skills they showed off to good effect on Saturday.

“Because of his Portuguese influence, the pirouettes were easy and they were definitely one of our highlights. They’re quite solid, so I can usually go into the ring and I know he knows what to do when we go into the pirouette. The changes were also quite good today. The two [tempis], it almost felt like I could just sit back and he took those away from me in a good way. He knew they were coming and they were expressive. They were straight. He did very well on those.”

In fact, the biggest challenge for Hilton this week wasn’t in the saddle at all, said Gloria. It was being in a stall.

“Coming to a CDI and being stalled for almost a week, that’s always a big challenge for him mentally because he basically lives outside at our house,” she explained, noting that Hilton has a busy mind and a busy mouth. At home, they keep him entertained with multiple Jolly Balls in his paddock and an assortment of hanging toys in his shelter.

“He can’t wear blankets. He can’t wear a stable wraps because he will take them off. He’s a Houdini! He has a huge personality.”

As of Saturday, he’s also a CDI winner.

CDI1* FEI Intermediate I Results
1. Gloria Schriever / CAN / Hilton / 70.882 / 71.765 / 68.235 / 68.971 / 67.647 / 69.500
2. Shelley Lawder / CAN / Balancee / 69.176 / 66.824 / 67.412 / 70.059 / 67.412 / 68.176
3. Erin Silo / CAN / Jett / 67.353 / 66.912 / 66.176 / 66.765 / 68.529 / 67.147
4. Amy Wellburn / CAN / Dinamico TG / 63.824 / 64.412 / 65.735 / 68.235 / 68.235 / 66.088
5. Kelly Irving / USA / Fresco LD / 64.412 / 66.618 / 65.000 / 67.353 / 64.706 / 65.618

Sunday: Erin Silo’s “Dance Monkey” Scores New Personal Best

Canadian dressage rider Erin Silo didn’t have the ride she was hoping for on Saturday at the Thunderbird Dressage CDI, presented by Winifred Steinkopf Hall, Gordon & Wendy Christoff, and Blue Heron Farm. Come Sunday, she turned that setback into a comeback.

Aboard her nine-year-old KWPN gelding Jett, Silo scored a win and a new personal best in the CDI1* FEI Intermediate I Freestyle, sponsored by Winifred Steinkopf Hall.

“I didn’t ride my test very well yesterday,” said Silo of her performance in Saturday’s CDI1* class. (They finished third on a score of 67.147%.)

“I let one mistake rattle me a little bit and I didn’t give my horse the confidence that he needed in the arena. I had to take the lesson from yesterday and go out there today and apply it and be present, which was a good lesson. Today, it was all about keeping him in front of my leg and just going out there and enjoying it, not overthinking it.”

It was a feat accomplished. Silo and the 16.1 hand gelding earned a 71.755% from the judges, the best score to date for a pair that only started competing at the CDI level in June.

“He was a good dance partner today,” smiled Silo.

No doubt playing to their advantage on Sunday was their infectiously upbeat freestyle music featuring Tone and I’s “Dance Monkey.”

“It’s definitely different,” said Silo of the musical arrangement. “It’s super playful and kind of bouncy to match his personality. He’s a small, weird little guy. I don’t think classical music or anything traditional would suit him in the slightest. So I wanted to play off the fact that he’s tiny and bouncy and quirky.”

The judges concurred. Silo and Jett’s highest mark on the day, a 73.757%, came from Jane Weatherwax, the Judge at E. Acclaimed FEI 5* judge Stephen Clarke (GBR), the judge at C, awarded the pair a 71.375%—it was the second highest CDI score he issued that week. (Only Silo’s coach, Shelley Lawder, earned a higher mark from Clarke for her winning Small Tour performance on Friday).

Winning is becoming a habit for Silo and Jett at Thunderbird Show Park. In June, they scored a pair of personal bests at the Touch of Class CDI, winning both the Prix St. Georges and the Intermediate I. Sunday’s victory in the Freestyle completes their Small Tour trifecta.

“It’s always a work in progress,” said Silo. “But, every time I get to go in the arena with him, I learn. I learn more about him, and I feel like it grows our relationship.”

Carol Robinson (CAN) and Lightfoot took second in the Small Tour Freestyle on a score of 70.090%. Amy Wellburn (CAN) and Dinamico TG finished third on 66.440%.

Canada’s Rochelle Kilberg and Florentino danced to a score of 70.630% and the win in the CDI3* FEI Grand Prix Freestyle on Sunday.

CDI1* FEI Intermediate Freestyle Results
1. Erin Silo / CAN / Jett / 73.575 72.500 71.375 69.925 71.400 71.755
2. Carol Robinson / CAN / Lightfoot / 73.550 68.350 68.250 71.225 69.075 70.090
3. Amy Wellburn / CAN / Dinamico TG / 66.900 67.575 64.750 67.475 65.500 66.440