Thursday: Adrienne Lyle and Helix top opening Grand Prix classes

U.S. Olympic medalist Adrienne Lyle rode to the top on Thursday, April 11, 2024, at the World Equestrian Center (WEC) April Dressage CDI3* sponsored by Hampton Green Farm and Discover Dressage. The show, which hosts FEImand USEF/USDF-rated classes, ran April 11-14.

Lyle, a mainstay on the U.S. Dressage team in recent years with her recently-retired Olympic mount Salvino, brought two new grand prix mounts to WEC – Ocala with the goal of gaining qualifying scores for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games this summer. The first of those to compete, Lars van de Hoenderheide owned by Zen Elite Equestrian Center, led the Grand Prix for Freestyle CDI3* on Thursday over 12 other competitors with a score of 72% from judges Stephen Clarke (GBR), Alice Schwab (AUT), Raphaël Saleh (FRA), Kristi Wysocki (USA) and Natacha Waddell (BRA).

Marcus Orlob (USA) and Jane, a 10-year-old KWPN mare by Desperado x Metall owned by Alice Tarjan, placed second with a personal best score of 69.913%. With a score of 68.913%, Julio Mendoza Loor (ECU) and Jewel’s Goldstrike, a 13-year-old KWPN gelding by Bretton Woods x Watermill Scandic he owns with Jessica and Justin Mendoza, were third. The only Canadian in the class, Chris von Martels, placed 11th riding Londoncrown (63.326%).

“Lars” only came to the U.S. on January 13, so the burgeoning relationship with Lyle has quickly advanced. Lyle credits his previous two years of FEI grand prix competition experience with Charlotte Fry (GBR), which included five wins at CDI3* shows in Europe. Lyle and Lars competed together for the first time just two weeks ago and won the Grand Prix Special in Wellington, FL.

“Lars is a really solid horse. He’s been out there, he’s had a little bit more experience and he seems very reliable,” said Lyle of the 12-year-old BWP gelding by Negro x Layout. “He’s got a great character, and you can’t help but love his personality. He’s got super canter work, very expressive, good piaffe/passage tour, good walk. There are a lot of nice qualities that he has, and he’s fun to ride. He’s a horse that you can really ride, really put the gas on and really go for it. That’s fun to have.”

Lars showed his reliability by producing a clean test in the Grand Prix. “I was happy with him, especially considering it was kind of an odd morning with the two rain delays,” said Lyle. “It was a lot of changing, but that happens; that’s part of horse show life. You go in the ring, and there are plants blowing down and puddles and all that, but that’s what you need to know they’ll be capable of handling. He still went in there and put in a clean test and that’s really important that he can handle everything we throw at him.”

Friday: Mendoza Loor rebounds for Freestyle win

It was a day full of fantastic international dressage on Friday, April 12, 2024. Julio Mendoza Loor (ECU) and Jewel’s Goldstrike danced to the top of the class in the Grand Prix Freestyle CDI3*, while Adrienne Lyle (USA) and Helix, owned by Zen Elite Equestrian Center and Heidi Humphries, won the Grand Prix for Special CDI3* over 24 other competitors.

Mendoza Loor is no stranger to the winner’s circle at WEC – Ocala, having won all six classes in three shows leading up to this week. With an uncharacteristic fourth-place finish in Thursday’s Grand Prix, Mendoza Loor and Jewel’s Goldstrike rebounded in the Grand Prix Freestyle CDI3* to take top honors once again with a score of 77.055%.

“Today, my strong points were my canter pirouettes,” he described. “It was the highlight of the test. The piaffe was really good too, especially the piaffe from the canter pirouette; that transition was really excellent tonight. I wanted him to stay with me and be with me during the entire test – he did it, and I am very pleased with that.”

Second place in the freestyle went to the Grand Prix winners, Adrienne Lyle (USA) and Lars van de Hoenderheide, who scored 76.145% in their first freestyle together. Third place went to Pablo Gomez Molina (ESP) on Ulises de Ymas, owned by Yeguada de Ymas S.L., Javier Bacariza and Cristina Danguillecourt. Gomez Molina and the 14-year-old PRE gelding (Seni Indio x Superior II) received a score of 74.315%. Canada’s von Martels and Londoncrown placed 11th with 67.140%.

Following last year’s Pan American Games in October where they won individual gold and qualified for this summer’s Paris Olympic Games, Mendoza Loor brought out the 13-year-old KWPN gelding just once in February at WEC – Ocala prior to this show.

“He knows what he has to do,” commented Mendoza Loor. “He doesn’t have to learn anymore; the focus is keeping him happy. It’s about keeping his head and his heart in the right place. We did two shows here in the Unites States, and we are going to Europe in May. We will do two or three shows in Europe before the Olympics.”

When Mendoza Loor steps into the Olympic arena at Versailles, France, he will be the first rider from Ecuador to compete in dressage at the Olympic Games.

“It’s been a long-time dream,” he expressed. “I am 45 years old, and I’ve been thinking about this since I was 11. It’s taken many years of hard work and consistency, patience, self-discipline and self-confidence. My wife Jessica is the rock star behind this. She is the one pushing me to be better. I am very excited.”

In a huge field of Grand Prix athletes, it was Adrienne Lyle who topped the leaderboard once again, this time in the Grand Prix for Special CDI3*. She and Helix scored 73.065% to win, despite being only their fourth class together.

The judging panel scored all new combinations as the top three in the class. Following Lyle and Helix in the victory gallop was U.S. Olympian Kasey Perry-Glass with Heartbeat W.P., a 12-year-old KWPN gelding by Charmeur x Olympic Ferro owned by Diane Perry. In their fifth CDI class together, the pair scored 71.065%. Endel Ots (USA) and Zen Elite’s Bohemian, a 14-year-old Westphalian gelding (Bordeaux 28 x Samarant) owned by Zen Elite Equestrian Center, finished third on 70.782% in only their third CDI class as a pair. Seven Canadians were entered in this class, with Chris von Martels placing 5th aboard Eclips, awarded 68.826%.

Despite being together for less than three months, Lyle was thrilled with how Helix performed and is flourishing in her program.

“He is a horse that has incredible try,” she said of the 12-year-old KWPN gelding by Apache x Jazz. “It’s new riding, new style, a different program, and from the second he got here he’s so open to letting you mold him however you want to. I’m incredibly impressed with his character.”

Lyle noted that while Helix is well versed in the grand prix, her main goal is working on “self-carriage and lengthening the frame.” She explained, “Everyone likes their horses to go in a different balance with different aids. He’s got a super talent for all of the work. I’m excited for what the future holds when he does get more time and strength.”

For Friday’s test, Lyle was “really happy with his overall rideability.” She added, “His piaffe/passage is always great. I was happy in the canter work, and in the changes, I was able to cover more ground, ride them more forward and maintain that self-carriage. It’s starting to get a bit more solid through all parts of the test.”

Lyle has a one-two punch of grand prix horses at the moment, and the two have become good buddies as they work and play together. Helix likes being entertained and perhaps gets too friendly with “Lars.”

“I think Helix annoys Lars sometimes,” laughed Lyle. “In the trailer, Lars stands and never moves, and Helix is always trying to get his attention!”

Saturday: Lyle Scores Hat Trick with Special Victory

Helix started competition on Friday in the Grand Prix with a 2% winning margin, and Lyle won on Thursday in the Grand Prix for Freestyle CDI3* with Lars van de Hoenderheide, who Lyle also guided to second place in Friday night’s freestyle. Helix returned to the ring on Saturday morning as the final entry in a 15-horse field. Lyle and the 12-year-old KWPN gelding won by a smaller margin this time, but with a solid test and a score of 71.553%.

“Helix is coming off of three weeks of intense showing, traveling and training, and it’s catching up a little bit with him,” conceded Lyle. “He felt a little bit tired today, so we didn’t go pedal to the metal full power. However, I think for the long term when you’re trying to develop a relationship with a horse it’s really important that they know you’re never going to ask more than what they’re capable of that day in the ring. He still went in there and did everything I asked, and I think that’s really important.”

While Lyle’s recent schedule has been busier than usual, she is not taking the situation to have two top grand prix horses for granted. In her limited time with Helix and Lars, Lyle has competed more than she normally would in order to gain qualifying scores to be considered for the U.S. Dressage Team short list for this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris, France.

“It’s been a challenge for sure, but it’s an amazing opportunity to have that challenge,” she acknowledged. “We have a lot of different goals along the way. Short term, what number of shows do we have to do minimally to even have the chance to qualify? And then long-term, what is really important? Because we want these horses for the long-term. This year, obviously, is a goal, but long-term is the bigger goal. You are constantly weighing all of that and trying to come up with the best program for them.”

In addition to being an Olympic-level athlete and training top riders, Lyle is a new mother to six-month-old Bailey. She had stopped riding when she was five months pregnant but got back on her trusty Olympic mount Salvino just three weeks after Bailey arrived. It took three months to regain her riding fitness, and now with six months under her belt, she feels back to where she was when she last competed at a CDI in January 2023.

“I worked really hard at physical fitness and workout routines to be fresh because when I looked at the calendar, I was like, ‘Oh wow, [the Olympics] are pretty close.’ On January 1, I wanted to at least be feeling like I could go down centerline somewhere if I wanted to.”

Another new combination, Endel Ots (USA) and Zen Elite’s Bohemian finished second with 71.021% in a harmonious test.

“I was really happy with the feeling in the test with him,” said Ots. “I was a little bit nervous going around the outside, and he felt nice and fresh. He’s ready within five minutes to go through the tests. It’s a lot more just making sure that I’m mentally ready for going through the tests. He’s ready for everything. You’re really asking him in the ring to do things. It’s not so much telling him anything. He’s a really, really intelligent horse.”

After five successful years under Danish Olympian Catherin Laudrup-Dufour that included European Championships and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, Bohemian went on to compete with Korean rider Dong Seon Kim and Swedish Olympian Patrik Kittel before being offered for sale once again.

Ots, who had been working with Heidi Humphries of Zen Elite Equestrian for two years, went to try “Bohemian” when Humphries wanted to buy the talented horse. Ots remembered, “I loved him the second I got on him. Recently Heidi actually texted me a screenshot. She said, ‘Do you remember what you said when you texted me after your first ride on him?’

“She sent me a screenshot and it said, ‘I’ll sell one of my kidneys, give my firstborn child, whatever I have to do, to ride him,” laughed Ots. “That’s how it came to be.”

While Ots has plenty of experience competing with young horses and in Small Tour CDI classes as well as training other riders, he had not shown at the grand prix level internationally until Bohemian came into his life in 2024. This Grand Prix Special test was their fourth class together.

Ots works with a sports hypnotist to prepare for competition and felt ready for competition on Saturday morning. “I felt way more confident in there,” he said. “I know when my mind is in the right spot, and I know when it’s not in the right spot. I feel really good, and I am just really grateful to be a part of Heidi’s team and able to be up there with Adrienne and Katherine and Kasey. It’s really a dream come true, and I’m very thankful.”

Katherine Bateson Chandler and Haute Couture, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare by Connaisseur x IPS Krack C that she owns with Jennifer Huber, were third with 67.447%. Canada’s von Martels and Eclips finished 8th with 65.319%; Jill Irving and Genesis placed 11th with 64.830%.

Full results HERE.

~ with files from Jump Media