Thursday: Endel Ots and Adrienne Lyle Debut New Olympic Hopefuls

Much-anticipated appearances by new horse-and-rider combinations—spearheaded by Endel Ots and Zen Elite’s Bohemian—were the flavor of the day on Thursday, March 28. It marked the opening day of week 12—the final CDI of the 2024 season of the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) in Wellington, FL. AGDF, which hosts seven weeks of CDI competition, runs through March 31.

In the CDI3* FEI Grand Prix, sponsored by Beatrice Marienau Dressage, Zen Elite Equestrian’s team of three new top horses filled every podium step. Owner Heidi Humphries bought the high-profile horses Bohemian, Helix and Lars Van De Hoenderheide for the U.S. riders Endel Ots and Olympic team silver medalist Adrienne Lyle at the end of 2023, and this was the first CDI appearance for all three.

Bohemian was fourth at the Tokyo Olympics and won freestyle silver in 2021 under Denmark’s Cathrine Laudrup-Dufour, and under the saddle of Ots he once again graced the upper echelons of the scoreboard, topping the class of 24 starters with 72.761%. The pair picked up healthy helpings of eights—particularly for piaffe and passage—but the final score was suppressed by mistakes in the two-time changes, which earned twos and threes from the panel of five judges.

Lyle, who was first to go down the centerline with Lars Van De Hoenderheide, held on to third place with the 13-year-old Negro gelding, scoring 70.652% on the horse previously campaigned by Great Britain’s Lottie Fry. Lyle went one better with her second ride, the 12-year-old Apache son Helix, whom she has taken over from Sweden’s Marina Mattsson. They slotted into second with 71.065%. Ots and Lyle led a clean sweep for the home nation, with U.S. riders filling the top six places in the class, which was a qualifier for Saturday’s Grand Prix Special.

Remarkably, Ots was making his international grand prix debut with the 14-year-old by Bordeaux. Although a seasoned competitor nationally, this was the rider’s very first grand prix in a CDI. Bohemian is no stranger to AGDF however, as his previous owner, Dong Seon Kim (KOR), campaigned him in Wellington in 2023, but this is the horse’s first win on the circuit. He was subsequently sent to Patrik Kittel to be shown in Europe and sold, before returning stateside at the beginning of the year for new owners Zen Elite Equestrian.

“It’s all very surreal,” admitted Ots, who has trained with Albrecht Heidemann since he was 18. “You always see all the famous people like Adrienne Lyle and Kasey Perry [who finished fourth with 70% on Heartbeat WP], and I am just thankful and happy to be in there with them and part of the group.

“Heidi from Zen has a vision on what she’s looking for and what she wants to do in the sport. She saw Bohemian’s ad on Eurodressage and that he was going to auction and said she wanted me to go and sit on him. So I did, and I called her right afterwards and said, ‘I could do a CDI grand prix on him right now — he’s such an unbelievable animal.’ He’s really a crazy cool horse,” continued Ots.

“He has the biggest heart I’ve ever felt of any horse, with such a wonderful personality. This one is something special and a beautiful soul. This is such a fun experience.”

On his mistake in the two-time changes, he added, “I should have warmed up for 10 minutes less today. I’ve been trying to get comfortable with doing less warm-up with Bohemian, and Cathrine reminded me that if the rider has the right mindset with him, he can go in there and do everything great. It’s been a question of getting my own mind under control.”

Ots will continue working with Heidemann, and their weekly schedule includes a couple of schooling sessions plus bareback riding and hand walking. Next, Bohemian will be focused on two Florida CDIs to hopefully secure a place on the U.S. squad who will compete in Europe this summer to bid for a place on the Olympic team.

However, Ots is not allowing his new-found fortune to get to his head.

“Yesterday I got into a fight with a stall fan and zip ties because I couldn’t get it to hang up, and then today we are out here doing this. It’s a very humbling sport and every day is a blessing,” added the 39-year-old.

Canadians placing in the top 10 of the CDI3* Grabd Prix included James Irwin, 7th aboard Simsalabim (67.130%); Camille Carier Bergeron and Sound of Silence 4, 8th (66.457%) and Jill Irving, 10th riding Genesis (66.044%)

Flags of many colors adorned the podium in the CDI4* Grand Prix, presented by Lövsta Stuteri. A very blustery afternoon provided challenges, and Sweden’s seven-time Olympian Tinne Vilhelmson Silfvén was delighted to head the class on Lövsta Stuteri’s inexperienced 12-year-old Hyatt with 70.979% in the horse’s four-star debut.

She bought the Apache mare a year ago from Germany’s Anna-Cristina Abbelen, who finished second to Vilhelmson Silfvén in the class by just 0.1 percentage points. Abbelen rode her own 17-year-old Sam Donnerhall, the oldest horse in the class, to 70.87%. Less than a percentage point behind, Katherine Bateson Chandler (USA) and Haute Couture captured the yellow ribbon with 69.913%.

Vilhelmson Silfvén, who is a regular at AGDF, relishes the opportunities to show all season in Wellington without long journeys. They have contested both CDIs and national shows this year to get experience under the horse’s belt.

“I’ve been working on my relationship with Hyatt, doing some shows then training a bit,” she explained. “I needed this time in the arena to get to know her and see how hot I want to have her in the warmup, or how careful I have to be, or how I should prepare her.

“Right now it’s getting better. She was a bit excited from the wind, but it’s good for her to train that too—she has to learn all this. She has really no experience actually, as before I got her she had done just a few shows. She will tell me how fast we can go. She has so much more power in her that I’m still saving so that she feels secure, and I don’t want to overdo it,” she concluded.

Vilhelmson Silfvén and her team of horses will return to Europe after AGDF wraps up, take a break in April and then gear up to show at the CDI Compiègne in France in May.

For Canada, Denielle Gallagher placed 4th with Come Back de Massa (68.761%), Jill Irving and Delacroix 11 were 5th (68.717%) and Ariana Chia riding Guateque IV placed 10th (66.783%).

Friday: Anna-Christina Abbelen Caps Season with Freestyle Victory

The best was saved until last in the Lövsta Stuteri CDI4* Grand Prix Freestyle, the final ‘Friday Night Stars’ freestyle class under lights of the 2024 Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF). From final draw, Germany’s Anna-Christina Abbelen jumped to the top of the leaderboard with an energetic performance on the evergreen 17-year-old Sam Donnerhall. AGDF 2024, which hosts seven weeks of CDI competition over three months, concludes on March 31.

Abbelen’s high score with Sam Donnerhall of 77.375% came from the judge at M, Maarten Van Der Heijden, but it was extremely close between the top two. Trailing Abbelen by just 0.045 percentage points — and placed first by four of the five judges — came dressage juggernaut and Sweden’s seven-time Olympian, Tinne Vilhelmson Silfvén. She and the 15-year-old Esperance (by Sorento OLD x Harmony’s Rousseau), in just the stallion’s fourth big tour CDI, scored 75.86%. Charlotte Jorst (USA) and the 11-year-old Zhaplin Langholt — the youngest horse in the class — put down a new combination best score of 74.375% to finish third.

Abbelen is tremendously grateful for all the lessons and experiences that Sam Donnerhall has facilitated for her over the past four years. At 17, the gelding by Samarant x Donnerhall was the oldest horse in the class, and she is carefully considering his future.

“At every show he keeps getting fresher and fresher,” she grinned. “Today he was really on his peak. The floorplan is quite difficult, and the feeling was actually really good, especially in the passage and the piaffe. And the whole canter tour was mistake-free. But due to his freshness the first halt, which is usually a strong part, was not really good.

“At the very end, in the music I put in a little thank you to my horse because this was maybe my last show with him. I don’t know. But he’s at his strongest at the moment and he’s so fresh and I learned everything from him,” she added. “I did so many great five-star shows with him and learned a lot. I thought if this was a really good one today, then I’d be happy to say that maybe I’ll just do smaller shows, or even just ride him at home. I owe him everything,” added the 27-year-old, who had grooming help from Lars Ligus, who was awarded the Massa Horses Groom’s Prize of $500.

Vilhelmson Silfvén rode Esperance at AGDF in 2017 at small tour, but the horse was dogged by injuries and only did three CDI shows over the following four years. He is now back with a bang, and this was the horse’s first experience of the atmospheric ‘Friday Night Stars’.

“This was his first show in one and a half years and only his second freestyle ever,” she explained. “I’m so proud of him. I’m still speechless because he was such a star. He didn’t care about anything in there. I used music that I made for Paridon Magi, but I redid the floorplan this week to make it a little bit easier because I had no idea how he would be in there.”

Vilhelmson Silfvén, who also won the CDI4* Grand Prix the previous day with another horse in her string, Hyatt, will fly back to Europe after the conclusion of this year’s AGDF to prepare for a summer of European competitions.

Jorst was riding to new music put together specifically for Zhaplin Langholt (by Glock’s Zonik x Stedinger). The soundtrack had a strong patriotic twist.

“I came here from Denmark when I was 23 and I think a lot of times we forget all the freedom and all the great things that we have in this country,” she explained. “I’m really grateful to be an American and I want to express that.

“For a horse like that, who is so young and only did his first grand prix a few months ago, and I’m so grateful to have had this show circuit to really make him a grand prix horse. He always gives me a good feeling and I’m so proud of the way he looks; he’s just a great type for me.”

For Judge William Warren the night was bittersweet. “There’s a bit of melancholy as this is the last show of Global, but then to have three really top quality horses and riders made for a very fun evening,” he said. “I’ve judged all of them before and watched their progression. Everybody’s music and choreography was spot on, creative, complicated and appropriate.”

Canadians in this class placed 4th (Ariana Chia and Guateque IV, 69.785%) and 5th (Rakeya Moussa riding Davidoff V.H. Trichelhof 68.585%)

Saturday: Adrienne Lyle Scores Grand Prix Special Win

Saturday of the last CDI of the Wellington winter season gave team USA much to be excited about. In the CDI3* Grand Prix Special, sponsored by Beatrice Marienau Dressage, Olympic team silver medalist Adrienne Lyle (USA) opted to ride Lars Van De Hoenderheide—with whom she finished second in the qualifying grand prix, just behind her other horse Helix—and the decision proved fruitful.

On the penultimate day of the 2024 Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF), she and Zen Elite Equestrian Center’s 13-year-old Negro gelding, who was previously campaigned at the level by Lottie Fry (GBR) until December 2023, scored 73.192% with a solid, mistake-free performance to win the class of 14 starters. AGDF 2024, which hosts seven weeks of CDI competition over three months, runs through March 31.

Winners of the qualifying grand prix, Endel Ots (USA) and Zen Elite’s Bohemian—another new high-profile acquisition for owner Heidi Humphries—slotted into second in the Special with 72.49%. Their test attracted many eights, but a hop into canter at the beginning of the trot half-pass right and a miscommunication at the start of the one-time changes on the centerline quashed the score. Despite the mistakes, the 14-year-old Bordeaux gelding presented a harmonious, relaxed picture with his new rider.

The top six riders were all from the home nation, with Kasey Perry-Glass going one better than in the grand prix and finishing on the podium, in third, with Heartbeat WP. She rode the 12-year-old Charmeur gelding to 71.383% in their second ever CDI.

Canadians in the top 10 in the 3* Special included James Irwin and Simsalabim, 7th with 66.659%, Camille Carier Bergeron riding Sound of Silence 4 (66.638%) and Jill Irving with Genesis (65.511%).

Lyle, who trains with Debbie McDonald, said, “I think it’s 10 weeks now that we’ve had Lars and this is the first full Special I’ve ridden through on him. I’m so incredibly happy at his energy and his honesty and his willingness. It seems like he’s starting to understand what I want and fight for me in there, which is really special in such a new relationship.

“I was really happy with his piaffe/passage tour. I got a bit braver to make the piaffe stay on the spot more and feel like I could trust that more. His canter tour is always super; he’s got super power and the changes are just a treat to ride,” she continued.

Lyle works all her horses a maximum of four days a week, and that is no different for the two new arrivals, despite the pressure of the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris, France.

“We’re not going to increase it just because we have a timeline,” she explained. “I was really adamant on that when they came here, so we’ve been sticking to that and the basics and getting to know each other. Thankfully it’s come together just in the nick of time for the last show here.”

Lyle, who has been a regular in the CDI grand prix arena over the past few years at AGDF, has been absent until week 12 while she builds a relationship with the two new horses.

A woman trotting a black horse.

Canada’s Jill Irving and Delacroix, shown during the FEI jog, placed second in the CDI4* Grand Prix Special. (Chris Carroll photo)

“Having these two amazing horses of Heidi’s has been fun because I’ve just been working at home knowing that I’m going to be back in there,” she said. “It’s such an amazing vision that Heidi is building. Our goal with both Lars and Helix is to potentially make enough shows to make the shortlist to go to Europe.”

In the CDI4* Grand Prix Special, presented by Jenna Steffens/Douglas Elliman, Katherine Bateson Chandler (USA) and Haute Couture recorded their third win at AGDF 2024. They finished third in Thursday’s grand prix, but pulled off a 71.872% victory in Saturday’s Special. At the Paris Olympics, the Grand Prix Special will determine the team results, so the outcome from today’s classes at AGDF augurs particularly well for team USA.

Canada’s Jill Irving took second with her own and Windhaven’s 14-year-old Dancier gelding Delacroix 11 on 70.17%. Sweden’s Tinne Vilhelmson Silfvén continued her bountiful week and added to the multitude of flag colors on the podium, riding Hyatt to 69.745% and the yellow ribbon. Also representing Canada, Mathilde Blais Tetreault was 5th aboard Fedor (66.872%) and Denielle Gallagher rode to 6th place with Come Back de Massa (66.575%)

Haute Couture was reserve for the Netherlands Olympic team for Tokyo with former rider Dinja van Liere and Bateson Chandler began competing the Connaisseur daughter two years ago after her long-time friend Jennifer Huber secured ownership. The pair have overcome some tension challenges, with their scores ranging from 61% to 71%.

“We’ve had our stumbling blocks that were really mentally tough for both of us, so it took a lot of regrouping,” she explained. “That was a big mountain to climb for me and her. I’m super excited that it wasn’t a one hit wonder.

“This ring is a tricky ring for a lot of horses; everything is very close,” she said. “She is a spooky horse and very mentally sharp, so it was great to be able to get in here and do four tests in a row and be as good as she was, and beat some really good horses today. It was the best feeling I’ve ever had from her in the ring and she was right with me. I still screwed up some stuff, but that was rider error and she was a perfect angel. I’m super happy that our trust is growing. Her passage is pretty special and because of that it’s always on a bit of a knife edge. We’re a work in progress, but that means we still have places to go.”

Bateson Chandler’s aims with the electric mare have been forced to be adjusted multiple times, but after two great shows at AGDF, she is now daring to hope to make the squad of combinations invited to compete in Europe this summer. Their next stop, just like Lyle, will be the upcoming CDI in TerraNova and then the tentative plan is to spend the summer in England at Bateson Chandler’s long-time trainer Carl Hester’s base.

After three thrilling months of competition including seven CDI shows, the curtain came down on the final day of action of the 2024 Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) 2024 season in Wellington, FL, on Sunday, March 31. This year, the largest dressage circuit in the world boasted 2000 entries in the national rings and 550 CDI entries, with 22 different nations represented. Next year’s 12-week circuit kicks off with a CDI-W, which runs January 8-12.

Click HERE for full results from all classes at AGDF 12.