All-American Duo of Heather Blitz & Paragon Claim 1st Grand Prix Victory With Wellington CDI3* Freestyle
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
WELLINGTON, Florida, Mar. 17–Heather Blitz and Paragon overcame a mixup in music to ride a breakthrough performance and give the all-American partnership their first victory at Grand Prix Freestyle by topping an international field at the Wellington Dressage Classic CDI3* under lights Saturday night.
Before a crowd of several hundred spectators on a balmy South Florida tropical evening, Heather and Paragon–she helped in the delivery when he was born in Louisiana nine years ago to Pari Lord with semen from Don Schufro–scored 75.350 per cent, a personal best but with a scanty record as it was only their fourth show and their second freestyle at the Big Tour. Just six months ago, the pair was on the United States team at the Pan American Games at small tour where they won team gold and individual silver.
Ashley Holzer and her new partner Breaking Dawn that she plans to take to London for her fourth Olympics for Canada were second on 74.275 per cent with Germany’s Anja Plönzke and Le Mont d’Or making their second tour of Florida this year–to an appreciative crowd that gave the pair rousing applause–in third place on 73.350 per cent.
And in a show of support for their compatriot, members of the German team that won the jumping Nations Cup at the Winter Equestrian Festival turned out to cheer on Anja.
But the night belonged to Heather and Paragon at the newly built Global Dessage Festival grounds, with a crowd sympathyzing with the pair when their freestyle started to play but turned out to be from their Intermediaire repertoire. The ground jury quickly huddled and exercised their rght to allow them to return later–they were fifith in the lineup but because of the mistake would start at the end. Some spectators joked it was a ruse to perform after the other top combnations had gone, but most were concerned that to warmup and enter the ring twice was more than could be expected of any pair, let alone a combination in their rookie Grand Prix season.
When they entered the arena as the final combination of the night, Heather, based in Wellington, and Paragon served notice that they will be the pair to beat in seeking to represent the United States at the Olympics in London this summer.
Standing on the sidelines was U.S. coach Anne Gribbons and Steffen Peters who has asked for Ravel to be excused from the American selection trials as their record speaks for itself He had flown from California to work with prospective team members for London.
The mixup on the music wan’t the only confusion of the day for Heather or, as she described it, “kind of quirky.”
First, she had the had the wrong test for her four-year-old horse–for reasons that escape logic there appear to be two versions of the four-year-old test–USEF and FEI–but single versions of five and six year old tests. As other competitors have discovered over the years, the different four year old tests create confusion, sometimes with competitors, sometimes with judges and sometimes with organizers.
However, the wrong test for Satursay night’s perfromance came about because Heather did not pick up her recording from the previous competition. After the mistake was discovered and the ground jury allowed her a second chance, the score was transmitted by Internet to the show announcer who queued it up for rheir ride at the end of the competition.
Meantime, Anja and Le Mont d’Or, who returned from her home in Germany specially to provde an international flavor to the Florida circuit, performed a freestyle that put the winners of the World Dressage Masters Rider Rankings at the top of the standings.
“The audience was with me,” Anje said. “I had a great feeling.”
For Ashley who is aiming Breakng Dawn for the London Games, the performance was “incredible,” especially as the crowd that included many Canadians, clapped during the performance.
“He handled the situation incredibly well,” said Canada’s top rider. “He loves this atmosphere.”
She expects that in the six months to the Olympics the horse will not be overfaced or upset by the crowds,
Heather described Paragon as “more powerful in a test than before, he felt really supple and very confident. He goes so well to the music it is kind of easy to ride it.”
She does not want to push Paragon for more than the horse wants to give, she said, and will keep it as it is until the U.S. Olympic selection trials in Gladstone, New Jersey.
Of the move from small tour success six months ago to the Big Tour the pair are now performing, “I think about it every day. It’s kind of crazy.
“But weekly, he’s kind of a new horse. He is so willing and so giving.
“He just keeps stepping up to the challenge. I’m not going to stop him if he wants to do it.”
Though, she said, Paragon is nine years old and she does not want to push the horse beyond his capabiiities.
“I want him to stay where he is in the Big Tour and let him mature and grow. He is nine years old three days from now. He needs still more time.
“I am thrilled he is loving his job so far. He loved his job before and I want to keep him that way.
” He is an unbelievable dream to me.”
Grand Prix Freestyle results:
|E: Gardner – GBR||H: Eisenhardt – GER||C: Rockwell – USA||M: Holler – GER||B: Christensen – DEN|
|Rider||Ctzn||Horse||E %||H %||C %||M %||B %||T %||Pl.|
|Holzer, Ashley||CAN||Breaking Dawn||73.500%||76.250%||74.250%||75.250%||72.125%||74.275%||2|
|Plonzke, Anja||GER||Le Mont d’Or||74.000%||73.875%||72.000%||73.875%||73.000%||73.350%||3|
|Kelly, Jodie S||USA||Manhattan||70.250%||71.125%||67.625%||67.000%||66.000%||68.400%||4|
|Baumert, Jennifer||USA||Don Principe||67.250%||65.875%||66.500%||66.750%||69.500%||67.175%||6|
|Marcus, David||CAN||Don Kontes||64.625%||62.500%||65.500%||66.625%||70.000%||65.850%||7|
|Bernal, Marco||COL||Don Akzentus||0.000%||0.000%||0.000%||0.000%||0.000%||0.000%||0|
|Gundersen, Mikala||DEN||My Lady||0.000%||0.000%||0.000%||0.000%||0.000%||0.000%||0|