Canada’s Leah Wilson Wilkins, 7 Months Pregnant, Has Best Ever CDI Score on Fabian For 3rd in Wellington World Cup Grand Prix

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Leah Wilson Wilkins on Fabian JS in the Adequan Global Dressage Festival World Cup Grand Prix. © 2016 SusanJStickle.com
Leah Wilson Wilkins on Fabian JS in the Adequan Global Dressage Festival World Cup Grand Prix. © 2016 SusanJStickle.com

WELLINGTON, Florida, Jan. 14, 2016–Leah Wilson Wilkins, almost seven months pregnant, “flabbergasted” herself to place third on Fabian JS with their first score above 70 per cent behind the top combinations from Sweden and the United States in the Adequan Global Dressage Festival World Cup Grand Prix Thursday.

Leah and the 17-year-old Hanoverian gelding scored 71.700 per cent and the best finish for a Canadian combination with the start of qualifying to be selected to the Canadian team for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August. The pair was one of eight Canadian combinations–four of them from recent championship teams–that started in the Grand Prix along with 30 other riders and horses from around the world.

Leah, a North American Young Rider Freestyle silver medalist in 2007, said she had declared herself for the Canadian Olympic selection qualifying but admitted the birth of the baby “lessens our amount of time to qualify.”

“I was a little flabbergasted we placed this high,” the 29-year-old rider said after the Grand Prix as she sat next to Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfvén who won on Don Auriello, her 2012 Olympic and 2014 World Games mount that she is aiming for Rio, and U.S. Grand Prix champion Laura Graves who was second on Verdades.

“He was really on for me today. Hopefully, we can carry it forward.”

Fabian was a bit late starting Big Tour as he had been “plagued with injuries that prevented him from competing for a good chunk of time.” She credits training with Australian Nicholas Fyffe and compatriot David Marcus, based in Wellington, that helped boost their scores.

But last year, Fabian developed skin problems in Florida’s humid weather.

“I rode him bareback for six months,” she said. “I don’t know whether that was helpful. But everything is clean, solid. Before, we were always having issues with the one tempis (changes) and tension.”

The pair began Grand Prix in September, 2014 at the World Cup event in Devon, Pennsylvania They competed at two of the Global shows in Florida last winter and then went back to Devon in October where they placed third in the World Cup Grand Prix and won the Grand Prix Special with a score of 69.608 per cent that was the duo’s best result before Thursday.

An appearance at the small dressage invitational at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto two months ago was also “good experience.”

Her next competition is the Grand Prix Special on Saturday that is believed to also count toward four scores that could qualify for one of the two likely individual places for Canada at Rio. The pair are also scheduled to compete in the next Global World Cup event at the end of January.

Beyond that, Leah said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen other than I know I’m going to have a baby

“The focus has to be on the baby.”

Her husband is the Canadian race car driver Mark Wilkins whose successes include second place in the Rolex 24 hour marathon at Daytona, Florida in 2015.

Leah said, however, she has not felt labored or out of breath while riding Fabian.

“I feel better on a horse than I do most of the things on the ground,” she said, and David is there to ride the horse when she doesn’t want to start him.

(Following the progress of Canadian riders toward the Olympic Games is confounding to much of the world outside Equine Canada, including the news media that seeks to inform dressage fans and provide reports such as this that is exciting but cannot be put into context. The selection criteria has so far been released only to declared riders along with emailed notice that it should not be shared with anyone.

(Dressage-news.com has been informed unofficially that four scores beginning in January through to June will count toward selection–a minimum of two at Grand Prix and at least one at Grand Prix Special.

(Dressage-news.com is unaware of any other federation in the world maintaining such secrecy; in fact.most  federations pride themselves on transparency to insure confidence in their procedures.)