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Ocala, FL – World Equestrian Center – Ocala (WEC) hosted the 2024 Florida Youth Dressage Championships and a pair of back-to-back rated shows Dressage I on March 14-15 and Dressage II on March 16-17. Sponsored by Hampton Green Farms and Discover Dressage, the events held classes from Training Level to FEI Grand Prix and served as official qualifying competitions for the 2024 Great American/USDF Regional Championships.

The Florida Youth Dressage Championships, which was created in 2013, returned to WEC for the second year in a row. It is designed to be more than just a competition and offers participants — all aspiring young dressage riders — a rounded, enriching experience as well as the chance to show in a championship atmosphere. Events were held throughout the week to boost camaraderie and sportsmanship, including a meet-and-greet with U.S. Dressage Team rider Shelly Francis and former Florida Youth Dressage Championship rider Kerrigan Gluch. 

Justine Boyer and Campanero HGF won the junior division and were named overall champions at the Florida Youth Dressage Championships. Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography

Junior rider Justine Boyer, 17, successfully defended her 2023 champion’s title, securing the 2024 sash with the same horse, Hampton Green Farms’ home-bred 11-year-old PRE gelding, Campanero HGF. 

Entrants competed in two straight tests (the team and individual tests), each comprising 40% of the final mark, and then a freestyle to music (20%). Boyer scored 69.167%, 68.75% and then 71.762% in the freestyle for a final mark of 69.519%. The overall reserve champion accolade went to the Young Rider Franki Kesner. She rode her own 11-year-old Glock’s Johnson gelding Il Divo to 66.397%, 67.794% and 70.313% to finish on 67.739%.  

With strong scores and a victory in the young rider division, Franki Kesner and Il Divo were the reserve overall champions. Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography

“It’s quite the honor to be the champion again,” said Boyer, whose mother Kim Van Kampen owns Hampton Green Farms. “It’s been a long journey with this horse. I’ve been riding him since he was seven, going through the different trials of showing together, and he was very spooky in the beginning. I’ve grown up with him leading the way but this show in particular was a game-changer because I got to show him the way. 

“We’ve built a better trust, and we’re a team now. He’s not so hesitant toward my ideas and believes in me more. Getting to ride such a nice horse at a young age has been very practical for me,” continued Boyer, who trains with Hampton Green Farms’ head trainer, Maria Lithander. 

“This season we decided to work in the double bridle and ask more of the hindlegs than previously, and ride more forward in the movements,” added Boyer. “We play around with his social life as he’s pretty spooky, so we get him out in the paddock with other horses, and he goes out on the track — anything to expose him and to try to get him to focus on what he’s doing rather than where he is.”

Boyer rode to a freestyle based on the movie “Moana,” put together by Marlene Whitaker, who also helped devise the floorplan. It included flying changes on a 20-meter circle in the middle of the arena and extended trots straight into shoulder-in, highlighting the horse’s adjustability. 

“I had never ridden a freestyle in other classes, and there isn’t one in Children, and I skipped ponies because I didn’t have one,” explained Boyer. “So this was my first inside look at what freestyles are all about, and Marlene was very helpful with finding Campanero’s strengths and weaknesses and complementing his talent.

“My hopes for this show were to not surprise him or ask more than at other shows and keep him level-headed and happy,” added Boyer, who is based 10 minutes from WEC. “Riding him when I was 13 was the first glimpse into what a nice horse felt like. I’m very grateful that I get to ride such a magnificent horse.” 

In the Pony division, Texas-based Alexandra Garvey was another to defend her title, having also taken the accolade in 2023. She put in three solid performances (65%, 68.716% and 67.1%) to finish on a final score of 66.906%. She was riding Unscripted, who is 19 years old and was a Dressage4Kids donation. 

The under-25 rider Eva Farrell rode Yvonne Barteau’s 14-year-old Nadal De Susaeta, a PRE stallion by Cubanon. She logged results at Intermediate II, Grand Prix and Freestyle to top the division with a final score of 62.913%. 

In the rated shows, Adult Amateur (AA) Erin Walker rode seven tests on four different horses and won five of them. Her highest score of the weekend, 71.324%, was achieved on Craig McCallum’s 10-year-old Jeune Star Van Kairos, a KWPN gelding by Five Star, in the Intermediate I, where she finished second. The class was won by Bonnie Canter on a score of 72.353%. Canter rode her own eight-year-old 15.2hh Vilancio gelding Vitali, with whom she is the current Fourth Level AA US Dressage Finals champion. 

James Koford posted two wins at Grand Prix level, riding Christina Morin-Graham’s 12-year-old Charmeur gelding, Hatsije B, to 67.394% and 68.152%. They began in international grand prix together last year, and have already logged three CDI wins. 

Justine Boyer (right), the 2024 Florida Youth Dressage Championships’ overall champion, with Hampton Green Farms’ head trainer Maria Lithander. Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography

Dressage competition at World Equestrian Center – Ocala continues with a CPEDI and nationally rated competition on March 28-31, followed by a CDI3* international show and USEF/USDF national competition on April 10-14, 2024, presented by Hampton Green Farm and Discover Dressage. For full horse show results for all World Equestrian Center dressage shows, visit www.foxvillage.com.

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