(Copied from Shirley McQullian's Facebook Page)
Wellington, FL - March 23, 2012 - Last night's Dressage Under the Stars was a nail biter as top dressage riders battled to the beat for the chance to attend the upcoming season finals. But it was last year's champion, James Koford, who made his mark once again, exhibiting his Grand Prix mount, Rhett. The duo came out on top with their "Batman Returns" freestyle, demonstrating the reason they took the series title last season.
Judges Allyn Schlayne, Anja Ploenzke and Max Tucci were blown away by the fierce competition last night, awarding scores no lower than a nine to the competitors. Koford and Rhett earned the third perfect score of the Dressage Under the Stars season, winning over the audience and judges with piaffes, pirouettes, one tempis and marvelous transitions.
"The horse was really super and I think it is really really difficult to ride here. It was gorgeous, the canter into the piaffes and pirouettes was very difficult and executed marvelously. I wouldn't give the pair anything less than perfect," Ploenzke described.
James Koford and Rhett
The 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood, owned by Shirley McQuillan, performed an encore of his 2011 championship freestyle. Although the performance was recycled, the judges were thoroughly impressed with their ingenuity and technicality, and Koford promises a new and exciting freestyle for the finals in two weeks.
"It is fun to have the chance to go in the ring and see the horses having so much fun," Koford elaborated. "At this point in the season, many of our horses are so burned out, but when they go into this ring and perform under the lights, they really light up. My piaffes were better tonight than they have been in competition, and he was forward and fresh in the ring. There isn't a firing squad of judges, but rather a fun environment-it is a great opportunity for both the horse and rider."
Judges Allyn Schlayne, Anja Ploenzke and Max Tucci
Koford also looks forward to competing in the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Final in Holland next month. Although he will not compete aboard Rhett, he looks forward to riding Pharaoh owned by Holly Shook, and making a name for the United States.
"So much of my focus lately has been on Pharaoh, who is going to the World Cup, but I love my Rhett and I am so glad that I was able to give him attention at Dressage Under the Stars," Koford stated. "I am very anxious for Holland, but right now I am trying to seriously work out the logistics before I can fully dedicate myself to the excitement."
Video (thank you Horse Junkies United):