Judy Reynolds and Vancouver K Win $75,000 U.S. Open FEI Dressage Freestyle CDI 4* at the Central Park Horse Show, presented by Axel Johnson

Written by Central Park Horse Show - In Dressage - Sunday, September 25, 2016

The top three in the Grand Prix Freestyle (L to R): Tinne Vilhelmsen-Silfven, Judy Reynolds, and Mikala Gundersen. - Photos copyright Sportfot

Saturday night at the 2016 Rolex Central Park Horse Show (RCPHS) featured a fantastic display of world-class dressage with a win for Ireland's Judy Reynolds and Vancouver K in the $75,000 U.S. Open FEI Dressage Freestyle CDI 4*, presented by Axel Johnson, as well as a special freestyle demonstration from three-time Olympic gold medalists Charlotte Dujardin (GBR) and Valegro.

Seven entries performed their grand prix freestyles set to music in the impressive atmosphere under the lights of Wollman Rink in New York City on Saturday evening for the $75,000 U.S. Open FEI Dressage Freestyle CDI 4*, presented by Axel Johnson. It was a packed house to watch the beauty and grace of dressage at its very finest in an incredibly unique setting.

With a high score of 77.051%, the win went to Ireland's Judy Reynolds and Vancouver K, who were also the winners of the U.S. Open Dressage Grand Prix CDI 4*, presented by Axel Johnson, on Friday. Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven (SWE) and Lovsta Stuteri's Paridon Magi took the second place finish for the second day in a row, as well as the second year in a row, earning a score of 76.650% for their Saturday night freestyle performance. Third place honors were awarded to Denmark's Mikala Gundersen aboard Janne Rumbough's My Lady with a score of 72.400%.

Freestyle winners Vancouver K and Judy Reynolds represented Ireland in this summer's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and then had a short break before making the journey to New York City for the opportunity to compete at this one-of-a-kind event. The 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding sired by Jazz, and owned by the rider's parents Joe and Kathleen Reynolds, performed consistently to win back-to-back classes this week. "It is kind of surreal really," Reynolds remarked on the achievement. "I was probably a little bit more nervous tonight because I wanted to win again. I knew we had the capability of doing it, so I wanted to produce the performance of the night and I put more pressure on myself. I think it is fantastic. I certainly didn't think this was going to happen when I came over here. For Ireland it is quite historic. I don't think anybody has ever won two classes in one weekend at a CDI, so it's nice to have done that."Judy Reynolds and Vancouver K - Photos copyright Sportfot

Reynolds got her start riding in Ireland and moved to Germany after college to continue training at a higher level. "You essentially never stop learning; every day you still learn something new with these horses," Reynolds detailed. "I am a believer that you need to compete against people who are better than you to be better, so when I was finished with college I made the decision to move to Germany. I had been quite successful in Ireland, and went to Germany and started at the bottom again, and I had to work my way back up. You were just against the best of the best, and it forced you to be better, so I kept going and it has gotten us where we are."

To prepare for Saturday night's freestyle, Reynolds actually watched video of her performance at the Olympic Games with Vancouver K. "I watched back the freestyle from Rio so I could get a feel for the most recent version that we have ridden," she noted. "I noticed that I could improve on a couple of timings. Tonight he wasn't being quite forward enough for me, so I had to make up some time in a couple of corners to stay on music, but I didn't really change anything as such."

The pair's next stop is the Dressage at Devon CDI-W in Pennsylvania since they are already in the U.S. "We keep going next week at Devon. We are here, so we are going to make the most of it," Reynolds detailed. "To be honest, I felt a touch rusty this week, so I think next week will be better. I will be looking forward to that and then we will continue our World Cup campaign. Then, depending on how it goes, we might be back in America for the Finals."Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven and Paridon Magi - Photos copyright Sportfot

Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven had a great night with Paridon Magi and also spoke of her freestyle performance on Saturday. "I was actually very proud of him today. I thought he was really working with me and right on the aids," Vilhelmson-Silfven remarked. "I was spot on the music where I wanted to be, so I had a great feeling and a great ride. I have been riding him in competition for a year, and I get to know him more and more. I am learning how to warm him up and how to make myself ready with him. Today was the first time I felt like I had a really good feeling."

Third place finisher Mikala Gundersen had a fun first experience competing in Central Park with her mount My Lady this week and was happy with her result on Saturday night as well. "I was just so excited to be here," Gundersen stated. "I really enjoyed the whole thing, and the venue, and I am so excited to be in this horse show. My goal was to go in there and have fun. My Lady was a little rusty - we haven't shown for a while. She was a little sucked back, but other than that I am proud of her for going in there and doing so well."Mikala Gundersen and My Lady - Photos copyright Sportfot

Judge Katrina Wuest shared her comments on the event and great competition as well. She expressed, "I would like to mention the show itself, and the fact that these top riders come here shows that this event is worth coming to. New York I think for all of us is a magic city and this was a magic night. I think this is very important. We want to sell our sport and we have to sell our sport to help it grow and make it more and more popular. It is a sport that is difficult to understand, and we only can sell it with these magic moments. The rides here and the public showed that this was top sport."

International Equestrian Group and RCPHS founder Mark Bellissimo added his remarks on the evening, stating, "I want to thank the riders and the competitors who came here this year. The riders were fantastic tonight and it was very competitive, so I have to thank them for taking time out of their busy schedules. It was an enchanted evening. To see the crowd stick around and the cheers for every ride I think was fantastic. We are committed to making dressage special in this country, and I want to thank Antonia Johnson. She has been the big sponsor of this event. Without her this event doesn't happen, so we thank her for that commitment to the sport, along with Fritz and Claudine Kundrun."Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro - Photos copyright Sportfot

Following freestyle competition, three-time Olympic champions Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro did a momentous freestyle exhibition to the thrill of fans. Dujardin then let spectators come down to the arena to meet her world-famous mount in person. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many dressage enthusiasts and a memorable and incomparable moment at the RCPHS.

Valegro will have his official retirement from a record-breaking career in a ceremony at the Olympia Horse Show in London, England, in December, and finished out his competition career on a high note at the Olympic Games in Rio.

Valegro will still make public appearances, and after the very first of those non-competition performances on Saturday, Dujardin commented, "I think it is nice for me to be able to come into an arena now and not worry if I make a mistake. I can just go in there and enjoy it even more than when I was competing. Valegro is such a special horse and the consistency he has had is incredible. Now I don't have to worry about that, and I can just have fun. It is nice for him to come and do these things as well. He loves meeting the crowd, and he loves the people. He was bombarded with people tonight, and he loves it. They were patting him, and hugging him, and kissing him, so what a nice end for him."

Detailing her choice to retire Valegro this year, Dujardin remarked, "He is only 14 and he could do a couple more years, but to me I don't feel that I have any reason to keep going with him. He has won absolutely everything. He holds every world record. He has been a horse of a lifetime for me. I would love everybody to remember him as the best horse he is, and after Rio I could not have asked for a better ride. It was just one of the most emotional and magical rides of my life, and I would hate for him to finish his career down. He owes me nothing, so why not finish at his best? It is not the end of Valegro. He is not going to compete, but he is still going to be around and people will see him, and I think that is very nice for him."

After a fantastic experience for both horse and rider in New York City, Dujardin and Valegro will now return home to England. The Rolex Central Park Horse Show thanks them and all of the horses and riders that helped make this year's dressage edition so special.

The spectators were able to come into the ring and bid farewell to the great Valegro. - Photos copyright Sportfot