2006 Friesian Grand Nationals…10 National Championships with 5 Horses…
Sterling hopped into the trailer and we closed the back doors. The horses were clipped, the saddles and bridles sparkling, the rig just washed. Then a moment of silence; we were about to leave for a show, and everything was ready to set off on another journey. This show, however, was unlike any horse show we have ever attended. We were off to Nationals. Janna had read the show’s dates over and studied the class offerings on paper for quite a while. It was a date, a marking in the calendar, and nothing more. Nationals were an idea, a goal for the future that we would eventually be attending, but did not give much thought to because it had never seemed real. The idea of winning a national championship had not occurred to me to be anything more than a dream up until now. It had always been Monterey, Woodside, Charity Fair, Santa Barbara, Salem, and Diamond Hills Fun Show, as our show schedule for the year. Never before was there a Vegas. All of a sudden it was time to turn the key in the ignition and set an 11 hour course to Las Vegas, Nevada.
We arrived at 1:30 a.m. and shuttled to the huge indoor facility by the name of South Coast. We were exhausted from the LONG journey. We put up the boys and hit the sack for a good 7 hours. After the horses settled in for a day, it was time to show!!
Barend, our dressage trainer from Holland, started us off with a National Championship with a Reserve National Championship with Laurens in 3rd level dressage. His test was intricate and confusing but that didn’t stop Barend!! He is the best dressage rider we have ever had on our team.
You know a show is going to be good when Big and Rich, Save A Horse Ride A Cowboy, the Macarena, and Madonna are played while showing in the arena. Stormy and Bruce and Stacey Griffin took a Reserve Grand National Championship in the Open Gelding In-Hand Class. Then, I went in for the Amateur In Hand Gelding class to run Stormy around. The class consisted of running the horse around the ring once, I ran along side the horse, then we stood along the far side of the rail. Each horse entered, one at a time, and once all the horses were in, the judge called them up one by one, examined their conformation, and sent them around the ring again at the trot. Finally the awards were called. The top five were called, and as the announcer said, “and then there were two.” Reserve Champion was called, and we were still in the ring. That meant, WE WON!!!!! Stormy won the Amateur Gelding In Hand Class!! I excitedly returned my National Champion to his stall.
Ate won both his National Grand Championship In Hand Classes, Baroque Stallions with Bruce, and Amateur handler, with Janna running at Ate’s side.
That was a great start!! We were not done though. The day seemed to never end. It had started with the morning dressage classes, and then the in-hand classes. Now, Janna would compete under saddle, in Friesian Walk/Trot Pleasure. Stormy had a great class full of various gaits: the trot, extended trot, canter, extended canter, reverse, reverse again. It was the strangest called Country Pleasure class ever competed in. Well, it was definitely one of the best classes performed in, Stormy carried out every command perfectly, and returned to a trot after the extended canter, which is something we never practice. The crowd cheered while the judge passed, and he was asked to leave the class as a finalist! He did not even make the top five. He was excused with last place. Well, many people in the audience came back to the barn and said the class was placed incorrectly. We did not mind at all because when we can go in the ring and execute everything correctly, I am happy with the outcome because it means I accomplished my goal. In the end, the placing is merely one person’s opinion. I was proud of Stormy’s job which was well done.
Laurens and Janna took on the competition in the Walk and Trot class and were Reserve National Grand Champions. The pair stole reserve after Janna had ridden him only twice before the class! Laurens is a very special horse to BSF. He is a new member of our family, and before we set off to Nationals, he was for sale. Laurens is no longer on the market, as we have fallen in love with him. He is the BIGGEST sweetheart, always nuzzling you with his face and then finding a comfortable position and resting his nose on your shoulder. Well, to say the least, Laurens has more talent contained within himself than we know what to do with. He could go either dressage OR saddleseat, he is an exceptional mover!!!! So we are officially making Laurens a part of our show string. Welcome Laurens!
Finally we slept on Friday nite…
The next morning, Sterling, Ravello, Ate and Stormy were scheduled to show. The show started at 8:00 a.m. so we had to get up extra early for our “horse wash.” The alarm went off at what seemed like an hour after we hit the sack, 6:00 AM. WHY???? I could have slept forever. The talk of the show, and the star for the morning was without a doubt Stormy, who competed in the National Champion Friesian Show Pleasure Driving Amateur. Nine entries were to be expected in the class. I polished that freakin’ harness for so long and it shined beautifully on Stormy. Stormy warmed up and readied for the challenge ahead. This class was open to all types of carts, and lets just say ours was the only driver with a light cart and harness, meaning, he competes with the only cart to cost less than 10 thousand dollars!! Stormy wanted to stand out; he wanted to show. He concentrated and conquered each gait with such ease. When the line up was called, Janna agreed on Reserve. We thought he had an excellent drive, but we were not too hopeful because he had MAJOR competition. For most of the class, Stormy a was in front of a lovely pair of Friesians driven by our friend’s from Holland. Their turn out was exceptional. Storm bucket stood in the line up until the words again slipped from the announcer’s mouth, “and then there were two.” He did it!! He made it into the top two. We were psyched!! But what was to come was even more astounding. The reserve number was called, and it was not Stormy’s number. That meant, he won!!! The smile that spread over the drivers' face was unforgettable, he won a National Championship, solely on his own—and not only that, but he had some major competition. Stormy made a victory pass and the photographer captured a stunning victory pass picture with our Storm bucket wearing the roses.
Sterling took a third in the giant Open Western Pleasure Class. This was a shock because the crowd was on his side and no one could understand why he wasn’t first. Although disappointed, Janna decided to focus on her next class with Sterling on Sunday.
Ravello placed Reserve National Champion Friesian Walk and Trot Amateur to ride.. This was a great accomplishment because Ravello has not been feeling well recently. He picked up the trot and made a few nice passes, nice enough to place Reserve in a big class.
Stormy won the Friesian National Champion Equitation class. He was the only saddleseat rider/horse combination and he came out on top. Stormy went a little slower and more conservative and it made a great picture. I was so proud of Stormy, three National Championship titles!!
Laurens won the Friesian Dressage Hack Amateur with Janna in the irons. The class had a few bobbles, but the thing was that each horse made bobbles. There was a pile up of horses at the canter going second direction, and Janna shifted her weight in trying to avoid a “stalled” horse, and Lauren’s switched leads. Knowing Lauren’s does solid flying changes, she quickly cued him and he switched back to the correct lead, never missing a beat. Lauren’s trot is so unique and the ease of entry into his different gaits is so spectacular that the pair stole the heart’s of the audience, and the judge, in this large class.
On Sunday, the final day of the Grand Nationals, Sterling and Janna won the Friesian Western Pleasure Amateur class!! . Sterling was called champion, but because they call the winner in reverse order, last to first, he thought he was called in third and gave a big buck in protest because he was the last to leave the line up. That Sterling horse is one SMART Friesian, and he is very accustomed to being called out of the line up first! Janna said her ride was much smoother than her first class on him and she had a huge smile as she led her National Champion to his stall for treats!! While in the line up, the judge approached Janna and commented, “I just love his muffins.” Well, the word is actually feathers but muffins, feathers…I can see the connection!!
Ate: Hunt Seat Pleasure Amateur National Champions, and again, I understand Ate stepped up to the challenge and had a phenomenal performance. I caught the tail end of the victory lap and they were flying!! Funny note in this class…Janna thought she heard her name called out as a top five finalist when Deb Goldmann’s name was called, so she trotted to the in gate to pick up her top five ribbon. The folks at the in gate were waving their arms, “NO! Janna, wrong Goldman, go back, Janna. NO!” So you should have seen how happy Ate and Janna were when they were called out as National Champions! Ate did his magnificent extended trot around the ring in the victory lap, which was captured on film by the photographer, Osteen.
And all the sudden, this long, long, exhausting, time-consuming, stressful week was coming to an end. I had initially signed up for the Amateur Country Pleasure class, but decided to switch into the Ride and Drive class. This is a very unique class because you first drive the horse in the cart and have the saddle and bridle in the cart, then you switch tack in the middle of the ring, and ride. We had never competed in such a class before. First we entered at the trot and then stepped up to a working trot. Stormy was behaving himself and we were called into line up. Headers were asked to come in and help un-tack. I was working off adrenaline and I had Stormy completely un-tacked and were about to put on the bridle and saddle when the announcer said, please re-harness your horses…WHAT?? Re-tack? But we just took it all off! We were supposed to reverse and go the second direction and since we had not, we had to re-tack and drive second way. It was really really really funny because no one else even had their carts off. The staff in the arena helped us because we were so far along. Well, Stormy is bad about bridling and almost got away… but we were holding his head. So we struggled to put on the harness and put the bridle over his head-shy ears. We got it over one ear, and over the next, and the overcheck was twisted, and in the forelock. It slipped off the first ear, so we went around to the other side of Stormy’s face to put the bridle back on the first ear. Stormy showed us the whites of his eyes and held his head up high!! Then, it slipped off the second ear so we had to run to the other side of Stormy’s face and put it back over, so it wouldn’t slip off. Well that was a comical experience!! So we finally got the harness back on and I got into the cart and went the second direction. We came back into the center ring and tacked the horses up in their respective riding equipment---some saddleseat, some going dressage, some horses being ridden huntseat. I had a very nice ride both directions at the walk, trot, and canter. We lined up, were asked to back our horses again, and then….the placings are called. There were seven in the class and the finalists were excused. The top five remained in the ring. Then three were left, and as the announcer said, “and then there were two.” Bruce Griffin and I. I walked Stormy over and we stood together as we waited for the final results. The reserve goes to….not my number. Stormy and I won! I shook Bruce’s hand and waited at center ring for my horse’s name to be called as National Grand Champion Ride and Drive. It was so great…. Words do not express the emotions I felt after that class.
All of the sudden, it was all over. BSF walked away with 10 National Grand Champion Titles, and 4 Reserve National Grand Champion Titles. We brought 5 horses. Now I am not good at math, but from my calculations, we were first or reserve in 80% of classes entered.
At Las Vegas, we met and reacquainted ourselves with many people who share the love for these big black Labrador-like horses, and to all of you that supported us, cheered for us in the stands, and helped behind the scenes when we had 4 or all 5 horses going in a performance, we say THANK YOU.
Team Black Sterling had a phenomenal IFSHA Grand National Championship Horse Show and when I say team, I am not only referring to the five boys we brought to Las Vegas, I speak for ALL the people who trusted us with the purchase of their Friesian Horse that found success in this gamblers paradise. Janna felt proud upon watching classes with numerous Friesians we sold, competing at the National level, and receiving top honors. BSF horses we sold to delighted customers that were also in Vegas competing, included [and I apologize if I missed a few!]:
We thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the stands and watching the HUGE costume class which had 6 entries sold by BSF! CONGRATS to all the BSF Champions!!!
Janna will tell you that her very favorite part of being at the Grand Nationals was the warm reception from so many past customers and trainers that stopped by our stable area to relate their satisfaction with their Friesians purchased from BSF, many of which were customers we had never met, as they purchased their horse site unseen.
This national venue included a thrilling assortment of dressage, saddleseat, huntseat, driving, and show hack classes providing something for every skill level of horse or rider. Since not every Friesian foal born is destined to become a Grand Prix super star, the variety of pleasure and pleasure driving, liberty, and in hand classes offered at the IFSHA Grand Nationals helps satisfy our ever growing Friesian market—and presents an affordable opportunity-for many people of all ages to enjoy this athletic, willing, versatile breed.
What we, and most importers, are selling, ultimately, is FUN. As the internal combustion engine spelled the demise of Friesian horses as an element essential to survival, the trains, planes, cars, horse vans and trailers that followed have ushered in a whole new chapter of unbridled FUN with our Friesian horses.