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Going for it

Brian Hafner and longtime partner Lombardo win again

From releases and staff reports - April 3rd, 2014 - Show & Event News

Brian Hafner and Lombardo LHF are competing against veteran riders of past Olympic and WEG teams this year -- and winning.

Brian Hafner and Lombardo LHF are competing against veteran riders of past Olympic and WEG teams this year — and winning.

Terri Miller photo

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Sonoma-based dressage trainer Brian Hafner, 25, is quickly making a name for himself in the arena — most recently a second-straight Reem Acra FEI World Cup-qualifying freestyle win March 23 on his longtime partner Lombardo LHF at California Dreaming Productions’ Capistrano Dressage International CDI-W/Y/J/U-25.

With a 71.800% score, Hafner outperformed the likes of 2012 U.S. Olympic Team member Jan Ebeling aboard an exciting new mount, the impressive 10-year-old Hanoverian stallion FRH Rassolini, who received 70.775% for second place.

“It can be intimidating to go up against riders like Jan and Kathleen (Raine), but I have to just kind of do my thing and not even focus on them,” said the Minnesota native who as a teenager moved to California along with Lombardo LHF to hasten their development in the sport. “Every day I just try to ride the best I can and produce the best horse I can and ride the best test. At the end of the day, if my horse has an amazing ride, that’s all I care about. If someone else has a more amazing ride, that’s fine. In the end, it’s all about being happy with the horse and the quality that you have.”

Clearly, Hafner is happy with this horse, a Hanoverian gelding (Londonderry x Waluga by Werther) whom he acquired as a 4-year old prospect when he was merely 15 himself. He had ridden jumpers recreationally before he was 10, then didn’t ride until a dressage barn was built 30 miles from his family’s 40-acre farm when he was 12.

“I told my mom I wanted riding lessons again, and she said no — she didn’t think I was serious,” Hafner said. “She made me pay for half of my riding lessons. I had to work, picking rocks out of a field that today still is not an arena.”

He stuck with it, picking up rocks, mucking stalls, finding a way to ride and compete. He tasted local success, which deepened his drive to become a Young Rider.

“I knew I had to get serious, so I moved out to California to pursue that goal and get access to higher level trainers and shows and competition,” said Hafner, who first landed in San Diego at age 17 before settling in Sonoma.

His steady companion, Lombardo LHF, has covered the miles alongside him.

“My family is very supportive, and we didn’t have a lot of money to spend, so it was either find an older school-master type that was on its way down, or find a young horse that I could train up with the goal of potentially doing Young riders,” Hafner said of the horse who medaled three times at the 2009 Young Riders — a Team Gold, an individual bronze and a freestyle silver. “I’ve had him for 10 years, which is really valuable. When I go into the CDI arena, hardly anyone has had their horse that long. I think Kalthleen has, but it’s a rare thing to have that much of a partnership and a bond with your horse. I have tremendous trust in him, and he has tremendous trust in me.”

“I was 15 when I bought this horse,” he added. “He has taught me a tremendous amount, and I’ve taught him a tremendous amount.”

It is rare to have a Young Rider horse reach success in the CDI grand prix level like Lombardo is doing. Is he now at his peak?

“I would say no, we are not at the peak yet,” Hafner said. “He’s sound. He’s healthy — and he’s improving every day. If he gets to the point where he’s not happy or not comfortable, then we’ll address it then. But honestly, he gives 110 percent every day. I’m not one to take advantage of that, but yet I want to see what we can do.”

“This show at Capistrano really firmed it up for me that we can compete with the big names and the top horses,” he added.

In San Juan Capistrano, dramatic music from the movie Iron Man 3 set the stage for Hafner’s “go for it” attitude in the freestyle, as he and his 15-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Londonderry x Waluga by Werther) demonstrated breathtaking extensions balanced with consistency and steadiness.

“I feel like we fixed a lot of what we needed to after Burbank, and it proved successful today. We had a couple small mistakes, but overall it was much more solid than our last outing.”

As a recent recipient of a $25,000 Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Prize from The Dressage Foundation, Hafner is now looking forward to a possible trip to the USEF Festival of Champions in June, as well as taking Lombardo LHF to Europe to work with Johann Hinnemann.

FRH Rassolini (Rubioso N x Sweetheart by Silvano), purchased and imported just under a year ago by the Vintage Equestrian Group, showed off his talent, too.

“This weekend was our first time away from home together, and we’re still figuring everything out,” Ebeling explained. “Our warm-up was shorter today than in Saturday’s Grand Prix, and that worked out much better. This is his first season at this level and we’re still figuring it all out, but I think he’s an exciting horse and there’s a lot of potential there. I’m thrilled.”

In United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) national championship qualifying classes, Leslie Webb rode Harmony Sporthorses’ nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Harmony’s Armani (Sydney x Ramona by Weyden) to victory in the Markel/USEF Developing Horse Prix St. Georges division with a score of 67.892%. In the young horse ranks, Ashleigh Luca-Tyson and River Oaks Farm’s San Soucis K (Oldenburg mare, Sir Donnerhall x Florestan) impressed the judges for a score of 8.10 in the FEI Five-Year-Old Final Test, while Kristina Harrison rode her own Dutch Warmblood gelding Finley (by Don Javi) to the win in the four-year-old class (7.56).

The California Dreaming event drew rave reviews from officials, trainers, and competitors.

“It’s so refreshing to come to California,” said judge Sarah Geikie (4* USA). “I’m so impressed with everything that California Dreaming Productions has done – it’s been an incredible show.”

German dressage trainer Johann Hinnemann, in attendance at the Capistrano Dressage International to coach several riders, was also pleased with his experience with the facility and VIP amenities.

“I’ve enjoyed everything, starting with coffee in the morning and wine in the afternoon,” said Hinnemann. “It’s a fantastic facility, and what I really like is the footing which is so well maintained. I can’t think of better circumstances.”

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