Desert Dressage 1, presented by Adequan® –the first of four weeks of dressage competition at the Desert International Horse Park (DIHP) in Thermal, CA – wrapped Sunday with elite West-Coast dressage athletes taking home top honors.

Erin Nichols Reaches New Heights with Elian Royale

Erin Nichols and Elian Royale. Photo by Holly Casner

Young rider Erin Nichols stepped into the Grand Prix level for the first time quite successfully, scoring a 79.021% in the Adequan® FEI Grand Prix aboard Elian Royale, owned by Premiere Sport Horses. Nichols, a former FEI North American Youth Championships double gold medalist, was elated with the progress in her relationship with Elian Royale, the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Johnson TN x Amidou).

“We’ve come a long way in just over a year now. This was our first Grand Prix as a team so it was really exciting to take this step into the Grand Prix level and see where we’re at and make the plan for this upcoming season,” Nichols reflected.

“It was amazing,” she continued of the feeling she got during her Grand Prix test Friday. “I went in just thinking let’s see what happens. I was open minded and just taking it as learning experience. It’s a challenging level; it’s a long test and everything happens quicker. It requires a lot of attention on my part and my horse’s part. It all came together after our work in the off season and it was really cool to see that all come together.”

Success at any level comes as a result of hard work, and Nichols put in the work at home to earn her win Friday.

“Coming up to the shows, we worked through some of the movements and went through the test a few times at home,” she explained of her training. “My trainer, David Whiteman, really helps me become a good test rider. He goes through the test in detail and how to ride each corner, each movement, each part of the big test. I think that helps break it down so I can really think in the moment. Because we had practiced, it felt not as intimidating.”

Nichols already has experience competing on teams and thriving under pressure, but her step upward continued to solidify that she’s heading in the right direction.

“This weekend gave me a lot of confidence stepping into this level,” she explained. “It gave me the feeling that I can do this, and it gave me the extra encouragement that I can go at this level and we can do it well. The Grand Prix test itself really lets my horse shine so it’s been really cool to bring out all the best he has to offer.”

Returning in November for the first CDI event of the season, Nichols will take another step up, this time into her first CDI3* Grand Prix and CDI3* Grand Prix Special.

Elizabeth Ball and Escarigo Have a Ball in Brad & Kathy Coors Foundation FEI Grand Prix Special

Elizabeth Ball and Escarigo. Photo by Holly Casner

Elizabeth Ball moved her mount Escarigo up Friday in the Brad & Kathy Coors Foundation FEI Grand Prix Special, riding to a score of 69.489% in their debut Grand Prix Special.

“I got him two years ago and he had only just started to compete at Prix St. Georges in Europe,” she said of the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Maestro x Tuschinski), owned by Cadence, LLC. “He gives 100% all the time and is the most kind horse to have in the barn. We just love him.”

Desert Dressage provides a consistent atmosphere for West Coast riders to be able to move their horses up into bigger tests, while also maintaining a high quality of horse show experience.

“It’s quite a big test for any horse-rider combination,” Ball continued regarding the Grand Prix Special. “Being new to that level he doesn’t yet have the strength and confidence to handle it easily, so for our first attempt I think he was there every moment. Sometimes he tries too hard and overdoes one thing or another, but in the end that attitude and willingness is what continues to set him apart. I’m so grateful for his willingness.”

While the talent is obvious, Ball doesn’t outline specific expectations for her horses, Escarigo included. “I don’t set hard goals in the future; I’m very much a take each day, week, month, year and let the horse help dictate what those might be,” she explained. “Even though he’s been very successful so far I just let him continue to move up and let his abilities dictate how we move up. I hope to be doing some of the CDIs at Grand Prix level, which would be a really big accomplishment. Where we end up from there, we’ll just take what comes. We’re putting a freestyle together and that will be our next thing to work on.”

As a California-based athlete, Ball has competed on all coasts and enjoys having DIHP close to home, which is just north of San Diego.

“I have nothing but great things to say about the show management and Thomas Baur,” she said of Desert Dressage. “It’s been so wonderful. We’re so impressed with the facility; it’s so beautiful with the mountains and palm trees, but all the planting and improvements in the facility are wonderful. The footing was excellent, the stabling continues to improve, and every time we’re there it’s better. We’re so lucky to have a facility like that on the West Coast. I’ve gone to Wellington for a couple seasons and, while it’s amazing with the quantity of horses and shows, being at the desert is even more incredible in a certain way because of the facility.”

Nick Wagman and Royal Discovery 6 Take Big Wins

Nick Wagman and Royal Discovery 6. Photo by Holly Casner

Nick Wagman and Royal Discovery 6 were twice winners, in the Premier Equestrian FEI Prix St. Georges with a score of 74.852%, and in the It’s a Good Life Podcast FEI Prix St. Georges with a score of 73.896%.

“I’ve had him now for about a year and a half. He’s a really special horse,” Wagman said of Elizabeth Keadle’s 8-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Rock Forever x Dimaggio). “It’s taken a little time for us to get on the same page. He is a huge mover with so much athleticism, so to get that all contained has been a time-consuming endeavor. We’re trying to build strength and confidence, but it’s coming together and I think he’s a special horse for the future.”

The duo had a decent break from competition, to which Wagman credits part of the success at Desert Dressage I.

“Each time we’ve gone to a show, I’ve learned a little more about him, so I take that home and apply it to my daily training,” he said of his strategy. “Our last show was in July so we had a bit of time between that show and this one. I really spent that time working on strength building and getting his body to where managing that huge movement isn’t as much of a challenge. It’s really been about getting him to organize himself to get through the Prix St. Georges and it’s seemingly working.”

Wagman is not only an FEI Dressage Nations Cup™ athlete, but he’s also a regular competitor at Desert Dressage, pleased to be back for another season.

“I think it’s one of the best facilities I’ve ever competed at, and I’ve competed all over the globe,” Wagman, from nearby San Diego, CA, remarked. “I think it’s fantastic; it’s so horse friendly, and it’s so good for horses of all levels to go there and be exposed to that stimulation. From a facility standpoint you just can’t beat it. The footing is fantastic, the VIP area is great, and I have nothing but praise to give it. I hope it continues to flourish because the Dressage community in California certainly needs it.”

Wagman plans to head home and continue working with Royal Discovery 6 based on takeaways from Desert Dressage 1 before the season continues on in Thermal.

“We’ll be back in a few weeks for the November show,” he shared. “He will do his first CDI so that’s a big step for him and I’m excited about that. As he progresses and gets physically stronger we’ll just see where he tells us he’s ready to go. I think we have big plans for him in the future.”

Spanning four weeks from October 2023 through January 2024, Desert Dressage this season brings four National events and three CDI World Cup Qualifiers, including various qualifying events from FEI North American Youth Championships to Para-Dressage National Championships and beyond.

Desert Dressage Welcomes Elite Slate of Sponsors for 2023-2024

With the successful running of Desert Dressage I, the team at DIHP is thrilled to announce an elite line-up of generous sponsors, both new and returning for the 2023-2024 season.

Presenting Sponsors:

Title Sponsors:

Thanks to generous sponsorship from the Brad & Kathy Coors Foundation, additional prize money has been added to various divisions to honor high-point rides. For the 2023/2024 season, a $3,000 prize money bonus will be awarded to the high score rider in each of the three CDI World Cup Qualifiers, during Dressage II, III, and IV.

Additionally, $500 bonuses will be awarded during every show to the high point riders in the Open and Adult Amateur sections of the Intermediare 2, PSG/Intermediare 1, 2nd Level, and 3rd Level divisions.

The bonus winners for Desert Dressage I were:

  • Jessica Havey and Santiago – Open Third Level division
  • Stina Van Halen and Abacus – Adult Amateur Prix St. Georges/Intermediate I division
  • Guenter Seidel and Jack – Open Intermediate II division
  • Nick Wagman and Royal Discovery 6 – Open Prix St. Georges/Intermediate I division


“We are proud to bring these generous and passionate sponsors on board and are looking forward to the ways they will enhance this season of Desert Dressage,” remarked Steve Hankin, president & CEO of DIHP. “These partnerships are a huge part of what allows us to build the sport on the West Coast and we are grateful for the support of both new and returning sponsors.”

Premier Equestrian was named Presenting Sponsor of Desert Dressage 1, as well as sponsor of the CDI Intermediate 1 Freestyle for the entire circuit. Adequan® will serve as Presenting Sponsor for Desert Dressage 2, in addition to sponsoring the CDI Young Rider Individual event throughout the season.

The Brad & Kathy Coors Foundation will serve as Presenting Sponsor of Desert Dressage 3 and will also sponsor the CDI Grand Prix Freestyle for the circuit.

It’s a Good Life Podcast will be title sponsor of the CDI Grand Prix for each FEI show and the Prix St. Georges for the National show each time it occurs.

Equifit will sponsor a High Score Junior/Amateur Award at Desert Dressage 2, plus serve as title sponsor for Friday’s Intermediate 1 (#120) for the entire circuit. Platinum Performance is sponsoring the “Best Dressed” award during the FEI Jog during Desert Dressage 2 and 4.

DePaolo Horse Hair Analysis will serve as title sponsor of the National Intermediate 1 (#220) on Saturdays of each National Show. Devoucoux will be title sponsor of the CDI Intermediate 1 during the FEI shows. Beverly Gepfer & Kirk Martens Foundation / El Ranchito will serve as title sponsor for the Grand Prix at each National show for the season.

The remaining 2023-2024 Desert Dressage dates are as follows:

Desert Dressage II: November 16-19, 2023
USEF Level 5

Desert Dressage III: December 14-17, 2023
USEF Level 5

Desert Dressage IV: January 4-7, 2024
USEF Level 5