Gladstone, N.J. – Rebecca Hart of Unionville, Pa., captured her fifth United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) Para-Equestrian Dressage National Championship on June 13. Hart, aboard Lord Ludger, owned by Jessica Ransehousen of Blue Hill Farm, inched out 2011 National Champion Jonathan Wentz of Richardson, Texas, with their Freestyle performance on Wednesday.
Athletes from the high performance Para-Equestrian discipline presented their top mounts at the United States Equestrian Team (USET) Foundation headquarters in Gladstone, N.J., June 10-13, 2012. It was befitting to be at one of the most historical locations in equestrian history for the 2012 USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Championships and 2012 USEF Paralympic Selection Trials. With the nominated entries waiting to be named for the 2012 Paralympic Games, four athletes prevailed topping the field of twenty-three horse and rider combinations.
The 2012 USEF Paralympic Selection Trials and Para-Equestrian Dressage National Championships was a week of environmental changes including high temperatures one day, a downpour the second day, and a breezy but exceptional weather pattern on the final day. Para-Dressage athletes Hart, Wentz, Donna Ponessa (New Windsor, N.Y.), and Dale Dedrick (Ann Arbor, Mich.) kept the competition interesting posting scores only thousandths of a percentage point different at times.
During the three days of competition FEI Ground Jury members, Carlos Lopes (5*) POR, Anne Prain (5*) FRA, and Marc Urban (5*) BEL evaluated each duo on their interpretation of their respective tests. These critiques were valuable since selected equestrians will see these judges again when they are selected for London. Lopes and Prain are members of the ground jury and Marc Urban is the Assistant Technical Delegate for the Paralympics.
In the final hour, Rebecca Hart’s spectacular Freestyle aboard Lord Ludger impressed the judges giving her three scores of 74.0%, 74.750%, and a 79%. “I have never had a 7 and a 9 in the same score before,” Hart expressed. “I am delighted and honored to have achieved this score.”
She continued, “LoLu and I have had quite the year together. I got him about a year ago and he had a little bit of a reputation. Professional able-bodied riders had always ridden him and when Missy (Ransehousen) asked if I could try him, I said O.K. I put the big girl panties on and got on that horse. There was a little bit of a learning curve at first but over this year he has become my horse which is a really special feeling. He is such a character and I enjoy him as a horse and as a partner out there in the ring. I feel like he is finally looking to me for answers and he is right there backing me up.”
Rebecca earned the Championship in the Selection Trials and was declared the top rider at the Paralympic Selection Trials. Since the nominated horse and rider combinations will not be named until the middle of July, the riders are still on the edge of their seats awaiting that list.
Hart replied, “It feels good to be at this point and it is definitely a little weight off the shoulders but I am going to hold off my excitement until I am actually trotting down centerline in London. I will believe it then.”
Earning the Reserve Championship 2012 Para-Equestrian Dressage National Championship accolade was Jonathan Wentz aboard NTEC Richter Scale, owned by Kai Handt of North Texas Equestrian Center.
Wentz held the crown for the 2011 National Championship and passed it back to Rebecca Hart who earned it in 2010. Wentz rode NTEC Richter Scale to top the Grade Ib division and earn the second place finish in his grade with Silvano, owned by Dr. Michele Miles.
Wentz noted, “It feels great to be at this point with both Richter and Silvano. Richter has carried me so far and I could have never imagined this three years ago when Kai got him. He has really stepped up to the plate as an 18-year-old and he has delivered what we asked of him. We considered WEG (World Equestrian Games 2010) was going to be his last outing but he got better and better each year. We will have toured through two world championships if we head to London and that is a lot to ask of a horse his age.”
Wentz continued, “Even with London coming up we still want to be prepare for the future. Normandy is lurking on the horizon and it takes time to build a bond with a horse. After only riding Silvano for three months he put in a good consistent ride this weekend and is a great horse. He will be a great back-up for London. I am excited for the future.”
Rebecca replied, “After London we will be gearing up for Normandy. I have also made it a quiet goal of mine but I would love to push my able-bodied career further and make it to the Grand Prix. My old guy Pippin, who I retired at WEG, is making a comeback so we will see. I have ridden up to Prix St. George and I would like to go even further.”
Mimicking Hart and Wentz, Donna Ponessa was thrilled about her performance at the Selection Trials/ National Championship with horses Western Rose and PG Ganda. “I don’t think it has sunk in yet,” smiled Ponessa. I don’t want to take anything for granted. I believe I can take a sigh of relief when those names are announced.”
During the Freestyle competition, Donna picked up the intensity and added the trot gait to her test. Donna explained, “We added the trot because Rosie has a really round, floaty trot, is super easy to sit, and it keeps her from getting bored. The freestyle is supposed to be fun and inventive.”
“Western Rose is a nine-year-old American-Bred Oldenburg, continued Ponessa. “She has done third level with Wes Dunham, my trainer, and we didn’t think she would be the horse for me. At the time we were preparing for the Selection Trials I had been riding my horse Otto. Otto, owned by Sue and Kevin Niblo, is the horse that Sydney Collier rode this week and he was a wonderful horse for me earlier this year. However, Wes and I knew we needed a horse with a better walk for Selection Trials. When he asked if I wanted to ride Rosie, I obliged. Of all the horses that we tried we did not expect her to be that horse. She has so much untapped potential, she has that wow factor, and she has a great walk. Wes has graciously allowed me to ride her and put his training on hold so she could get in tune with me. I like to toy with the idea of taking her to Normandy, that would be amazing.””
Donna Ponessa also achieved the top Grade Ia rider of the week with Western Rose in first and PG Ganda, owned by Vinceremos Thereapeutic Riding Center, in second.
Dale Dedrick and Bonifatius earned the fourth place finish in the 2012 USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Championship standings and was the second place finisher in Grade II.
Dedrick commented, “I was thrilled with my horse during the Trials and National Championships. Erik stepped up to the plate when he didn’t necessarily want to and did everything I asked. Even after six days of competition and Erik didn’t really want to to go down that path one more time to the ring, he still was willing to get in the ring for me. I loved showing at Gladstone, That sounds really cool in horsey conversations to tell people ‘ When I showed at Gladstone…” I hate to get too excited before the London team is actually announced.”
Four years ago, Carol Grant and Dedrick took a look at Bonifatius who was sitting in a field in Wisconsin. His potbelly and “U” neck made Dedrick tell Carol that he looked like a goat. Carol’s good eye for horses saw that he had a great leg and he had a lot of potential. Grant was correct in her prediction with Dedrick competing all over the United States with the Bonifatius and earning multiple accolades in the dressage ring. Dedrick has been working with trainer Rosalind Kinstler on developing Erik into a technical genius in the dressage ring.
Grade II rider Elizabeth Pigott and One Night Stand, owned by Regina Cristo, earned a 70.5% in their Freestyle Test on the last day of competition. Pigott noted, “Both of my horses were great this week. Willy always has a little bit of show nerves but he has come so far this year, I was proud of him. Regina Cristo has been wonderful and so supportive in allowing me to borrow her horse. During the first two days of competition the judges kept commenting they wanted to see the horse more active. I got him more active, and he said, ‘Yes Mam!’ He is a great horse to ride and very responsive. Since he was not in Pennsylvania when I began working with him, his trainer Melissa Suits worked with me at her farm. She has been riding One Night Stand for years and her insight was invaluable in preparing for this week.”
Topping the Grade III division was Wendy Fryke, Baker, CO aboard her stallion Lateran. Fryke and Mary Jordan, Wells, ME, performed a hat trick on their horses with Fryke earning the win for her division and Jordan capturing Grade IV with Sebastian. Jordan has had a banner year with Sebastian, owned by Deecie Denison, representing the United States Team on multiple occasions in 2011-2012. Jordan followed in second in the Grade IV division aboard her mare P. Sparrow Socks. Both riders will be looking forward to the announcement of the nominated horse and rider combinations.
The 2012 United States Equestrian Paralympic Team nominated horse and rider combinations will be named in the middle of July. Chef d’Equipe Missy Ransehousen will join the named athletes when the riders enter a boot camp before London. The Paralympic Equestrian events take place in London, England at Greenwich Park August 30-September 4, 2012.
2012 USEF PARA-EQUESTRIAN DRESSAGE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS FINAL SCORES