Sunny Drescher Shines at USHJA Emerging Athletes Program National Training Session

After four days at the Nations Cup competition, Sunny Drescher stood out among her peers and earned top honors in the USHJA Emerging Athletes National Training Session.
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After four days at the Nations Cup competition, Sunny Drescher stood out among her peers and earned top honors in the USHJA Emerging Athletes National Training Session.

November 20, 2013--After four days of riding instruction, stable management, a written test and the Nations Cup competition, Sunny Drescher stood out among her peers and earned top honors in the USHJA Emerging Athletes National Training Session, presented by Dover Saddlery, November 14-17.

"Sunny's the whole package. She's another kid whom we admire in all aspects of her horsemanship," said show jumping Olympic gold medalist and lead clinician Peter Wylde. "She's an exceptionally good rider, and she's exceptionally good in the stable, that's clear. She's astute, she's on the ball, she's sharp and she knows what she's doing."

After the Nations Cup concluded the final day, four riders were asked to contest the jump-off course as a final ride-off for the placings-Drescher, Sean Leckie, Erin Bland and Emily Sowski. Each rider received an unfamiliar horse from among those in the pool and had a short warm-up before tackling the course, where they were judged on their skill, style, adaptability and promptness.

Drescher's tactful and accurate ride-off impressed the judges and clinicians and not only earned the victory but also garnered her a place at the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session in Wellington, Florida, in January.

"I'm incredibly excited," said Drescher with a smile. "This is the most important thing I've been working toward all season. This is the biggest accomplishment I've ever had, and I'm sure I'll consider this my biggest accomplishment for a very long time. This means a lot to me."

Drescher, 16, of Hinesburg, VT has trained with Annie Dotoli and Aster Pieters at Tibri for the past four years as a working student. She owns one horse that she shows in the 3'6" equitation classes and often catch-rides sales horses in various classes and divisions.

"I really enjoyed the EAP finals and being around all of these kids here," said Drescher. "They're all very talented, they care about their horses and they work hard. It's nice to find myself around people who are similar to me in that sense. We all want this, and, hopefully, in the future we'll all be together working in the horse industry."

For her accomplishment, Drescher received a $3,000 training grant for future instruction and a $1,500 gift certificate from Dover Saddlery. USHJA Educational Partner EquestrianCoach.com provided Drescher with a lifetime membership, a yearlong membership for a friend, a DVD set, a backpack, cap and sweatshirt. Each of the remaining finalists received a $100 gift certificate from Dover Saddlery as well as a variety of products and gifts from USHJA sponsors.
The clinicians and EAP Task Force members present-Wylde, Sally Ike, Mary Babick, Anne Thornbury and Kip Rosenthal-also chose Sean Leckie, of Reno, NV to receive the second coveted spot in the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session. Both Drescher and Leckie will also receive a helmet from USHJA sponsor Charles Owen for their accomplishment.

"I'm very excited to have both of these riders riding in the George Morris clinic," said Wylde, "because I think it will be a great opportunity for both of them. They are very deserving. The Task Force members will be proud to see them participating in that clinic."

Leckie, 17, trains with Dick Widger and has also been a working student with Team Rakowsky in Florida as well as trainer John French in California.

"Overall it was a great week, and I'm very appreciative of the opportunity, and it really has opened doors," said Leckie. "This is a journey and not the end all, so I want to go and do more and see where I can go in the next year. I want to keep going and working and introduce all of the things I learned in this program into my real working life and go on from there."

Drescher and Leckie were among the 16 finalists to qualify for the EAP National Training Session from a pool of more than 200 riders who applied for the 2013 Regional Clinics around the country.

The finalists traveled to the University of Findlay's James L. Child Equestrian Complex in Findlay, Ohio, where the Findlay staff and students also concurrently hosted the USHJA Horsemanship Quiz Challenge Finals.

"This was a fantastic facility, and the team at the University of Findlay did anything and everything for us to make this the best EAP Final we've had to date," said Wylde.

Throughout the EAP National Training Session, the finalists were judged on their riding skills, as well as their horsemanship in the barn and in the ring, and a written exam. Emerging Athletes Task Force members and clinicians evaluated the riders and met each day to analyze the competitors and, finally, to select the overall winner.

The riders drew for their horses and then spent three days getting to know them through flatwork and over fences training with Wylde, stable management lessons with Anne Thornbury and received instruction from specialists Janus Marquis, an equine physiotherapist, and Kip Rosenthal, a sport psychologist with a PhD in clinical counseling psychology.

On the third day, the riders showed in a Nations Cup-format competition over a course set at 1.10 meters. Their riding skills, knowledge and understanding of their horses, performance under pressure and teamwork were evaluated.

Team Snowbound (Stephanie Whitworth, Gabby Conte, Sunny Drescher and Sean Leckie) dominated the Nations Cup with 0 faults over the two-round competition. Drescher, as the third rider in the line-up, cemented their title in the second round before their anchor rider, Leckie, even entered the arena.

The team silver medal was decided in a jump-off, with Team Touch Of Class (Jackie Flynn, Michaela Wood, Marissa Degner and Connor Siegel) clinching silver after Siegel's winning tie-breaking performance.

Team Abdullah took the bronze medal (Katharine Carroll, Bowers Cone, Megan Thomas and Erin Bland) and Team Gem Twist earned fourth (Jesse Fortier, Lizzy Traband, Izzy Gabriel and Emily Sowski).

Four EAP regional competitors were invited to take part in the EAP as team coordinators, with Cori Cromwell, Ruth Foley, Tatum Tatreau and Cassie Thomas traveling to Ohio to work with the EAP clinicians and riders. A new addition this year were stable managers, and regional competitors Natalie Wendt and Kiersti Wylie were invited to assist Anne Thornbury.

Other award winners included:

Sportsmanship - (tie) Kiersti Wylie and Izzy Gabriel (voted on by riders)
Best Written Test - Emily Sowski (99%)
Stable Management - Lizzy Traband
Best Horse - Sailling, a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, owned by Cris Chastain

Parents and friends of the EAP were also included in the educational and entertainment aspects of the clinic, and during a Saturday night reception the EAP teams were auctioned off in a Calcutta, a raffle was held and donations were accepted that raised more than $10,000 for the EAP program.

In his closing comments, Wylde congratulated all of the EAP riders on their achievements and expressed his support of the program.

"This group has been by far our best group as a whole," Wylde said. "I'm super excited about the momentum and the quality of riders. We're now getting the quality of riders we had hoped we'd get-and not just a couple but all 16 riders this year were exceptionally talented, and any one of them could have a future in the industry."

The USHJA and Emerging Athletes Task Force members wish to thank the following owners for generously donating their horses to the EAP National Training Session: Anabella Harold (Bisbee); Frank and Annette Paul (Calvaro); Christina Meeks (Cat In The Sky); Stonegate Farm (Denver, Facecard, Mike, Skylar, Stella and Hallie); Equis, Ltd. (J.B. and Turtle); Lisa Snider (Kodak Moment); Cris Chastain (Sailling); Simpson Show Jumping/Nicole Shahinian-Simpson (Wabibi); Nikki Fry (Iris Vartani); Kirk and Laura Johnson (Italia); Gwen Giralamo (Guardian); Melissa Kneipp (Harry James); Sara Kemper (Amira and Belvue Ben).