August 30, 2012 -- The Para-Equestrian Dressage competition of the 2012 Paralympic Games kicked-off Thursday with Grade II and Grade 1b riders completing their Team Tests on a day that ran the gamut of English weather. The U.S. sent three representatives into the main arena with Rebecca Hart and Dr. Dale Dedrick competing during the Grade II morning session and Jonathan Wentz competing in afternoon Grade 1b competition.
Riders for Great Britain set the pace in both divisions with Natasha Baker and Cabral, competing as an Individual, scoring 76.095% in the Grade II Test and Lee Pearson riding Gentleman scoring 74.682% for their Grade 1b Test. Wentz leads the U.S. after being awarded a 70.364% from the Ground Jury of Kjell Myhre, Sarah Rodger, Gudrun Hofinga, Freddy Leyman and Anne Prain.
Wentz (Richardson, Texas) and Kai Handt's NTEC Richter Scale demonstrated the strength of their partnership that has spanned four years producing a forward, accurate test. The 18-year-old Shire cross gelding was completely unfazed by the electricity of the arena and crisp damp weather. The pair has been working on improving the walk movements and halts and their diligence paid off in London.
"Richter was moving really forward; he loves this cold weather and rain. The walk tour was great and we will look to improve on that," said Wentz. "Richter has struggled with the halts throughout his career but now they really have become one of his strong suits; the last couple months leading into Selection Trials and now here."
The 21-year-old Southern Methodist University student knew NTEC Richter Scale could shine in the big atmosphere of Greenwich Park. Throughout their career together, Wentz has always been able to rely on the horse's level-headed and consistent demeanor.
"You can ride him anywhere in the world, that's why he's such a great para horse and a great horse to have at a competition like this; you can always count on a certain level of score, it may fluctuate a little bit but he always produces a ride that is similar to any ride he has given his whole career."
Wentz finished in fifth amongst Grade 1b competitors in the Team Test.
Despite riding during heavy showers, Hart (Unionville, Pa.) performed a lovely test full of impulsion and expression with Jessica Ransehousen's Lord Ludger to score 69.095%. The Oldenburg gelding displayed rangy gaits and remained completely unfazed by the massive atmosphere that unsettled many horses throughout the day.
A veteran of the 2008 Paralympic Games, Hart believes that the rain actually had a positive effect on her performance.
"I was very happy with it. It's his first big international [competition] in full stadium like this and he handled the atmosphere really well and he handled the rain. I couldn't be prouder of him," said Hart. "We prefer sunshine but he's just as happy to go in the rain. It actually kind of put's us into our own little bubble and we focus on each other more than what's going on. It gives you one more thing to block out but I look at it as an aid and it actually helped us."
From the very beginning of the test, Hart rode like a woman on a mission setting the tone with phenomenal entry and refusing to leave any points on the board.
"I was thrilled with our second circle, that one had a nice fluidity to it. I also thought he had a really good strong entry, with the rain and everything coming into him he just kind of marched in there."
They finished in fourth place.
Dedrick (Ann Arbor, Mich.) was the first U.S. rider of the day with her own Bonifatius scoring 60.286% for 19th place. The 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding was unsettled upon entering the main arena that was abuzz with atmosphere. As the test progressed the pair relaxed and settled in producing steady work that saw their scores rise.
The former Orthopedic Surgeon was thrilled with her first competition experience at Greenwich Park and proud of the way her horse responded.
"It was great fun, an amazing audience. It's fun to look up and see the stands full, I've only done that once before when there was a big auditorium," said Dedrick. "He was a little frightened in there. He's not had a tremendous amount of show experience and it's the first time with a huge audience. But he paid attention to me; he listened, he did what I asked."
The fourth rider for U.S., Donna Ponessa (New Windsor, N.Y.) will ride in Grade 1a competition tomorrow afternoon at 4:33pm GMT.
Team medals will be awarded after the conclusion of the Individual Tests on Sunday. Medals will be determined by the top three team competitors' scores following the Team and Individual Tests. Individual medals will also be up for grabs in each grade for the top performances in the Individual Tests.
"We're in a really good position; it will come down to tomorrow but the team is sitting really nice. We got some good scores today," said Wentz. "We'll just have to go through the tests tonight, lots of reading the judge's comments for ways to improve."
For Results and Orders of Go visit; http://www.london2012.com/paralympics/equestrian/schedule-and-results/
Follow the 2012 U.S. Para-Equestrian Team here.