June 13, 2012 -- The 2012 USEF National Para-Equestrian Championships held in conjunction with the USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage Paralympic Selection Trials came down to the slimmest of margins this afternoon as riders performed their Freestyle tests at the Pine Meadow location of the USET Foundation. Heading to the final test of the championships only a few marks separated the top three riders and the remaining 20% of the final score would be determined Wednesday. Rebecca Hart, Jonathan Wentz and Donna Ponessa all produced their highest scores of the competition in the Freestyle and less than a half of a percentage point would separate them in the final standings.
Hart (Unionville, Pa.) produced the highest score of the National Championship, a 75.917%, to claim her fifth USEF National Para-Equestrian Championship title. The 26-year-old performed an extremely polished and stylish Grade II Freestyle with Jessica Ransehousen's veteran Lord Ludger accented by a high degree of difficulty.
Hart has spent the last year getting to know the Holsteiner gelding and believes that their enhanced partnership paid dividends this week.
"He has really become my horse, which is a really special feeling because he's so talented and so caring, that I really, really enjoy him not only as a horse but as a partner out there in the ring," Said Hart. "I feel now that he is finally looking to me, whereas before he would do what I asked but not really do it for me. And now he is really in there for me and doing it with me. That's nice to have the progression from being a little intimidated to now doing it together."
Heading into Wednesday's final test, Hart felt the pressure as there was no breathing room between the top three.
"It was close, so it [the pressure] was pretty high and it's not over till it's over."
Hart is now poised to represent the U.S. at her second consecutive Paralympic Games after topping the Selection Trials. However, she is not going to get overly excited until she is actually in competition.
"It feels good kind of a weight of the shoulders. But I'm going to hold off until we're actually trotting down centerline in London."
The 2011 USEF National Para-Equestrian Champions, Jonathan Wentz and NTEC Richter Scale, settled for Reserve honors after scoring 74.833% in the Freestyle. Wentz (Richardson, TX) demonstrated an elaborate Freestyle utilizing Irish music to compliment Kai Handt's Shire cross gelding's gaits.
The Grade 1b competitor has been riding NTEC Richter Scale for more than three years and couldn't be more proud of his longtime partner.
"I'm very excited that Richter has carried me this far, I never would have imagined it three years ago, when Kai found him. He has really stepped up to the plate with everything I've thrown at him; he just delivers what I ask."
Finishing in third place was Grade 1a competitor Ponessa and Wesley Dunham's Western Rose. The pair scored 73.833% in their Freestyle by way of a high degree of difficulty. The pair demonstrated beautiful trot movements, which are not required but rewarded in Grade 1a.
"Because Rosie is just really round; her trot is very floaty and very easy to sit. It keeps her from getting bored and just adds a little zing to the test. The freestyle is supposed be fun and inventive so that's why we figured let's add some trot."
Grade II rider, Sydney Collier was the sole competitor contesting only the National Championship, as at 14-years-old she does not meet the minimum age requirement to compete in London. Riding in her first USEF National Para-Equestrian Championship she impressed many with her imaginative Freestyle riding Kristi and Sue Niblo's Otto to a 63%.
Hart, Wentz and Ponessa were all winners of the Freestyles in their respective Grades. In Grade III competition Wendy Fryke won her third test of the week with her own and Michael Fryke's Lateran, they scored 69.75% today. Mary Jordan and Deecie Denison's Sebastian swept all Grade IV tests and rode to a 69.833% in the Freestyle.
For results, photos and news visit; http://usefnetwork.com/featured/2012USEFDressageFestivalofChampions/
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