August 14, 2010 -- It was all about the next generation of dressage riders today at the Collecting Gaits Farm/U.S. Equestrian Federation Festival of Champions.
We saw the future stars on display, and what many of the riders lack in experience they make up for in enthusiasm. It seems as if a majority of those participating want to be professionals, or already are on their way. No strangers to hard work, they do what they have to in order to be competitive in a very tough game.
Meagan Davis of New York, who won the first Young Rider class, for instance, helps her mentor Lendon Gray, takes care of her own family's barn, goes to college on-line, does volunteer work and earns extra money with a job in a wine store. Whew.
And what a test she produced today, earning 70.211 percent. This gal does it all. She gave credit to her horse, Bentley, a Danish warmblood.
"He was just with me so much. He was just, 'Whatever you want, Mom, I'm there for you,'" said Meagan.
Speaking of another rider who was mentored by Lendon, she remarked, "Courtney King (Dye) is definitely my idol."
"I wear a helmet because of Courtney," she said, referring to Courtney's skull fracture from a March accident that left her in a coma for weeks.
"The grand prix jumpers all wear helmets, why don't we wear them?" Meagan asked. "These are large animals, they're not always tame."
Meagan knows about that first hand. Last year at the North American Junior and Young Riders Championships in Kentucky, Bentley sent her to the hospital after he reared and his poll smashed the side of her face. Seven stitches fixed it, but she's still wary. Meagan wisely left today's award ceremonies, dismounted and led her horse away before the victory pass began.
The lone championship awarded today was for the juniors, where it was all about Jamie Pestana and Winzalot. You have to be brave to call a horse something like that, but the six-year-old, purchased at age three by Jamie's family, has lived up to the name he came with.
Jamie, who brought the horse up through the levels herself with the help of her mother, was the only rider in her division to break 70 percent today, scoring 70.263 as a follow-up to her victory yesterday on 68.595 percent. She can add that to her many awards, including the individual gold at NAJYRC.
The Californian and her horse both overcame injury to secure their victory. I spotted Jamie walking around with her left arm in a sling a few hours before the class, and she told me she had dislocated her shoulder. It happened while she was running hurdles in track at school, and will require an operation to set it right. Meanwhile, Winzalot, as I mentioned yesterday, had a sore side and ribs out of place from what likely was a fall in the trailer. They didn't let all that get them down, which is the mark of champions.
Jamie, like many of the others, was happy just to be riding at the historic headquarters of the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation.
"It's such an honor to be in the top 12 and be able to see all the Grand Prix horses. It makes you feel pretty special," she said.
I was a little disappointed by the scores in the Brentina Cup, named after the great mare ridden by Debbie McDonald. The class, which bridges the gap between Young Riders and open Grand Prix, is open to riders up to the age of 28, and it helps pave the way to a career for these competitors.
As the winner of the show's first Cup class, Kayce Redmond of Georgia noted, she isn't ready for Grand Prix, but this gives her a chance to practice with the elements of the test in a competitive atmosphere. She scored 64.769 percent with a sale horse, Latino, who ran into some trouble with the one-tempi changes. Still, she pulled out the win over Brentina Cup veteran Nicholia Zamora on Ramsgate D (64.051).
The omnipresent Kassie Barteau, who was reserve champ with Toscano in last weekend's Intermediaire I championship, rode BeSe to third with 63.016 percent. She's just started back with BeSe, who belongs to her mentor, Cathy Morelli. She last really worked the horse in March, so it's tough to expect perfection under those circumstances.
The Grand Prix riders moved off center stage for the day between their second Grand Prix and tomorrow's freestyle, the last of the four selection trials. The schedule offered a great opportunity to speak with them when they weren't under the gun.
I caught up with Catherine Haddad, who's based in Germany. She's in contention for a team spot now, standing fourth overall. People had been saying Winyamaro, her up-and-coming grand prix horse, was more of a prospect for the 2012 London Olympics than the WEG, but perhaps he'll prove them wrong. She didn't make the trip from Europe on a lark. Here's what she had to say.
During the afternoon, announcer Brian O'Connor said he had gotten news from California that Steffen Peters and Ravel were marked at 82.5 percent, their personal best, in a national Grand Prix in California. Okay, it's not Aachen, but it's still impressive. After the show, Steffen was hopping on the red eye tonight to be at the Festival tomorrow. As I've said at least a million times (seems like it, anyway) he and Ravel got a bye from the trials, because they are the centerpiece of the U.S. team for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. But he's coming to do commentary on tomorrow's freestyle rides and will stay for a meeting on Monday for team members.
Who do you think will be on the squad with Steffen? Tina Konyot seems a cinch after going three-for-three in the trials with Calecto V. Can Otto hang on for Todd Flettrich? What about Nartan and Catherine Bateson-Chandler? Will Winyamaro or Pierre St. Jacques' Lucky Tiger earn a spot?
I'll be back tomorrow with the answers, or at least the rankings, since the horses have to go through a vet check before anything is official. They're going to name eight to stay at the USET Foundation stables starting September 4 until it's time to leave for Kentucky and the WEG. The top six will go, with the two alternates housed at a farm near the Kentucky Horse Park.
It's still a long time until the WEG and as you know, with horses, anything can happen. So stay tuned--we'll keep you filled in.