On the first day of a weekend of recognized dressage competition at the National Horse Show in Wellington, Florida, Bethany Peslar, 21, topped the most highly contested class, the FEI Prix St. Georges. With 16 horses entered, Peslar's 69% aboard her Flinstone, a 15-year-old Dutch warmblood gelding, took the blue over Jan Brons and Josien who placed second with 67.375% and Shawna Harding on Alistair who took third with 66.375%. "I only showed the horse one time before," said Peslar, "And that was a while ago, so I didn't know what to expect. I was hoping to do well but I didn't realize I would do this well. It's great. I wasn't expecting it."
Dressage At The National is hosting 88 horses and offering a total purse of $11,000 for the two-day show, November 30 to December 1. Held in the two-ring Rost Arena at the Palm Beach Polo Equestrian Club, the dressage competition is being held in conjunction with the six-day hunter/jumper event that started on November 26.
Peslar has been riding since she was five years old, and started dressage training at 13. Currently, she is in training with Linda Smith. Peslar imported Flinstone ("Freddie") from Holland two years ago on a horse-shopping trip with David DeWispaliere. Freddie was a successful Grand Prix horse with Seth Boschman. Peslar, who had competed through Intermediaire I and participated in two Young Rider Championships, already had a schoolmaster and was looking for a competitive Grand Prix horse. He was the first one she tried, and though she looked at 30 more, she purchased Freddie. "I was hoping to start out in the Prix St. Georges/I-I and then move up to the Grand Prix," said Peslar. "I was hoping to try out for the Pan Am Games this year on him."
In today's test, Peslar noted that Freddie's best movements were in his trot work. "His extended trot was great. I barely had to ask for it," she said. "He just did it. He loved it. He loved being in the show ring. He really loves to show off." She noted that his pirouettes were one of his strong points because he has a great ability to collect and that, "His changes were wonderful. They were very smooth and straight."
Peslar describes Freddie as "the king of the barn. He has a lot of personality. He's very intelligent. He really thinks he's the best."
Peslar attended Northwood University after high school, but after two semesters decided to concentrate on her riding and showing career. This is her last year as a Young Rider, and she plans to forego her amateur status and ride as a professional with plans to earn a spot on the United States Equestrian Team going to the Dominican Republic for the upcoming 2003 Pan American Games. "This was a great start today going out for the first time on him in a long time and getting a 69," said Peslar. "I need to get him more fit. I think he would do even better as the season goes on. There will be a lot of competition for Pan Am so it will be difficult to qualify, but I'm hoping to do that." Peslar has cracked that 70 percentile before – in 2001 on her previous FEI horse, Iwan, Peslar scored a 74% in the Young Rider Test in Atlanta.
Peslar also participated in the Grand Prix class today aboard her Bannzayir, placing 7th with a score of 62%. "That was great. I wasn't expecting to score that well with him. I did six Grand Prixes over the summer. They were all my first Grand Prixes on this horse. I scored mainly in the upper 50s, but I never got my 60%." But with her score today, Peslar needs just one more ride in that percentile to earn her USDF Gold Medal, which will complete her collection – she has already earned her Bronze and Silver Medals. "That was probably my last Grand Prix on that horse because he's 19-1/2," said Peslar. "I've had him for four-and-a-half years and he's been my schoolmaster." Bannzayir took Peslar from Fourth Level all the way to Grand Prix.
Though she started as a hunter rider in Michigan 16 years ago, Peslar said she never really liked jumping, and when she started taking dressage lessons, she found she loved it. She has had several dressage teachers along the way, but notes that Sue Ashley in Michigan was her trainer for many years. "She was always very supportive and a really nice person." When Peslar found that she had a talent for dressage, she went from riding a couple days a week to riding six days a week and began "working as hard as I could." Currently she rides four or five horses every day.
The Peslar family's barn is located next door to the Palm Beach show grounds, so she can hack to the show. Currently they have 12 horses – some are for sale and a few are retired including her hunter pony, and they even have a couple of miniatures. Peslar had one other horse entered in today's classes, a five-year-old named Pady, but because of the schedule, she gave the ride in Training Level Test 1 to her groom, Heidi Degele. "She currently has the high score of the show," smiled Peslar. "They got 75%. She is so happy." Peslar on Freddie with 69% has the second highest score of the show.
One of the 'featured' events of Dressage At The National was the 'comeback' of Robert Dover who was scheduled to compete in the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special on Ramazon, a horse owned by Joe Zada. When the announcer skipped past his name on the class schedule and called out the next rider's name on the list, there was an audible moan from the expectant crowd when they realized he had scratched. "I was doing it as a favor to Joe Zada, to show his horse in the Grand Prix once," explained Dover, who was at the show coaching other riders. "But Joe couldn't get down here so I told him that later in the season I would show his horse in one Grand Prix for him. Sometime in the season when he's here I'll show him."
Mary Hilton for DressageDaily.com