West Grove, PA- It's planes, trains, and automobiles this summer for Rebecca Hart and her mount Schroeters Romani as they make the journey overseas to compete on the European dressage circuit, hoping to gain some international clout as well as an increased knowledge of the show scene across the pond. The pair will showcase their abilities at two CPEDI events this season, the first in Mulhouse, France in June, and the second in Uberherrn, Germany in early July, with both serving as 3-star Para-Olympic qualifiers.
Hart's name is a familiar one in the dressage sphere, earning the title of National U.S. Paralympic Champion in 2006, 2008, 2009, and 2010. She competed last year at the World Equestrian Games for the the United States Equestrian Team, and has also shown in two Paralympics for the USA. Unfortunately for Hart, she has often finished just shy of the podium, numerous times placing in the bittersweet fourth position. Things are looking promising for the duo this year, though, coming off a career high score of 77.917 this January, as well as two days of phenomenal performances to sweep the FEI Para Grade II tests with two first place finishes in March during the 2015 Adequan Global Dressage Festival CPEDI3*.
Hart rejoined trainer Todd Flettrich in Florida prior to packing the tack trunks and making their way to Europe. Flettrich recently recovered from a back injury and is back in the saddle again, both riding and training, and placing a heavy focus on Hart.
"Because she is so dynamic of a horse we want to show off that brilliance, but keep it consistent at the same time, which is always challenging for every rider. I'm very excited to say we've finally got the program and everything straightened out, and figured out what really works for her for the warm up," commented Hart.
She plans to stay the course with her current freestyle routine, only slightly altering it to add in more lateral work and hopefully earn even higher marks with the added difficulty. "Our harmony as a pair is much more solidified as a partnership, and I'm very excited to show off some of the elements that we can do."
Although Hart and her horse have yet to compete at the European venues in question, she has heard complimentary reviews from Irishman James Dwyer, another para-dressage competitor, and expects the shows to be the perfect opportunity to "be seen by the international judges while also giving me confidence with my horse."
Hart won't be traveling alone, and will have two fellow Americans to keep her company during her months away from home. Debbie Stanitski, riding her new mare Biara G, and Annie Peavy, taking Lance and Ozzy Cooper, are also competing.
"It's kind of fun to have an American contingent; you have a little bit more of a support system, and it makes for a nice dynamic to have fellow riders and friends coming with you. We're all going to be staying together. It's good to have that network and support group around you when you're doing these things," Hart noted.
Of course, an overseas trip can come with a hefty price tag, and it is through the efforts and donations of Hart's sponsors, donors, and owners that she is able to finance the expedition. She gives all credit to those supporters, especially Margaret Duprey and Cherry Knoll Farm, Sycamore Station Equine Division, Barbara Summer, the Ruffolos, and Will and Sandy Kimmel, all part-owners of Romani, claiming that this type of international competition on such a high-caliber horse would not be possible without them.
Although Hart's travels, as well as those of other para-dressage stars, are privately funded, she hopes to work with the U.S. Dressage Federation to increase the budget to provide grants for other deserving riders who are unable to fund trips such as these for themselves.
"It is important to send these riders to Europe and have a presence there; not only in the able bodies but also in the Para," Hart believes. "The European riders are the best at what they do. They are historically very competitive, and they're the top dogs in this sport right now. Watching them ride and how they train and seeing their systems can only strengthen your game. I think, being an American, you have to go over an experience that, since that's where we want to be."
Gracious as ever, Hart acknowledged her good fortune, "I'm very blessed and lucky to be able to do this with Romani this summer, and I'm very excited to represent the USA. A huge thank you to all of the people who have made it happen!"
Stay tuned for Hart's results throughout the summer in France and Germany, and future competitions back in the States.
For more information on Hart and Cherry Knoll Farm please visit http://www.cherryknollfarminc.com.