Holly Bergay recently won the USEF Para Reserve Championship at the first ever International Para Championships at the Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, Illinois. And she did so with a new horse she has only been riding for 6 weeks. DressageDaily was on the scene, and especially excited about this duo. As a result of an article we published on Holly’s quest for a horse to compete with at the 2010 Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games, Holly found her new partner Grand Ballerina, a 15 year old Oldenburg mare. Holly chats with DressageDaily’s Mary Phelps about the championships, her new horse, and the recent changes in her life.
Q: Congratulations on winning the reserve championship and being the highest placed American rider at your level with your new horse Ballerina.
A: Thank you! Lamplight was a beautiful facility and a fun competition. I’m surprised I placed so well and happy that so many Para riders participated.
Q: How long have you had her?
A: I’ve had Grand Ballerina for around six or seven weeks. She is a fifteen year old Oldenburg mare out of Grand Canyon. She’s only around 16 hands tall, which is perfect for me. Actually, in the final awards ceremony one of the judges was surprised at how much smaller she looked close-up. She’s a big mover!!
Q: How did you find her?
A: Robin Garrett, a trainer from Southern California, saw the wonderful article you had on DressageDaily about my need for a horse, and sent us an e-mail regarding her horse Grand Ballerina. She was small, trained to Grand Prix, and very fancy, so I decided to go look at her. Debbie McDonald was doing a clinic in the area at the time and came with me to see her. Debbie was concerned that Ballerina was way too hot for me, but she was a blast to ride so I was super excited about her. I could tell right away that Robin was an amazing trainer and rider. She has done an incredible job with Ballerina and I am so happy to have had such a generous person and such a talented horse come into my life. Thanks dressagedaily.com!
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges going into such an important competition with such a new relationship?
A: It was very challenging coming to this competition after just barely getting to know a horse. The first show we did, about two weeks after I had her, was a little bit of a mess. However, I qualified for the Championships and learned a little more about some of her quirks. She tries so hard for me, and she always wants to do more than what I’m asking her. She used to piaffe in all my halts. It wasn’t her disobeying, she just was used to the Grand prix movements and I was asking her for third/fourth level. We were having lots of saddle fitting problems, so Robin contacted Custom Saddlery and they sent me a beautiful new saddle in just a few weeks. It made a huge difference. Everything really came together right before Lamplight. My farrier Brandon Nunn took her up to Chicago for us. Everyone in the community wanted to pitch in. So many people helped it happen, but I really don’t think I could have done so well in such a short period of time with any other horse.
Q: You are able to use the elbow joint in your left arm to ride dressage. How do you set up the reins and biting in order to handle the reins?
A: I use a converter system that has adjustable leather straps from the curb and the snaffle to a small metal ring. My reins are then attached to this metal ring. The converter allows me to adjust the curb and snaffle pressure before I ride. My left rein has four leather loops on it. I hook my elbow on a loop and change loops depending on how tight I want the rein.
Q: What were the adjustments Ballerina had to make?
A: Ballerina had to adjust to a different feel of the reins. I have to hold my left rein a bit higher, but after a few rides it didn’t seem to bother her at all. I have been lucky to ride horses that are willing and happy to adjust.
Q: There is a provision in the rules which allows you to do this. Can you explain what it is and how it works?
A: To use my looped reins and converter I need a dispensation certificate. The equipment is approved and then the certificate is stapled to my tests so that the judge can see what adaptive equipment I’m allowed to use. My trainer would joke and say “What are you worried about? You have a whole week!” It turns out a lot can change in just a few weeks.
Q: Who was your trainer and how did she help?
A: My trainer from Arizona, Pat Baker-Hutter, has been training me for seven or eight years. She has been so supportive and has helped me really grow as a rider.
Q: Any major changes in your life recently?
A: This summer my family is moving from Tucson, Arizona to Denver, Colorado. That means a new trainer, a new barn, new shows, new friends, a new school, and a new life. It’s hard being sixteen and in the middle of High School and then moving, especially since I am in the process of training for the World Equestrian Games. I’m also selling my horse Soliloquy, who I’ve ridden in the NAJC and the NAYRC. She has made me into the rider I am and taken me so many places, so it’s very hard to have to sell her. Almost everything in my life is changing this year, but I have to remember how much has been given to me and how many people want to help me. My family, especially my mom, has given so much for me to do this sport and supports me through whatever I do. Moving will be hard, but I have to keep in mind that I am very blessed.
Q: Have you had to make a choice between NAYRC and the Para Program this year because of the upcoming 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games?
A: My main concern this year was doing the Lamplight CPEDI so that I could get my certificate of capability for the WEG. I got it, but that meant not doing Young Riders because I wouldn’t have enough shows to qualify with. Hopefully next year I’ll be able to do Young Riders. I’m glad that I’ll have more time to build better communication between Ballerina and I. Young Rider’s is a blast and I have so much fun with the other kids who do it, but I’m very proud to be involved in the para-equestrian program. I have plenty of time and plenty of opportunities, so no matter what I do I want to learn as much as I can and enjoy the journey.
Q: Where are you going to be competing this year?
A: Besides hopefully competing at some Colorado shows, I would like to do some in Southern California, especially in the spring.