This year's Markel Amateur Winter Dressage Championships had a bit of déjà vu with repeat winners Dr. Kristy Lund and Jennifer Huber. Both once again earned awards in the competition that honors the hard work of amateur competitors. The Amateur Championship awards are given to amateur competitors with the highest average in their level throughout the Wellington Classic Dressage series of 2009 winter shows. Huber nabbed the Grand Prix award once again with Al Pacino and Lund took the Fourth Level amateur award with Reel Adventure.
Last year, Lund and Reel Adventure won the award for Third Level so this year's award was a step up. "Winning again as I move up the levels makes me feel like my training is on track," Lund said. She gave much credit to her trainer of 18 years, John Zopatti. "His approach to training has kept me in the ribbons for all these years. Instead of having a set training schedule for every horse, we evaluate the horse’s strengths and weaknesses and adapt a schedule that suites him best," said Lund, a veterinarian who practices with her husband, Dr. Scott Lund. Together they operate Lund Animal Hospital in Boca Raton, Florida.
The training approach designed for Reel Adventure includes trail rides to keep his mind fresh. "And we also bring in other trainers, such as Juan Matute, to work on his piaffe and passage to further strengthen him," Lund said. "I have also learned from John not to push the horse too fast by showing him at his maximum capabilities." And that lesson, she jokes, took her years to learn. "Just because he is schooling the Intermediare work at home doesn’t mean you throw him in the ring and do the small tour."
Lund said the training program she has developed with Zopatti's help has made Reel Adventure a much less stressed horse in the show ring and "it shows by the judges marks." Lund calls Reel Adventure "the most talented horse I have ever owned." Her goal this coming year is to move him up to Intermediaire on the small tour. "And if all goes as planned, he will be doing the Grand Prix by spring." Lund and Reel Adventure are definitely a pair worth watching and while she's proud of her amateur status, Lund made clear that amateur doesn't mean one isn't just as good as the professionals. She has every intention of pitting her and Reel Adventure against the best as they move up to Grand Prix. "I try to set my goals high because if you make them you get to say ‘I did it!’ And, if you don’t make it, you get to say 'At least I tried!’….as well as learning lots along the way while having fun, which beats working any day!"
Huber and Al Pacino are already showing that amateur doesn't mean less talented. In addition to their repeat performance as the Grand Prix winners in the Markel Amateur Championships, Huber and Al Pacino collected a fair share of ribbons on this year's Florida circuit. Huber couldn't be more pleased with her 16-year-old partner. "He has taught me so much about training a horse to Grand Prix and improving each piece of the test. I am so lucky to be able to keep doing Grand Prix on him, and also the Special, and some Freestyles. Each test is different, and the circumstances – the atmosphere – are different, so it is all such good mileage for us both."
Huber trains with Christopher Hickey and she and Al Pacino have, for the past two years, participated in the Challenge of the Americas to help raise money for breast cancer research. Huber's own mother is a breast cancer survivor. Like the other winners in the Markel Amateur Championships, Huber expressed sincere appreciation for the championships. "I appreciate so much that Mary Phelps and Markel Insurance recognize and support amateur riders. There are not so many shows that recognize the achievements of the amateurs, but the Florida circuit is special in that way. 'Al' works hard, I work hard, and to have that acknowledged and celebrated is a wonderful thing," she said.
For Huber, Al Pacino isn't just her competition partner, he's also a sort of teacher. She has a young horse coming up the ranks – seven-year-old Vito – and her years of training and competing Al Pacino has taught her much that is now helping Vito. "Vito is doing Fourth level and will be starting the Prix St George this summer. It is always amazing to me how you can take what you learn from each horse to the next. I take things I learn on 'Al' to Vito, but also what I learn from Vito back to 'Al'. They are very different horses, so it is hard to switch back and forth. But for me, that is the challenge and the fulfillment of riding dressage," Huber said. She'll now be spending her summer back home in Maine busy working on her freestyle and preparing for the regional championships.