John Zopatti and SG Guardian

Winning the Prix St. George Championship at the ABIC/USDF Region 3 Finals in Conyers, GA, was the highlight of a busy season for John Zopatti who with his usual entourage of students travelled from South Florida for a weekend at the location of the 1996 Olympic Equestrian Games. The pair also placed second in the Intermediaire 1 Championship .

Zopatti said that he has been working intensively with his trainer Bent Jensen to prepare for the championships. "We focused on the frame and the level of collection needed," he said. Zopatti made an eleven-and-a-half-hour drive from Wellington, Florida, where he is based year-round, for the show. "He was a little spooky in the indoor because there was a food court set up at the end of the arena. But the crowd made him more on the edge, which made me concentrate on every movement and ride better."

Imported from Sweden two years ago, Guardian was purchased at the Palm Beach Dressage Derby by his owner Christina Hewitt a year and a half ago. "The man we bought him from said he could get hot, but it took a year and a half for me to see that side of him. The hot Florida summers kept him pretty quiet, but when it's cooler he tends to be hot. He's schooling piaffe and passage and getting stronger, and a little bit spry!"

Zopatti's plan was to take Guardian to Europe to train following the Championships. Following the terrorist attacks on the airlines, however, he is having second thoughts. "I have a lot of students that I can't leave behind; I have a big following around here. I would have to fly back and forth, and leave Guardian in training over there," he said. "I've been to Europe five times this year, so I've flown a lot, and I don't like flying anyway. I was really gung-ho to get over there. Now I might send him and let him get accustomed to the work over there, and then go over myself after things have settled down."

"The saving grace to sending Guardian away is that I'm getting another horse," he said. "The downside is that I got the horse because a student passed away and left the horse to me. My plan is to carry out her wishes for the horse and take him as far as he'll go. He was imported last year from Holland and is a big gray. He's by Uniform, which is also the sire of Metallic and of Manhattan, Jodie Kelly's young horse. He had a hard time his first few months over here, but in the past six months he's really blossomed. I hope he's going to follow in Guardian's footsteps."

In his immediate plans, Zopatti involved in the L Judge's program and is taking his fianl test this weekend. His hopes are to pass with distinction so that he can go on to the small "r" program. "I'm pretty confident, but it can be intimidating to be there with a well-known judge right in front of your face," he said. "I'm in a really good group. We have a lot of professionals, and we have great, sometimes heated, discussions. A lot of the people are looking forward to doing some judging and giving fair scores and comments. Because it's such a strict program, we all have to meet the high standards."

Zopatti has spent many hours sitting with judges, even traveling to the Region 8 Finals at Ox Ridge, CT to spend eight hours a day sitting with the various highly respected judges who were there.

"There is never a dull moment around here," he said. "People think things get slow in the "off season," but there is always more than enough to do."

By Amber Heintzberger For

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