At the Zada Enterprises, LLC WEF Dressage Classic CDI***/Y, March 13-16 in Wellington, Florida, 20-year-old Michael Shondel aboard Wallaby won the Young Riders Team and Individual CDI classes, scoring 64.978% and 69.829% respectively. Michael intends to qualify for this year’s North American Young Riders Championships in Bromont, Canada. He has been showing in Young Riders since he was 16, and was the Region 8 Alternate in 2000 on Monarch Max. He acquired ‘Wally’ in the fall of 2001, but decided not to contend his new horse for the 2002 championships. “This is my year,” states Michael.
From his home in Kinnelon, New Jersey, Michael started riding at age four,
concentrating on hunter/jumpers until he was nine, and then dressage when he met Bernardo Vergara, with whom he trained for 10 years. In Germany two years ago, Bernardo and Michael purchased the 18.2-hand Hanoverian gelding, Wallaby (Werther x Gondola), a successful PSG/I-I competitor. Last December, Michael moved to Gainesville, Florida, and enrolled in college, stabling Wallaby in Ocala. Bernardo planned to move his operation to the area, but was unable to sell his facility in New Jersey. “I was stuck down here with my horse and no trainer,” said Michael. But Bernardo was able to match his student with his friend, trainer Cesar Parra. “I’ve been with Cesar since.”
The Challenge of Dressage
Michael admits that dressage is an unusual sport for a young man. “There’s only two of us in Young Riders,” he smiles, but knows exactly why he’s attracted to it. “How hard it is. It’s the constant challenge. I’ve always ridden horses, so it’s kind of ‘in love with riding’ and working with Cesar, and just everything – competing, winning.”
Ultimately Michael has a multi-faceted plan for his future. “Olympics –
skies are the limits. Whatever I can do. I’m in the Marine Corps. I’m in the
officer candidate program while I’m in college. Hopefully, if everything
works out I can ride for the Marine Corps. That’s my next goal.” The Corps does not currently have an equestrian team, but that is not a deterrent to Michael. “They sponsor boxers and racecar drivers and other things and I’m hoping I can talk them into sponsoring me.”
Michael will graduate with a business degree and hopes to have a career as a professional rider. To continue his training in dressage, Michael transferred from Gainesville to Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, because the school is 30 minutes from Cesar’s barn in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey. “And they allowed me to take this semester off and take classes down at Palm Beach Community College.” So while he’s earning blue ribbons, Michael is also earning 12 credits. He rents a room two miles from Cesar’s winter barn in Jupiter, Florida.
Michael and Wallaby, A Strong Team
Michael feels that Wallaby will make a good horse for the Championships.
“He’s extremely eager to learn. You only have to tell him once when he does something wrong, or when he doesn’t understand something you only have to correct him once. Some horses it takes a week to get them to do something right if they’re doing it wrong but with Wally, you correct him and he’s doing it right.”
USA ‘O’ Judge Axel Steiner, one of the panel presiding over Michael’s
winning rides at the Zada/WEF Dressage Classic CDI, remarked, “Shondel with the big chestnut – international level class horse. Should do really well. Looking forward to seeing him progressing a little bit.”
Though Michael has been competing at this level for almost five years, he
feels that this year he is a true contender. “This is really my competitive
year. I worked my way up to this. It was still ‘learning’ back then.”
Mary Hilton for DressageDaily.com
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