Jonathan Wentz, age 20, from Richardson, TX and Sydney Collier, age 13, from Michigan had to draft their music and choreography long distance but pulled off a successful and impressive Freestyle to open the final phase of the North American Junior and Young Rider Dressage Championships making a bid for para equestrians to be included in the NAJYRC in the future. Wentz rode as the youngest member of the four member USA Team at the 2010 Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games piloting NTEC Richter Scale, a Shire Cross owned by Kai Handt, to an 11th place finish in the WEG Freestyle. "I have a tremendous desire to grow my sport and give younger para riders opportunities that I didn’t have. Para means parallel and it would be a tremendous step toward parallel levels of opportunity to have Para dressage added to NAJYRC," says Wentz.
Wentz also placed first all three days with NTEC Richter Scale, earning the Grade IB Champion, at the Dressage Affaire in Del Mar, CA CPEDI** in March 2011. "Richter has the laid back attitude of a draft and the competitive drive of a thoroughbred making him the perfect blend!" says Wentz of the big bay gelding. Wentz has cerebral palsy and rides with two whips as compensatory aids and Velcro to stabilize his legs but not much stops his dedication to riding and improving his skills in the saddle or on the ground caring for horses as a working student for Handt. Jonathan attends Southern Methodist University in Dallas, majoring in History, Political Science, & Anthropology.
Currently, at the top of the US riders on the FEI ranking list, Wentz has earned qualifying scores on two different horses for the 2012 Paralympics. He plans to take two horses to the USEF Para Dressage Championships and CPEDI*** in next month, September 16-18, in Saugerties, NY.
As a member of the USEF Youth Council representing the USPEA for Para Equestrians, Wentz worked with Joanie Morris of the USEF to get Para Dressage included as a demo/test event at this year’s NAJYRC.
"Being a part of the NAJYRC was a great experience. Getting to meet and know riders my same age with parallel goals of developing into top riders in their sport is not something I experience in para dressage." He describes how currently Para-dressage is one of the hardest events in which to develop as a rider.
"Para riders only have two levels at which they can ride. They can either compete at the top level as an FEI international rider, which only about 5% of riders in the other disciplines ever reach, or they can show locally at schooling shows and recognized shows for fun." He says showing locally can be difficult if your area is not use to or open to adding para classes to their shows, while showing at the international level is a huge time and financial commitment, which limits the number of riders involved.
"Showing locally doesn't offer any goals to aim toward other than personal improvement," says Wentz. As a result, he feels a lot of riders are scared away from the sport or are not motivated.
"I feel that having goals for riders to achieve is vital for the US to develop a top tier team. A Young Rider Para program with the goal of qualifying for the NAJYRC, would give Junior and Young Para riders a place to compete and qualify for a championship event here in the US," he says. He feels strongly about creating a framework and opportunity for others.
"This would serve as a step toward making the decision of whether to continue and develop as an International Para Dressage rider with goals of one day competing aboard and making the US Para Dressage Team for a Paralympics."
Into The Future
Inspired by Jonathan and following in his hoof steps, Sydney Collier, age 13 found Jonathan via Face Book. She traveled to WEG last fall to watch him compete and was wowed by international scope of para dressage. A former event rider with her pony, Collier sudden vision problems, led to diagnosis of AVMs that required multiple brain surgeries and radiation. Collier also suffered a stroke that left her left side compromised.
Undeterred, Collier regularly competes against able-bodied riders but believes the High Performance Para Equestrian program run jointly through the USPEA and USEF offers more serious training and competitive goals for more young riders who wish to advance beyond therapeutic riding.
On her steady newer mount, Rebel Chip, Sydney uses looped reins that are easier to grasp and magnetic stirrup pads to keep her foot in place. Horses are her motivating force and she, in turn, garners tremendous support from her community, instructors and regular sponsors that help her on her quest and made the trip to the Rolex stadium a reality. “We were very excited to show our riding skills and very keen to be included in the Championships in the future. Chip and I are pleased and honored to be representing Grade 2 Para Riders,” says Sydney.
Much like their counterparts, these dedicated young riders are great role models. Para Dressage would add an inspiring dimension to the NAJYRC. The competitive spirit, hard work, and perseverance of Para Riders fit the ideals of this event, while giving a grander purpose and view to sport.