By Lynndee Kemmet for DressageDaily
Tara Stegen can tell you the exact time she learned she had been invited to compete in the Exquis World Dressage Masters CDI***** competition – 8:55 p.m. on January 6. "I got the email at five minutes before nine on Tuesday night. I was shocked and very, very excited," she said.
After she calmed down, she got on the phone and started calling her family and friends. "I swear I wore a path in my carpet from my office to my bedroom. I was talking to so many people and was still so excited that I just couldn't sit still. To be invited to something this special is just very, very cool," Stegen said.
Stegen became one of the 20 riders invited to the Exquis World Dressage Masters CDI***** after Leslie Morse opted not to come. The event will be held Jan. 29-31 in Wellington and riders will be competing for prize money that totals $144,000. The competition brings together many of the world's best riders and Stegen is now among them.
"We knew that the U.S. would be allowed six riders and since it's a five-star CDI, the invitations go by world ranking. They start issuing invitations to those at the top of the list and if someone doesn't come, then they move down the list. I always knew I had a chance to be invited. It just depended on how many people ahead of me on the list accepted an invitation," Stegen said.
From Childhood Eventer to Dressage Masters Competitor
Stegen grew up in the Northwest and as a youngster competed in eventing, show jumping and dressage. She trains with Robert Dover, but also spent time in Europe training with Sjef Janssen and Anky van Grunsven. Van Grunsven will be competing in the Dressage Masters competition and hosting a clinic on Friday. Stegen is excited for the opportunity to see both her and Janssen, partly because it was from Janssen that she bought New Tango, the horse she'll ride in the Dressage Masters competition.
"Sjef hasn't seen New Tango do the Grand Prix so this will be the first time and that's very exciting for me," Stegen said. New Tango is a 14-year-old KWPN gelding that she has owned since he was two. "His sire is Contango. He and Ravel, Steffen's partner, are half brothers. New Tango and I have had a long career together. I've taken him from green broke all the way to Grand Prix and when we finally got to Grand Prix, that was a huge accomplishment for me."
New Tango's nickname is Nash, named after the television character Nash Bridges, played by Don Johnson. "He just seemed a lot like that Don Johnson character," Stegen said.
"He represented the U.S. at the World Young Dressage Horse Championships when he was six years old and he was a second alternate for the 2003 Pan Am team. I trained and competed with him in Europe when he was five and six and that's when I was with Anky and Sjef."
Stegen is planning to return to Europe this summer and sees the Dressage Masters competition as a stepping stone to that goal. "I competed in Europe when I was there years ago, but never at the Grand Prix. I think competing in the Masters will help prepare me for being against the really big riders that I'll run into in Europe.
I guess you could say this is my final education before heading to Europe to compete at Grand Prix."
Competing in such a prestigious event as the Dressage Masters isn't just a dream come true for Stegen. It's one shared by her family and friends. "This has been a huge thing for my parents – Barbara and Gil. I wouldn't have Nash and I wouldn't have my barn if not for them.
They live here in Florida now and so it's so exciting to be able to share this with them. Some of their closest friends are flying in from Seattle, where I grew up, to watch me. This is really a family affair. It's been a life-long dream for my parents to see me get this far."