Saugerties, N.Y. – A 13-year- old Hanoverian mare left adrift after tragedy took the life of her owner and rider, found a new young friend and rider through corporate kindness. And this new partnership forged out of loss is finding success in the dressage show ring, including earning a reserve championship at this past weekend’s Youth Dressage Festival.
Messina RH had a budding dressage career in the Southeast with her owner Susan J. Bruns. When Bruns got a job with The ARK at JFK, an animal import/export center at John F. Kennedy Airport on Long Island, she brought Messina north with her and moved her into a stall at The ARK while she hunted for a boarding barn for the mare. Messina was still living at The ARK when Bruns suddenly passed away in late February from an aortic aneurysm leaving Messina essentially a ward of The ARK. She spent the rest of the winter living at The ARK while ARK CEO John Cuticelli sought to find the right situation for the mare.
With the help of Lendon Gray, Cuticelli was connected to Marie Banks and Alice Petersen, two sisters who operate Blue Ribbon Farm, a dressage training facility in Calverton, New York. A deal was struck in which the sisters would care for Messina, continue her dressage training and match her to a young rider in need of a mount. Cuticelli agreed to support Messina and the chosen young rider through sponsorship by The ARK. The lucky young rider was 15-year- old Catherine Kwasnik who, Banks said, has shown her dedication to riding through many years of hard work but never had the opportunity to have her own horse.
“Kate has bounced from horse to horse because she doesn’t have one of her own. So, she’s ridden a lot of different horses but never had the opportunity to bring one along,” Banks said. Banks said Messina and Kwasnik are a perfect match because they are both sweet-natured and soft.
“This whole situation is a fantastic opportunity, especially for a rider who can’t afford a horse. Messina is a fantastic horse. She is easy and relaxed about everything but at the same time has the talent to be competitive, which really helps a rider who is at a financial disadvantage go out there and compete and get involved in the sport. That’s why we also love the Youth Dressage Festival. It’s in the same kind of spirit.”
It was perhaps fitting that after Gray helped connect Messina and Kwasnik one of their first major events was Lendon’s Youth Dressage Festival, held August 11-13 at HITS-on- the-Hudson in Saugerties, New York. The pair earned reserve championship in their age division for Training Level. Kwasnik and Messina only started showing together in June.
“Our first show we scored only a 55 percent in Training Level but we were just getting to know each other and Messina was just getting settled into being back in work,” Kwasnik said. But the pair improved rapidly as the summer went on, even earning a high-score award in July. “Now all we need is one more qualifying score and we’ll make it to the regionals,” Kwasnik said. Their next show is in late August and Kwasnik hopes it will get them into this year’s U.S. Dressage Federation Region 8 Championships being held at HITS in late September. Either way, Kwasnik, who spends nearly every day at Blue Ribbon Farm helping out and working with the horses, feels that having the ride on Messina is a dream come true.
“I am very grateful,” the young rider said. “She is a wonderful horse. Before, I rode different horses and I learned a lot from each but it makes such a difference to have a horse that you can work with consistently.”
The high-school sophomore, who lists math as her favorite subject, said she is hopeful that she’ll be able to continue working with Messina for the next several years. Her ultimate goal is to qualify with the mare for the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships. “I would love to qualify for the Championships. I think that would be so cool if one day I could go there with Messina.”
For his part, Cuticelli said he could not be more proud of both Messina and Kwasnik. “I am excited to see the progress Catherine and Messina have made in their short time together. The entire ARK team is proud to sponsor such grace, dedication and enthusiasm. Catherine shows great promise and we are happy to be part of her success.”