Mexico City - The U.S. Para Dressage Team is dedicated to making it happen. Traveling to compete is the only way to raise the U.S. ranking in the FEI standings to secure slots for the 2012 London Paralympics. With only three riders and no drop score, all catch riding on horses they met just days prior, U.S. Team members Donna Ponessa, Jonathan Wentz and Dale Dedrick scored consistently to secure the gold and place high in their respective divisions among the five nations that competed: Argentina, Mexico, Norway, United States and Venezuela.
Green is the blue ribbon color in Mexico and Ponessa from New Windsor, NY collected green wins in all three Grade 1a tests, while Wentz from Richardson, TX collared green all three days in Grade 1b and finished second overall. Dedrick of Ann Arbor, MI placed third in the Team, second to Mexican rider Erika Baitenmann in the individual, and third in the freestyle to claim Reserve Champion for Grade II.
High Stakes Catch Riding
“The show was an amazing experience, unlike anything we've ever had in the U.S.,” said Wentz. “Being my first show out of the country, dealing with shuttles, language barriers and other things made me feel much more prepared for the situation I will, hopefully, have in London in 2012.”
“I want to thank Kai Handt for being an awesome trainer and Chef, Erica Baitenmann for letting me ride her outstanding horse Ariello. At 18.2 hands, he was perfect for someone as tall as me. He had international gaits and was extremely forgiving.”
Wentz said it was immensely helpful to see how he ranked against riders from all over the Americas and Europe. “It's tough to ride on borrowed horses but each day saw the riders understand their horses more and more. Since almost all the riders were on borrowed horses we were all on level playing field.”
Ponessa embraced the challenge of "catch riding" and working with her trainer, Wes Dunham, to come up with a strategy to win on her new mount Gecko. For Para riders, traveling always comes with added hurdles of mobility. “At first, I was intimidated being in a foreign country where I barely spoke the language, that was barely wheelchair accessible (I had to use my manual chair), relates Ponessa.
It was empowering to turn that intimidation into positive energy and get the job done. The ultimate honor was to represent the USA. I couldn't have been more proud as the national anthem played! The chance to do it again can't come soon enough.” Ponessa also has her sights set on London 2012.
For dressage trainer Rosiland Kinstler, having Para rider Dale Dedrick in her barn gives her an opportunity to be directly involved with the High Performance scene and International Competitions that otherwise would most likely not be possible. “While I'd love to be doing it myself, I simply don't have access to the caliber of horse required in the open ranks. I've always tried to ride, train and teach to the very highest quality I can, so that if an opportunity was offered, I'd be up to the challenge. Para Dressage is opening that window in a way I never expected.”
Mexico Creates A Top Shelf Event
A highly competitive Grade II rider herself, Erica Baitenmann provided the U.S. Team with some of the best horses ever shown by Americans. All the U.S. Team riders and trainers express their gratitude to the red carpet hospitality and organization shown by Mexican Equestrian Federation. They worked extremely hard to meet every rider's needs by providing catering for meals, five star lodging, shuttles for transport, fun events and parties.
All the participants had only rave reviews for the newly constructed venue, Rancho San Juan, calling it world class with unbelievable mountain views and for Reni Baitenmann for organizing and executing the best CPEDI yet. “The Mexican people were so welcoming to all Nations,” reported Hope Hand, President of the USPEA.org. She foresees a life long relationship that will eventually lead into the Pan American Games for Para. “We have big plans for the future,” Hand said.
Ground Jury: President Carlos Lopes (POR), Anne Prain (FRA), Lorraine Stubbs (CAN), Katherina Luchesi (ITA), Duska Markotic (MEX), Marco Orsini (GER), Karina Amoros (MEX).