“At the moment everything is amazing, I've dreamed of this and now I'm living it,” says Angela “Annie” Peavy who turns 18 next week and will represent the U.S. as an individual para-dressage rider at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, August 25-29.
Originally, slated to ride Lancelot Warrior, a 2002 Hanoverian (Londonderry x Waroness), she announced yesterday, that the gelding had sustained a corneal ulcer, which, although being successfully treated, will not have healed fully in time to travel to Europe with the team horses departing next week. She will substitute her reserve horse, Ozzy Cooper, a 2006 Trakehner gelding (Hibiskus x Okka).
Peavy competed both horses through the winter season and actually swapped placings with each at the 2014 USEF Para-Equestrian Selection Trials at Gladstone in June.
“I'm sad that Lance can't go but Ozzy is another great horse and our relationship has gotten stronger everyday, so I know he'll shine. Ozzy has a lot to teach me, plus he’s extremely fun to ride! I’m excited to take him to WEG.” Although self funded, Peavy will travel as part of the U.S. Team, along with her trainer, Heather Blitz.
Classified as a Grade III rider, Peavy was born with cerebral palsy, which affects her strength and coordination of her extremities on her left side. “It makes riding challenging because it’s hard to ask for certain movements with my left side.”
Peavy embarked on her para-dressage path with trainer Ann Guptill of Fox Ledge Farm in East Haddam, CT who guided Peavy to early success at Mystic Valley, CT shows to earning the top prize at Lendon Gray’s 2012 Youth Dressage Festival.
She now commutes two hours each way, five days per week to work with Heather Blitz at Cutler Farm Dressage, in Medfield, MA, whose focus on biomechanics has been key. Peavy topped the Grade III divisions at both CPEDI3* qualifiers in CA and FL.
“Heather always has something new for me to work on. She thinks of different ways to approach something if it's difficult for me,” says Annie. Peavy has also used Heather’s ties to Mary Wanless and her biomechanics approach for reinforcement. “The three times I've rode in a clinic with Mary, I walked away with more skills to use with my horses.”
Blitz also helped Annie find her two current horses, Lance and Ozzy Cooper, a 2006 Trakehner gelding (Hibiskus x Okka) through her contacts in Denmark, having lived there for four years.
“Annie’s training is focused on finding enough power in her body to keep her horses working correctly back to front and to step into the rein contact. Everyday we work to get Annie more and more plugged in and matching the forces of her horses' movement,” says Blitz.
Parallel Bar is High
Grade III is a difficult division where tests require more collection and movements of counter canter, rein backs, turn on the haunches, plus trot and canter mediums. Unlike, Grades I and II, trainers are not allowed to ride a competitor’s horse during competition.
Fortunate to have two mounts, it still takes a lot of stamina to train and compete both over the multiple day CPEDI formats, in all kinds of weather.
“Going into the trials, Lance and I were doing very well together in training, so part of me expected Lance to come out ahead of Ozzy and he did. However, Ozzy always likes to shine too and he beat Lance two of three days. I was extremely proud of both of them, they both performed beautifully,” Annie says.
Heather has a huge respect for the para-dressage riders in all grades.
“They have challenges unique to themselves for which there aren't exactly manuals written to guide them. Finding appropriate horses is a much bigger challenge than it is for able bodied riders since the horse has to be able to handle the particular disability, PLUS be a talented enough athlete to be competitive.”
In Europe, the para riders are incredibly competitive, she points out. “Our program in the U.S. needs to move up to that level. Our riders are eager and interested in international success. We need riders, good horses, trainers and financial support to make that happen and I want to do what I can to promote all of that,” Heather says.
"I love dressage because I'm never finished, there's always more to learn," Annie says. " The most difficult thing is my pilates trainer, Cynthia Frelund, is very tough!"
“Keeping riders focused on their own bodies before trying to correct the horse's body is the first step. Biomechanics between the horse's body and the rider's body is the detailed information necessary for riders to affect their horses properly without causing the problems they're trying to fix,” says Blitz. She finds the method works equally well for para riders or able bodied riders. “The physics and body awareness I focus on works on all riders the same way. Kinda like gravity works on ALL apples,” says Heather.
“I've seen Annie's body become much stronger and symmetrical over the year that I've been helping her with this. Consequently, all the horses she rides are improving vastly.”
As a trainer, Blitz thoroughly enjoys helping Annie with her goals. “She's a super hard worker, doesn't complain or feel sorry for herself and has made a tremendous amount of improvement in just one year. I look forward to many more years with her and also, seeing her compete in able bodied JR/Young Rider competitions coming up after WEG.”
“As a parent you never know what adventure you will get to be a part of,” says Annie’s mother Rebecca Reno. Reno has enjoyed the chance to meet so many other para athletes and their families.
“At Gladstone, I loved seeing the high level of athleticism mixed with so much love for the riders and their horses. This is fun sport that teaches a lot of grace and humility along the way.” Her family is excited to be involved at a time when para-dressage is really finding its feet in America and growing.
Supporting Annie headed to Normandy is a personal family thrill but also helps lay the foundation for up and coming hopeful riders. “The U.S. Team is so incredibly lucky to have veteran riders who can lead the new strong, young women on the team,“ notes Reno.
After Normandy, Peavy plans to compete at Regional Championships for the Junior test. Next winter, she hopes to compete in Young Riders, as well as continuing para competitions with the goal of the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. She is a great example of the parallel meaning and spirit para athletes embody. Peavy seeks to be the best all around rider and horsewoman she can be.