Victoria, Australia - Multiple storm delays with tornado type winds, lightening, torrential rain and flooding at the Werribee Park National Equestrian Centre, outside Melbourne did not deter Team USA from completing three out of four Individual Test rides with top results. “These Para riders are tough,” commented Hope Hand, President of the USPEA.org, who along with Chef Missy Ransenhousen and USEF Director Pam Lane helped coordinate this long distance success story for Team USA to clinch another gold medal catch-riding, this time against forty Para Dressage riders with Australia claiming silver, New Zealand bronze, and Japan placing fourth. Donna Ponessa, Grade Ia, swept her division all three days, as did Grade II rider Erin Alberda from Woodinville, WA, who scored a 71.5 on her freestyle. Becca Hart of Unionville, PA also topped both her Grade II classes.
Due to the extreme weather, Hart rode her Individual Test on the last day indoors in lieu of her freestyle. Mary Jordan of Wells, ME took second out of 14 entries in all three Grade IV tests, finishing just behind reigning Australian champion Hannah Dodd of New South Wales.
To achieve top international results is all the more remarkable as the U.S. riders had only days to find and try out suitable horses. All the riders doff their hats both to Hope Hand, USPEA president for her relentless "pit bull" attitude in her quest to secure such high caliber horses for every team member and to Chef Missy Ransenhousen for coaching the team to an international high.
Catch Riders Rely on Guts and Generosity
Donna Ponessa was thrilled with the chance to borrow Don Armani, a Donnerhall grandson, who is Grand Prix trained and competes Prix St George and Intermediare 1. "I am very grateful to his owner Setsuko Miike of Melbourne and trainer Charlotte Pedersen of Hill Cottage Dressage Centre of Macedon for having confidence in my ability and allowing me to ride this amazing horse."
Donna’s determination deeply impressed Pedersen. "She did a fantastic job with Ralphy (Don Armani) I nearly had tears in my eyes seeing her ride him in the test." Ponessa also gives credit and hearty thanks to her own trainer, Wes Dunham, of Woodstock Stables, NY. "Wes was willing to travel and work with me down under. Under his guidance I posted some of my best international scores ever."
Mary Jordan had nothing but praise for her borrowed mount, Northern Charmer, Charm for short. The bay warmblood mare, a homebred, was loaned by Dr. Adrian and Elaine Castellini, a veterinarian and his wife from Mt. Evelyn. The horse had competed Intermediare 2 and Jordan said she had all the moves with a great mind and a heart of gold. "Her owners couldn't have been nicer. People are really willing to make things happen. They brought over all their tack, horse, left me their trailer, shampoo, brushes feed etc. Unreal and kind!"
Riders Hart and Alberda shared another Hill Cottage Dressage horse, Southern Cross Tamaris, owned by Adele Plumrigde from Seville,Victoria. While the 14-year-old Hanoverian mare carried both to first place Championships, trainer Pedersen gave the riders high marks saying, "Becca and Erin coped very well with Tammy who can be a bit of a Madame."
Pedersen admired all the para riders for their courage riding strange horses. "It's hard enough for an abled body rider getting on a strange horse, let alone to do it with a disability." She was also very proud of how her horses worked with and accepted the riders. Although Pedersen has taught a few para riders, it was her first time at a competition. "I found the standard very high,which I did not expect. "She was pleased another student of hers did well in Grade III. "To me it does not matter if they ride GP or grade 1a, I find it very rewarding as long as they get something out of what you teach them."
A world away, the high competitive standard of para dressage continues to spark interest and our U.S. riders, trainers and support crew make good ambassadors as Pedersen acknowledged, "It was a great experience to work with the U.S. Team. They were a very professional. It was great fun to be part of and I would like to do more of it."
Ground jury: Ulf Wilken (SWE), Kjell Myhre (NOR), Jan Geary (AUS), Sue Cunningham (AUS), Wendy Barker (AUS)