Olympic Veteran, Canadian Bonny Bonnello Returns to Dressage After 20 Year Hiatus

Friday, April 23, 2010
Posted by bossmare

Bonny Bonnello and Pikardi stood out in the crowd this week at the Kentucky Dressage Cup CDI*** when they finished third in the Grand Prix and second in the Grand Prix Special with a personal best score of 70.292% putting the Canadian from the west coast near Vancouver on the radar for the Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games. She looked vaguely familiar to some, and now we know why! DressageDaily WEG and Olympic reporter Diana DeRosa got a chance to find out where she;s been and where she is headed in the near future.

Bonny Bonnello’s first vision of a horse was when she was just four years old.  It was when she was 28 that the then determined young lass decided to head off to a Theodorescu clinic on her horse thinking nothing of it.  Her mom took the journey with her and the message they got throughout that clinic was “you need a horse.”
Bonny recalls that day in 1978 very vividly.  “I had a Thoroughbred at the time and when I heard he was giving a clinic I decided to go and all he could say was, you need a horse.  My mother happened to be there at this show.  So we discussed it, my mother and I, because she was the greatest support of my family.  And so we decided to find me a horse.”

Before taking that Theodorescu clinic, Bonny had already been riding with Dr. O.B. Bode for six years before heading over to Germany in 1974 to study for six months at Herr von Neindorf’s Riding School.

She returned to Germany again at a later date looking for a horse and only rode one horse named Satchmo but at the time that horse was not for sale.  Ultimately the owner said that if someone purchased Satchmo with a goal of doing something with him then he would consider selling.  So, in 1978 Bonny had her first horse, and a special one at that.  She and Satchmo began training with Mr. George Theodorescu.  Satchmo stayed in Germany and she traveled back and forth and as their connection grew so did their potential.

Bonny laughs thinking back at how young and new to riding she was when she rode Satchmo.  “What did I know back then?  I thought he was a lovely horse but he wasn’t for sale and then the gentleman who owned him who I never met said that if the horse goes to someone who is going to do something with him then he would sell.”

In 1980 Bonny was named to the Canadian team and competed in the alternate Olympics in Goodwood, England and this time instead of going back to Germany she took Satchmo back to Canada with her.

“I think back and wonder how did I do that,” explained Bonny about being a member of the Canadian Olympic Team.  “Back then I just don’t know how I did it.  We were so green.  Anyway we did it and it was a wonderful experience.”

With success under her belt and a good horse with potential she continued training in Germany in 1981 with Johan Hinnemann.  Her goal was the 1982 World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland where she and Satchmo ended up placing 12th and it was at Aachen that same year that she won a freestyle.

Then in 1983 she had a new vision on the horizon and returned to Germany again in hopes of being named to the Canadian Olympic Team for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.   She succeeded in that endeavor and ended up winning the Canadian Grand Prix championship.   It was also in 1984 that she got her second mount, Falstaff, whom she nicknamed “Fred.”

In 1986 she and Falstaff earned a Team Silver Medal in the World Championships in Toronto.  And then one year later her son Billy was born.  She continued her travels and the commitment to the sport she loved until Billy turned 5 ½ and was headed off to school.  Then her priorities changed and she had a new goal to be there to raise her son.  So, for the past 20 years Bonny made sure her primary role was as a parent while managing to continue her love and passion for dressage closer to home where she’s trained horses, taught riders, given clinics and coached.

“I knew the kind of commitment it takes to compete at that level and knowing that I made a commitment to be home with my son,” she explained on a sunny day after she placed 2nd in the Dressage Test Events for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.  Even with a bobble at the end of her ride she and her horse put in such a stellar performance that the judges were truly impressed.

Back In The Saddle Again - Competing

Bonny was content with her life as a mom, but as her son grew older and more independent her passion for riding was revived.  In 2003, she started back in the show ring on a horse named “Ricky.”  Then in 2004 she found a young horse named Pikardi, which she co-owns with Jean and Bruce Bell.  With no goals in mind she took her time with the 16.3 HH, Canadian Warmblood, bay gelding who was born in 1997 and sired by Pointmaker, out of Delaney who was sired by Diamont.  It wasn’t until 2009 that they reached the grand prix level.

“I took him on as a project.  He was a little complicated and so I took my time.  He started to show some things I was very happy with and so I kept going with him,” she admitted.

It was shortly after that when she heard that Robert Dover was going to be training the Canadian Equestrian Team for the upcoming World Equestrian Games.  With his encouragement she spent the past winter competing in Florida.

“I never had really met Robert.  I knew of him of course.   When I heard he’d been chosen as our coach.  I thought that is wonderful.  We need someone who is enthusiastic.”

Then in the Fall Bonny took a clinic with Christopher Hess and he encouraged her to consider the World Equestrian Games.

She recalls thinking about whether or not she really wanted to do all the sacrifice and the commitment involved in competing at this level.  She also understood that it would not be just her sacrifice but her family and friends would be affected by her decision as well.  Christopher said something so profound that it left an impact.  He said, “You know you have this opportunity.  How can you not take it?”

After some soul searching Bonny decided to put the decision in Robert’s hands.  She wanted him to see her and the horse knowing how long she’d been away from the competitive scene.  If Robert gave his stamp of approval then she felt she could make the commitment.  

“I just didn’t want to do that to find out I was barking up the wrong tree,” she added.

It took some doing but ultimately Robert came to Canada to give a clinic and as Bonny puts it, “the rest is history.  I packed my bags right after Christmas, loaded everything up and the horses flew and my husband Fletcher and I drove down to Florida.”

Bonnie Bonnello and Pikardi at the 2010 Palm Beach Dressage Derby
Bonnie Bonnello and Pikardi at the 2010 Palm Beach Dressage Derby
She recalls Florida giving her the encouragement she needed.  “I had one of my best scores at the Palm Beach Dressage Derby.  That was my first qualifying score.  I knew I had a long way to go.  It was all very new.  He wasn’t always comfortable with all the changes that were happening but we kept improving,” she explained.

From Florida she and Pikardi headed straight to Lexington leaving behind the business she had at home.  As Bonny explained, “I have abandoned my business.  All my students are very happy for me and supportive.  They are desperate for me to be home but this will be a great investment in my future.

“Not only are they all my sacrifices but also for my family and friends.  It is comforting to know that they are as enthusiastic about the challenges ahead of us in our quest to make the Canadian Team.”

So now Bonny has a few things in the works.  She’ll be heading with other chosen Canadians to compete in Europe for two months and will be returning just in time to attend her son’s wedding on August 7th.    August is also when the team will be announced.  

After taking on the role as coach Robert has been very active and was there in Lexington watching Bonny and Pikardi perform in the Dressage Test Events.  He took a moment to say a few words about the 59 year old.

“Bonny is a wonderful rider and trainer who has many years of experience dating back to the Alternate Olympics in England and the Los Angeles Olympics which were my first Games as well. She has a beautifully classical position and both the physical and mental capabilities that one sees only in top international competitors in our sport.

“Bonny began this season after being out of the big sport for a long time and has evolved over the winter with her great horse, Pikardi, into a top combination and contender for the WEG Team. I wish them all the best of luck and will, just as I do for all our other contenders, everything I can to help and support them toward their goal.”
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