Successful Equitation Finals at the 2004 MSEDA Championship & Breeders Classic

Saturday, September 18, 2004

By Amber Heintzberger

From around the country, Junior dressage riders traveled to the Kentucky Horse Park for the second annual Dressage Seat Medal Finals on September 12, continuing a legacy begun last August during the Northeast Junior/Young Rider Championships in Darien, Connecticut. This year the Finals were held during the MSEDA Championship & Breeders Classic.

Developed largely by rider and trainer Lendon Gray the Finals are meant to promote and reward excellence in equitation, including correct seat, position and use of the aids in the discipline of dressage. It is conducted as a group class in which riders walk, trot and canter in both directions as a group and then may be asked to individually perform movements such as leg yielding and lengthenings, as well as work without stirrups. This year the 14-and-over riders rode their individual tests without stirrups, while the thirteen-and-unders kept their stirrups.

Since the focus is on the rider, competitors are allowed to borrow horses, which also makes it easier for riders to travel long distances to participate. The winner of the 14-and-older division, Jaclyn Meinen, traveled from orange County, CA to compete on Susan Posner’s Touchee, (Leonidas x Antritt), a seven-year-old Trakehner mare that also won at third level with Posner in the saddle the morning of the finals.

Since Posner, of Lexington, broke her arm in a car wreck in which someone plowed into her and flipped her SUV off of an embankment, her daughter Kristin kept Touchee and the rest of a barn full of horses in training all summer.

Meinen spent the week before the show developing a partnership with the mare, with the help of Posner and Freestyle developer Cynthia Collins, who helped arrange the partnership.

“She is an uncomplicated horse,” said Collins. “They really became a team this week.”

Meinen spent last summer at the International Academy in Warendorf, Germany and trains with Hilda Gurney in California. “Going to Germany opened my eyes and I really buckled down and focused after that,” she said. “Hilda has been a huge encouragement,” she added. “My own horse needed a lot of training so she is also the one who suggested that I ride a borrowed horse in the Finals. I basically took a year off of other showing and focused on this.”

Meinen continued, “I think this is a cool program. A lot of dressage is about the horse. This is a good chance to focus on yourself and become a team with the horse.”

High Aspirations

Julia Warstler, from Dryden, Michigan was the reserve champion last summer and this year returned to win the thirteen-and-under finals on her 10-year-old, 13.3hh New Forest Pony, Zippity-Do-Da.

Warstler guessed that she would place well, but confided, “There were three or four other riders I knew I had to watch. I definitely was not sure how I’d finished until they announced second place.”

Warstler is home schooled so that she has time to ride and train, spending winters in Florida to focus on horses. She just started competing at fourth level and is training the Prix St. Georges movements. In the summer she trains with Judy Kelly and in the winter with Susan Dutta.

The afternoon was hot and her pony was shedding a little extra hair, so Warstler scratched from her 4th level test one class in the morning to save her pony’s energy for the equitation class, which took over an hour to complete. “I didn’t want to be rushed and I didn’t want my pony to be tired,” she explained.

Though she is already schooling Intermediaire-1, Warstler is not old enough to qualify in the FEI Junior Championships, though she can ride the tests at regular competition. Eventually she would like to ride in the Jr. Championships and then the NAYRC’s.

“I’m going to Devon next week, which means that I can’t do our regionals to qualify for next year anyway,” she said pragmatically. “I have had a great time this weekend, though. I made a lot of friends and had a lot of fun.”

Working to Achieve her Dream

Ana DiGeronimo, a working student of Lendon Gray, took the reserve championship home riding her 12-year-old KWPN gelding Cadanz, by Cabochon out of Raminova. She qualified last summer on Ballywhim Arden Mor, Gray’s Connemara stallion, but his usual rider Jessica Rizzi returned from training in Germany and is now competing him again. DiGeronimo rode the stallion last year in the championships to a third place finish.

“I have been working a lot on my lower leg,” she said, explaining her preparation for this year’s finals. “I am only 5’2” tall so I want to appear taller on the horse. I get tense and I have to learn to stay relaxed. To have my leg stay still and effective and have my upper body correct is tough for me, especially with my upper body so close to my legs!”

DiGeronimo’s mother, Debbie D’Orazio, said that her daughter works hard and makes a lot of sacrifices for her riding. “She has spent the last two summers at Lendon’s sweating for twelve hours a day when her friends were out swimming,” she said. “She trains hard all winter too, going out to the barn after school, and has dedicated her whole life to this.”

D’Orazio works four jobs to help support her daughter’s riding, and hopes that Ana can find some sponsorship eventually. “She has been riding since age three and has tried different things like dancing, modeling and gymnastics, but she loves to ride. I’m so glad she did well this weekend– she deserves it and I’m so proud of her"

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