July 30, 2011 --?Another full day of intense dressage competition concluded Thursday as Juniors and Young Riders vied for Individual dressage medals at the Adequan/FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships (NAJYRC) in Lexington, KY.? In the Young Rider division of dressage, Isabelle Leibler rode Watson 108 (Region 8 ) to the gold medal, as Brandi Roenick and Pretty Lady (Region 5) claimed silver and Chase Hickok with Palermo (Region 1) earned bronze.? For Juniors, Region 6's Sadie Lahey and Up To Date P earned gold, with the silver medal being awarded to Sarah Loewen with Ricardo (Canada-Manitoba) and Monica Houweling and Stentano (Canada-West) receiving bronze in dressage.
There's no question that warmbloods are most riders' horse of choice for these championships.? However, among the sea of Hanoverians, Oldenburgs, and Dutch Warmbloods, two very different Junior mounts stood out this week for daring to dance on one of the North American continent's grandest dressage stages.? Although they may be considered among "non-traditional" dressage breeds, these horses had no knowledge of their being any different from their fellow mounts, and rewarded their riders' faith by giving them the ride of their lives in the Rolex Stadium and a Team Bronze Medal for Region 8.
Rachel Chowanec of Columbia, CT rides Lendon Gray's 13-year-old gray PRE gelding, Embrujado XI, (nicknamed Mouse) with which she has been partnered for 2 1/2 years.? "When we first looked at him, I didn't know anything about riding a baroque horse," Rachel admitted.? "He had a spooking problem, and our first year together was a little touch-and-go, but I've figured him out.? Now every time I ride him it's like coming home. "? Riding a 10-year-old Morgan mare is fellow Region 8 junior team member Ciara Cummiskey from Hope, RI.? Her father purchased Queen's Delilah for Ciara as a surprise seven years ago.? "She had been bred and originally trained to be a saddle-seat show horse," explained Ciara.? "So every time she goes in the ring, she knows it's 'show time', and wants people to look at her.? She's very flashy."
Both riders realize their horses are unlike their fellow competitors' warmblood mounts, but they embrace the qualities which make their partners special.? "Mouse has great athleticism, and collection is so easy for him," Rachel noted.? "Even though he's a smaller horse, people say he 'fills the arena' with his presence and personality."? Even though her mare can be on the sensitive side, Ciara loves Delilah's work ethic and willingness to please.? "She has all of the ability needed to do the movements for this level," Ciara said.? "I think her size makes it easier for me to manage her in the fast progression of movements of the actual test."? While Rachel and Ciara do ride other horses for experience, including warmbloods, both admit they prefer their smaller mounts and find their gaits easier to sit.? "I know that it helps to ride a variety of horses, but I'm always glad to get back on Delilah," noted Ciara.
Even though these riders appreciate their non-traditional dressage partners, Lendon Gray is well aware that they face an uphill battle at this elite level of the sport.? "We have to remember that all dressage rules and directives for judging are written with a warmblood in mind," explained Lendon Gray, owner of Mouse as well as being Rachel's trainer.? "Judges are learning to see the different qualities of these breeds who may not have the traditional movement.? Does it seem unfair that these horses can't get a 70% because they don't have the big movement?? Maybe, but that's the sport.? So these riders just have to work harder and be better to get the same scores.? There's nothing wrong with their learning this; you take what you have and do the best you can with it.? Meanwhile, they're getting tremendous experience and the priceless opportunity to be here at NAJYRC.? I know neither of these juniors would be willing to give up their current horses for a warmblood."
"I think the fact that my horse is different is actually an advantage, because people underestimate him," said Rachel.? Her team mate Ciara agreed, and hopes their horses can be an inspiration for others to take a chance on a non-traditional breed.? "By having more horses like ours competing at this level, hopefully we can start to change people's perceptions," she explained.? "Dressage doesn't have to be just about warmbloods."
Dressage at the NAJRYC resumes with freestyle competition on Saturday at 1pm ET.? Competition information, including schedules, live scoring, and results are available at www.youngriders.org.