By US Equestrian Communications Department
Para dressage athletes closed out an exciting weekend of competition at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) with a full session of musical freestyles on Sunday morning, putting their final scores in the books for the CPEDI3* competition. After two sweltering June days, the athletes and their teams enjoyed a mild sunny day to showcase their tests.
Friday’s Individual Test scores and Saturday’s Team Test scores were combined with Sunday’s FEI Para Dressage Freestyle Test scores at a ratio of 40%, 40%, and 20%, respectively, to determine individual winners for the CPEDI3*.
Beatrice de Lavalette (Loxahatchee, Fla.) and Sixth Sense, Elizabeth and Nicolas de Lavalette’s 2010 Oldenburg gelding, performed a Grade II Freestyle to a soundtrack that included music from the movie Madagascar and choreography that showed off the striking dark bay gelding’s impressive movement. They were rewarded with a score of 75.945%, a new personal best.
“I’ve had ‘Sensei’ since December, so it’s a new partnership,” said de Lavalette. “It started really well, and then kind of went down because he learned that he could take advantage of some stuff that I couldn’t do. But ever since we went to Europe in April to do two competitions there, and what we experienced there, we’ve built back up to the partnership. Clearly today, it showed, and it’s been a really good month of training hard. He did his job, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
De Lavalette also brought her 2020 Tokyo Paralympics horse, Clarc, to Tryon. She says her two top geldings have some similarities, but are also unique.
“Sensei is a little different in the sense that he’s more active,” she said. “He’s still a little lazy like Clarc. That’s my type of horse, apparently! But he’s got a bigger essence. I’ve learned so much from him that I can use with Clarc, and it’s made a huge difference in both of the horses.
“I’m so proud of [Sensei],” de Lavalette continued. This is only the second time we’ve done this freestyle. We put the music and the choreography together, did it in Europe, and it went well. So today was definitely a highlight. I’m so proud of both of the boys. They were just great.”
Kate Shoemaker (Wellington, Fla.) finished in second place in the CPEDI3* with Solitaer 40, the 2007 Hanoverian gelding she co-owns with her parents, Craig and Deena Shoemaker. Shoemaker and ‘Soli’ have literally been around the world together, with a competition record that includes representing the U.S. at the FEI World Equestrian Games in 2018 and the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
“He’s my boy that I can trust. Whatever the circumstances are, he’ll go in there and he’ll get it done,” said Shoemaker. “What I liked about this weekend is each day, he was able to get a little bit better. He’s a trier. I just love him.”
For Shoemaker and Soli, this competition at the TIEC was a homecoming of sorts. After strong showings in the FEI Grade IV Team and Individual Tests, they concluded their competition by performing a meaningful freestyle to music from the Jurassic Park soundtrack, scoring a 75.683%.
“This weekend was kind of full circle for us because we rode our WEG 2018 Tryon freestyle for only the second time since WEG,” said Shoemaker. “As he was doing the test you could tell he was just like, ‘This is my song!’ That was a really special moment for us, to be in the arena and bring that full circle here this weekend.”
This CPEDI3* serves as the final observation event ahead of team selection for the 2022 FEI Para Dressage World Championship, which will take place in August in Herning, Denmark. The team members will be selected in July. USEF Para Dressage Chef d’Equipe Michel Assouline is optimistic about the pool of American athletes heading into this championship.
“We have some decent scores and a lot of consistency,” said Assouline. “We have three riders with two horses, which is another luxury. In the past, we didn’t have that scenario where some riders had a backup horse, but we’ve got at least three now.”
This weekend’s competition was an important one in preparation for Herning, Assouline said, and will help the athletes as they train over the coming weeks.
“Judges know we are moving towards the world championship, so they tend to be very specific [with their feedback] which will help the riders,” said Assouline. “They will all go home with a good plan in mind. I’m very happy because we’ve got at least four or five solid combinations with the world championship in mind.
“I’m absolutely grateful for us being in this fantastic facility,” Assouline said of the TIEC. “It’s a good stage here. There’s a lot happening—some signs and flags and music. You need to test your horses in that environment. This is really made possible by Perrigo, which has been an amazing backer for us, which gives us more opportunity to present our horses on that sort of stage.”
Remembering Hope Hand
JJust days before the Tryon competition, the U.S. Para Dressage community lost one of its most dedicated and beloved members, Hope Hand. Hand was the founder and president of the U.S. Para Equestrian Association and was instrumental in elevating the sport in the U.S. She was a successful para dressage athlete in her own right, having been the alternate for the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta and Team Captain for the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney.
“The Para Dressage community world-wide has lost a legend and a true friend,” said Laureen Johnson, US Equestrian Director of Para Dressage. “Hope Hand not only knew every U.S. para dressage athlete from emerging to elite but recruited many of them into the program. Hope was available 24/7 to everyone to advise, encourage and educate them on their journey to be the very best version of themselves professionally and personally. She is well known in the equestrian world for her tireless work in advancing para equestrian sport and has served on numerous boards and committees, all in the pursuit of bringing competition excellence to the U.S. in para dressage. Personally, I have lost a great mentor and friend. She is truly irreplaceable with her extraordinary energy and warm, caring heart. Her beautiful smile, witty personality and laugh will always remain in my heart and mind.”
Athletes and friends paid tribute to Hope Hand with a remembrance after the freestyles on Sunday. Seventeen-year-old para dressage athlete Andie Sue Roth led her horse, Aniko, to center ring as a riderless horse as the assembled crowd observed a moment of silence.