Wellington, Fla. – The U.S. Para-Equestrian Dressage Team had a strong showing at the 2019 Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) in Wellington, Fla. on January 18-19. The team consisted of Rebecca Hart (Wellington, Fla.), Kate Shoemaker (Peoria, Ariz.), Deborah Stanitski (Charleston, S.C.)., and Roxanne Trunnell (Wellington, Fla.).
The team competed in two tests – the FEI Team Test on Friday and the FEI Individual Test on Saturday – which each counted 50% toward the overall team score. The U.S. Para-Equestrian Dressage Team had a total score of 434.312%.
Michel Assouline, USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage Technical Advisor and Head of Coach Development, was on hand this week to lead the U.S. Para-Dressage Team.
“I’m really pleased that we’ve got three riders on [scores of] 72, 73, 74 [percent], especially knowing it was not perfect,” said Assouline. “It never is perfect, but even then, they are starting there. If that’s the baseline, I’m really, really optimistic. They’ve all got good horses and the riding is improving. We have a good network of coaches. That’s probably one of the biggest differences. They have a strong home team behind them and they’ve got a system.”
Leading the team was Shoemaker and her own Solitaer 40, a 11-year-old Hanoverian stallion. In Friday’s Grade IV Team Test they scored a personal best of 74.208%. Another personal best came in Saturday’s Grade IV Individual Test with a 73.252%. Both tests were also the high scores of the day.
“Coming into the [2018 FEI World Equestrian Games™ Tryon 2018 (WEG)] last fall, we had a huge breakthrough in our balance,” said the FEI WEG Tryon 2018 Grade IV Freestyle bronze medalist. “It came down to the timing of the aids. It was a little too green to get it in the show arena. I’m absolutely delighted with this weekend because this was the first time where I’ve gotten the balance in the arena and he stayed with me the whole time. He listened throughout the whole test. This was a huge career highlight for me, in terms of rideability for my horse.”
Shoemaker was very pleased with not only her performance but how the team came together for their success.
“Overall I’m really excited with the direction the whole program is going,” she said. “We have new staff, [with] Michel Assouline coming in adding new programs and emphasis on coaching and helping us from the grassroots up. It comes from the training, the training turns into the showing, and the showing creates the results. It’s showing from the riders at the beginning all the way up to the elite riders.”
Another rider with a personal best on Friday was Shoemaker’s FEI WEG Tryon 2018 teammate, Rebecca Hart, on El Corona Texel, Rowan O’Reilly’s nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding. They won both the Grade III Team Test on 72.794% and Saturday’s Grade III Individual Test with a 69.088%.
“It’s been nice to get back in there and brush the dust off,” said Hart of her first time back in the show ring since WEG. “There are things I want to improve and things we have improved. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season and moving forward. Now that I’m starting to know him better and we can trust each other in the ring, we can ask for that touch more of expression and a little bit more energy and power. We were able to get that in the ring yesterday and still keep everything harmonious and flowing the way that we wanted it to. I just want to keep going on that trend with him and building off of that feeling because it felt amazing.”
Hart, who has competed in para-dressage since 1998 and won silver in the Grade III Freestyle and bronze in the Grade III Team Test at the FEI WEG Tryon 2018, is excited as well about the recent direction of the U.S. team. “The structure behind us now is absolutely phenomenal,” she remarked. “To have so much support and guidance from the USEF, USOC, and the FEI, to have all of that coming to fruition now as our sport is becoming medal contention-worthy, and we’ve actively got depth of riders, it’s nice to have that very specific qualitative information from the USEF. You know exactly where you need to improve, where you stand, and they give you a plan on how to do that.”
The third U.S. teammate from the FEI WEG Tryon 2018, Roxanne Trunnell, piloted Dolton, Kate Shoemaker’s six-year-old Hanoverian gelding, to wins in Friday’s Grade I Team Test with a score of 73.690% and Saturday’s Grade I Individual Test on a 73.115%.
Trunnell felt that her first outing in 2019 with her WEG partner Dolton was strong.
“He was a very good boy. It felt really good,” she said. “The halt [was the strongest]. He’s starting to learn to be nice and square. It means a lot to win both classes, especially with a young horse. We’re working really hard to make everything perfect.”
Riding on her first-ever U.S. team, Stanitski rode Skovlunds De Nice, her 12-year-old Danish Warmblood mare, to scores of 65.238% in the Grade I Team Test and 64.286% in the Grade I Individual Test.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Stanitski, who has been riding her horse since September 2018. “We all think she has great potential, but we haven’t figured out the appropriate buttons yet. I was her first Para rider. It’s a totally different ride [from my old horse]. I’m rediscovering the learning curve with a new horse.”
“We had a good start,” said Assouline. “We have our three [2018 FEI World Equestrian Games] riders already in the 70s, which is what we were aiming for, so that’s good. There’s more that we can do.”
Along with the team riders, the U.S. fielded another nine riders at the competition, showing a strong presence of para-dressage riders in international competition.
Riders will return to the ring for the final day of competition and their individual FEI Freestyle tests at the AGDF on Sunday.
The USEF International High Performance Programs are generously supported by the USET Foundation, USOC, and USEF Sponsors and Members.