A disappointing performance and a 10th-placed finish in the USEF High Performance Grand Prix didn’t stop Arlene Page and Wild One from rising to victory in the USEF High Performance Grand Prix Special two days later. With a score of 68.80 percent, Page and Wild One topped the field of seven contenders during the Wellington Dressage show in Wellington, Fla., Feb. 3-5.
Charlottle Bredahl Baker, a member of the 1992 Barcelona bronze-medal Olympic team, earned second place aboard Komo (68.73%) while Pierre St. Jacques and Lucky Tiger finished third (65.13%) in the high performance qualifying class for the 2006 World Equestrian selection trials as well as the USEF National Grand Prix Championship.
Page blamed her low score (63.91%) in Friday’s USEF Grand Prix on the proximity of the dressage arena to the vendors, spectators, and the jumper rings.
“I knew going into the competition that when the [Winter Equestrian Festival] does dressage arenas, they’re very claustrophobic because they’re mashed up against the vendors and spectators,” explained Page. “It’s a distracting ring, and I knew this. I know my horse is sensitive about those kinds of things, and WEF is a difficult competition for a horse like that. If I had used my head better, I would have prepared a little better.”
During Friday’s class, movement on the hillside distracted Wild One. “We came around the corner after a passage transition, and he took his eye too far up and outside the arena, and I lost him,” said Page about a dual set of 0s she received from the judges.
In preparation for Sunday’s class, Page worked with Wild One on Saturday to get him more through his neck and back.
Using a strategy she knew worked, Page calmly asked Wild One to piaffe deep.
“I took into consideration how submissive he needed to be at any given moment in time, and I worked on making him go lower and longer,” said Page who described the 10-year-old, Hanoverian gelding as being built uphill and therefore naturally high in carriage. “I need to make the scales tip the other way with ease so that if there were 30 blenders whirring, he was instantly familiar with it.”
Her focus on flexion and making Wild One relax his carriage paid off. Wild One never let his attention falter despite the hum of golf carts, scampering children, and buzz of the timer from the adjacent International Arena.
“The good news is that Friday’s class didn’t cause irreparable harm. With more intelligent riding, he can be more submissive and more relaxed,” said Page of her rebound victory.
Despite his predisposition to nervousness, Wild One’s character and expression attracted Page to the horse three years ago.
“I don’t have many superstitions, but one of them is that I don’t change names. You don’t get horses that have the passion to go Grand Prix that aren’t volatile in some other way,” she said of the 17.2-hand, flashy bay.
Page, 49, of Wellington, Fla., started competing Wild One in Grand Prix events a year ago with the help of trainers Lars Petersen and Klaus Balkenhol, the U.S. chef d’equipe for dressage. While always focused on the win, Page never loses track of the importance of developing her mount’s confidence in the ring.
“He’s dressage in every sense of the word–he has beautiful gaits, an excellent trot, he’s intelligent and willing–exactly what you want in a dressage horse, but I just need to work on developing a sense of confidence in him when he’s in ‘the box,’ ” she said.
Page and Wild One have accumulated the scores to qualify for the USEF National Grand Prix Freestyle Championship/U.S. League Final, which will be held March 17-18 in Wellington and will determine who will represent the U.S. at the FEI World Cup Final in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The pair also has the scores to compete in the USEF National Grand Prix Championships and World Equestrian Games selection trials, which will be held at the Festival of Champions in Gladstone, N.J., June 15-18.
A Bit Of A Gamble
After a frustrating third-placed finish in last summer’s USEF Grand Prix Championship, Michael Barisone and Neruda returned after a six-month hiatus from the show ring to win the USEF High Performance Grand Prix (69.79%) over Katherine Bateson Chandler and FBW Kennedy (68.19%) and Baker aboard Komo (68.05%).
Unhappy with the way he rode Neruda at last year’s championships, Barisone, who owns Neruda with Jane and Salo Suwalsky, thought they were capable of a better performance. After taking a long and hard look at his training program, he decided to take time off from the show ring and focus on his mount’s fitness.
“In dressage, we don’t make horses fit like in other disciplines, and I decided, after looking at Afleet Alex, that I needed to get Neruda more fit,” commented Barisone of Long Valley, N.J.
With the help of Dr. Brendan Furlong and the legendary eventer Jimmy Wofford, Barisone concentrated on the interval training plan.
“I was not looking to build wind but rather sustainable energy. Neruda has adrenaline spikes because he is afraid of other horses in the warm-up ring, and then I’m left with no horse to ride,” Barisone explained.
By offsetting ring work with trot sets around a hay field for eight miles several days a week, Barisone increased the 11-year-old, Dutch gelding’s fitness.
“I feel the interval plan has helped him do slower and more methodical work. I feel we can work in the warm-up ring, take a break, and have plenty of horse left to go for the test. It has led to better training on a daily basis,” Barisone said.
After not showing for six months, Barisone was nervous about bringing Neruda out in Wellington but hoped that he would score at least a 70 percent.
“I probably didn’t sleep for a week before the ride. Everyone loves this horse and wants to see him do well,” he said.
Although he didn’t quite reach his goal, Barisone was happy with his debut. “I felt I accomplished my goal. Ability has never been a question with this horse. I wanted to come out good and focus on the complete performance. I didn’t want anyone to say, ‘Wow, look at that piaffe. Wow, look at that passage.’ I wanted people to say, ‘Wow, what a great test,’ ” said Barisone.
Like Barisone, Ingred Pollak is no stranger to working hard for the win. Her victory on the 9-year-old Quemacho HI in the adult amateur fourth level, test 1 (65.35%), came in the midst of a bout of chemotherapy.
Ten years ago, Pollak was diagnosed with cancer and is now on her fourth round of chemotherapy. Despite all the setbacks and strain of battling disease, Pollak has never given up hope.
“I’m always bargaining with surgeons about when I’ll be able to ride. I feel as though the horses really keep me going,” said Pollak, 49. “When I’m on a horse, I don’t think about anything else.”
To keep herself mentally and physically fit, Pollak rides five horses every morning at her White Fences Equestrian Center in Parkland, Fla.
One of the newest additions to her farm is the Lusitano Quemacho HI, who she purchased six months ago. Since then, with the help of Conrad Schumacher, she’s been working on helping him find his natural balance.
“I was very happy with him,” said Pollak of Quemacho’s performance. “The mind of a Lusitano is very contained, and the horse is a lot of fun to work with. If we can just get this connection issue resolved, then I hope to move him up to Prix St. Georges.”
In a nearby arena, Ashley Holzer battled the stomach flu while she competed Gambol in the FEI Grand Prix freestyle for the win (75.08%). She also earned top honors in the FEI Prix St. Georges with Pop Art (71.66%) and the FEI Grand Prix with Imperioso (69.31%).
“I put together a difficult freestyle to focus on future competitions because Gambol hasn’t been doing the Grand Prix [classes] for a full year yet,” explained Holzer, who was surprised at her score. “I didn’t think he’d be able to do the test well for quite some time, but that horse surprises me every time we compete.”
Many of the horses that competed in the freestyle were a bit up since Saturday’s downpours caused many of the classes, including the Grand Prix freestyle, to be postponed until the following day.
“I was joking with some of the other riders in the schooling area about how the best way to prepare for a Grand Prix is for the horse to sit in the stall for the entire day before the test,” said Holzer with a laugh.
And if winning accolades with three of her mounts wasn’t enough, Holzer also won the FEI Prix St. Georges with Ellen Lazarus’s Maximillian (69.33%).
“Max never lets me down. I hadn’t shown him since Devon [(Pa.) in September], and when he heard the buzzer go off in the jumper ring, he was a little startled,” said Holzer who hopes to qualify the 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding for the 2007 Pan Am Games.