Katherine Poulin-Neff’s close relationship with Brilliant Too paid off at the Great American/USDF Region 2 Championships, as they won a class each day of the competition. The pair claimed the open third level (73.33%) and fourth level (67.39%) titles, Sept. 8-11 at Eden Park in Sunbury, Ohio.
“I didn’t get nervous, and he stayed relaxed,” Poulin-Neff said. “He had clean tests except for the last extended trot, when I wanted a little more and he broke to the canter. But overall it was a really nice, fluid test. It would have been our best test all year if I hadn’t made a mistake at the end.”
Poulin-Neff’s parents, trainers and judges Michael and Sharon Poulin, bred Brilliant Too (Brilliant–Blue Brigetta). They imported Brilliant, a Dutch stallion, 20 years ago and trained him to Grand Prix, breeding him six times before selling him. Brilliant Too is one of those babies.
“I started him when he was 5 becauseI didn’t have time [before that],” saidPoulin-Neff, 26. “He got shoved to the back burner.”
The Dutch-Thoroughbred cross, now 9, was gelded last year, after the Poulins bought his sire back. “He’s a lot better now that he’s not a stallion,” said Poulin-Neff, of Newbury, Ohio.
She’s put a lot of work into settling him too. “I kept bringing him to show after show; he would be so tense and nervous. Now he’s not looking at the other horses or passaging and snorting,” she said.
The Poulins like the Dutch-Thoroughbred crosses. “It ends up creating something very nice,” Poulin-Neff said. “We love Thoroughbreds–the heart and sensitivity they have.”
“Zuel,” who stands only 15.1 hands, was intended to be Sharon’s horse. “I thought I’d start him and hand him over to her, but I haven’t stopped,” said Poulin-Neff. “Mom helps me with him a lot.”
Poulin-Neff expects Zuel to reach Grand Prix someday. “He has a lot of heart and desire. He does everything except passage, and he will learn that this winter. But if he doesn’t get past Prix St. Georges, that’s fine with me,” she added. “He’s a ton of fun and will always be part of the family.”
Because he’s so smart, Zuel learns movements quickly, said Poulin-Neff. “I spend 95 percent of the time getting him to come more through and be relaxed,” she said.
Zuel scores especially well on his walk and canter. “He always gets 8s or 9s on his walk, and that comes from his father–they all have a beautiful walk and canter,” she said.
But at the championships, Poulin-Neff tried not to think about her scores. “I just try to ride like I usually do and train my horse,” she said. “I knew if I kept everything the same, I would be OK, and it was. He happened to be exceptional on that day. He really is an amazing horse and so much fun.
“Because we bred him, that makes him and the whole process so special,” she added. “When you have that connection with a horse, it makes everything easier, and you can go in with confidence that you know your horse well and he knows you, and that helps.”
Better And Better
Sara Singer’s third level junior/young rider championship test could have gone either way. After all, Ducessa, her 11-year-old Westphalian, can be unpredictable at times. But this time, things went well, and the pair defeated 18 other competitors with a score of 65.88 percent.
“She’s a really stubborn mare, but I love her,” said Singer, 17, of Birmingham, Mich. “We’re so bonded. She’s kind of sassy. You can’t get her mad; you have to talk her into doing everything.”
Singer went to Germany two years ago to try the liver chestnut mare. “The first time I tried her, I just knew she was the right horse,” she said. “It was love at first sight.”
Ducessa had been showing Prix St. Georges in Germany, and Singer hopes to try out for the Region 2 North American Young Riders team next year. And she hopes to compete her at Grand Prix some day. “She’s training her Grand Prix movements. We got all 15 one-tempis the other day,” she said.
At the championships, Singer said her test scored best because it was very forward. “She’s a little hot, so you don’t have to create energy, just funnel it,” she said.
But Singer’s luck went the other way in her fourth level test at the championships, where she placed fourth. “If she’s on, you can have an awesome ride. But sometimes she gets in horse show mode and is horrible,” said the high school senior. “The more shows we go to, the better she gets. Next time I think I’ll hand-walk her around the arenas more, and I think the problem will go away.”
Singer and her twin sister, Rena, train with Judy Kelly at Topline in Clarkston, Mich. Rena rode Diamont Canaria in the third level championship, scoring 57.66 percent.
“I’m always supportive of her, and she’s supportive of me,” said Sara of her sister. “We help each other ride and groom and get dressed. It’s not like playing soccer and you have to face off with each other. I want her to win as much as I want to win. When the scores come up, I’m happy if either of us does well.”
Since their parents aren’t involved in horses, Sara and Rena manage many of the details on their own. “Rena and I are very independent. We’ve always driven our horse trailer, since we were 15,” Sara said.
The twins hope to enroll at Florida Atlantic University next year, close to the winter dressage scene in Wellington, Fla. “Our family has a home there in a gated equestrian community, so we can keep our horses there and ride and go to school,” said Sara. She plans to become a dermatologist.
A Real Keeper
Kristine Krupa’s ride in the first level junior/young rider championships didn’t go exactly as planned. “I changed leads during my canter lengthening and thought, ‘Oh, great, there it goes,’ ” she said. “I thought, ‘I have to really give my heart up the rest of the test if I want to place.’ “
The rest of her test, aboard Grafenlust, was good enough to score 67.50 percent and secure the blue ribbon. “We had a really nice 20-meter circle where the horse stretches. He loves those; it’s his favorite movement, and he got an 8,” she said. “His leg-yields are also really good.”
Krupa, 17, of Bristol, Wis., started riding six years ago and quickly got into dressage. “Jumping kind of scared me,” she said.
She especially liked “Grafey” when she bought him last July from Kathy Priest, because he was so laid back. “He’s really kind. If I call his name, he’ll lift his head and leave the other six horses in his field and come to me,” she said. “We’re as close as a horse and a mom can be.”
The 8-year-old, Hanoverian gelding has four socks and a blaze. “On his nose, where his snip is, he has a freckle, which is really cute,” Krupa added.
By the time she’s a sophomore in college, Krupa, who trains with Wendy Dierks, hopes to compete at the North American Young Riders Championships. But in the meantime, competing at the regional championships was one goal realized.
“Going to regionals is an accomplishment,” Krupa said. “I’ll remember it forever. I had three days of AP and honors classes to make up [when I got home], but it was definitely worth it. I’d do it 10 times over if I had to.”
Krupa hopes to attend Wheaton College (Ill.), which is closer to Dierks, and someday she would like to be a pharmacist. “I plan to keep [Grafey] forever,” she said. “He’s the family horse you never sell. He’ll live in my backyard once I have the money to have a barn.”