Thursday, May. 30, 2024

Chowanec Is On A Winning Roll At Youth Dressage Festival

It was a long and productive week for the teenager.

It was tough to tell if Rachel Chowanec was tired from six days of showing, or from climbing up and down the awards podium at this year’s Youth Dressage Festival.


It was a long and productive week for the teenager.

It was tough to tell if Rachel Chowanec was tired from six days of showing, or from climbing up and down the awards podium at this year’s Youth Dressage Festival.
The 13-year-old from Columbia, Conn., had shown during the Centerline Events CDI-W at the HITS-on-the-Hudson showgrounds in Saugerties, N.Y., and then followed that up with three days at the Youth Dressage Festival, on Aug. 20-23, in the same location.

But having collected the overall cham-pionship might help Chow-anec sleep well. Chowanec’s winning score after three days of competition was 89.65 percent at second level. The reserve championship went to Laurence Mignor, a young rider from Quebec, Canada, who finished with a score of 88.53 percent in the training level, 15-17, division.

Prior to claiming the title of overall individual champion at the Youth Dressage Festival, Chowanec collected blue ribbons during the CDI in East Coast Pony Cup competition with her horse, the 7-year-old Hakunamatata. She and Hakunamatata won the East Coast Pony Club divisions of second level, test 2 (67.02%) and second level, test 4 (64.04%), as well as both divisions of test of choice.

At the festival, Chowanec also rode Aastrakhan to the FEI pony win, with an average of 86.56 percent.
Chowanec trains with her mother, Chandra, and with Lendon Gray. When asked why she did so well her answer was simply, “I practice a lot.”

Chowanec puts in long hours riding anything that comes into her mother’s barn. The young rider even helps with the breaking of young horses and sometimes does the smaller horses on her own, such as miniature horses, of which she’s trained several alone.

Testing All Their Skills

The prime focus of the Youth Dressage Festival, created by two-time Olympic dressage rider Lendon Gray, is to emphasize good horsemanship and good sportsmanship above all else. Young riders compete from across the United States and Canada, and each year there are also a few riders from more distant countries. Many of the riders compete on borrowed horses.

The competition consists of three phases—a written test, equitation test and dressage phase. In addition, there are numerous other competitions designed for pure fun, such as the prix caprilli, musical freestyles, dressage trail class and pleasure class.

The trail class was all in fun for many of the competitors, as they weaved their horses through cones, over jumps and had to transport a bunch of carrots from one hay bale to the next. That’s not as easy as it sounds, as trail competitor Heather Ashe, 15, of Prospect, Conn., learned. She competed in the trail class last year and this year with her 6-year-old horse Cody.


“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “But last year he tried to eat the hay. I think that was one of the problems I had. This year, he was much better and didn’t even try for the carrots.”

The festival isn’t recognized, and so Gray is relatively free to design it as she sees fit. Among this year’s judges were Robert Dover, Scott and Susanne Hassler, Janet Hannon, Margaret Freeman, and Karin
Reid Offield.

“The attitudes I saw today were so positive. And the kids seriously wanted your feedback. They were very appreciative,” Scott Hassler said. “Their attitude was so good. I’d watch them leave the ring even after having a not-so-good ride, and they were still very kind to their horses. The horsemanship was excellent.”

Sofie Lutfy (right) generously loaned her pony Cody to Claire Filak (left) and led her to the win in the leadline class at the Youth Dressage Festival. Lyndee Kemmet Photo.

Setting An Example
One of the goals of the Youth Dressage Festival is to foster sportsmanship in young riders.

And a prime example of great sportsmanship and sharing was found in the class for the youngest of competitors, the leadline class.  Sofie Lutfy, 8, of Milford, Pa., loaned out her own pony to her new friend, 7-year-old Claire Filak, of Saugerties, N.Y.

The two had met just two days before at the show grounds. The families of the two girls had to get special permission for Lutfy to be the “leader” during the class because of her age. But she refused to let anyone else lead her pony.

Lutfy owns the pony, Cody, but when asked, she responded that he belonged to both her and Filak for the day.  And while Lutfy was more than willing to share her pony, she wanted no part of all the prizes given to her friend as winner of the leadline class, giving her all the credit and the spoils.

Well-Rounded Riders

The Pegasus Dressage team used their horsemanship skills to earn the win in the team competition over the team from Gray’s barn, Glene-den Dressage, and 38 other teams. The feat was all the more impressive since the Pegasus Dressage team had only three riders, and so no drop score.


Team members Samantha Namenyi, 14, of Xenia, Ohio, Joseph Syndennis, 18, of Matawan, N.J., and Caroline McCarthy, 20, of Geneva, N.Y., all said they had absolute confidence.

“The win was great for us and great for [trainer Debbie Lockemeyer]. It shows that she can train really well,” Syndennis said.

“Debbie put a lot of time into us, and everybody worked really hard,” McCarthy added.

In the upper levels, Micaela Mabragana, 20, left with an armful of prizes. A native of Argentina who is a working student with Gray, she rode Gray’s Ballywhim Ardan Mor to the fourth level championship win (88.48%) and the FEI-level young riders championship (88.03%).

“It was pretty awesome,” she said of her wins. “I didn’t expect such a high score, but he was really good and tried so hard. We competed last year and won then too, but I think this time I was much more confident with him going into the ring, and it was lots of fun.”

The event gives out a large number of awards, and one new award added this year was in honor of Lindsay Jacob, who competed at last year’s event and passed away this spring at 21 after losing her battle with a rare type of cancer.

The rider with the highest equitation score in the 12-18 age group earned a trophy in her name. The first-time winner was Katherine Greene, 17, of Chittenango, N.Y., who earned a 95 in equitation.

“I feel very honored and humble to receive this,” said Greene, who trains with Carmela Wilbur.

Many of the awards are given to riders who exhibit the best attitudes. Scott Hassler recommended Lyndsey Garvilla, 14, of Pine Bush, N.Y., for such an award after her horse left the ring during the class he was judging. Garvilla returned to the ring and schooled her horse in what Hassler called “a very positive manner.” And this earned her the “Poise Under Pressure” award.

Lyndee Kemmet




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