Wayne, Ill.—Aug. 25
Claire Manhard and Anna Buffini do everything good barn friends do—get their nails done, go to the movies and bond over their horses.
Now they can add leading the victory gallop for the Brentina Cup Under-25 Grand Prix division at the U.S. Dressage Festival Of Champions last night to their list of shared experiences.
Last to go down centerline, Manhard rode her own 16-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Wilfonia (Gribaldi—Nilfonia, Contango) to third place in the freestyle (68.45 percent). After winning the Intermediaire II test (68.91 percent) and finishing second in the Under-25 Grand Prix (67.56 percent), she was crowned champion, while Buffini earned the reserve championship with Wilton II after winning the freestyle (71.52 percent).
“It’s incredible,” said Manhard, Cardiff, California, after her win. “I’m so surprised. It’s amazing to see how far I’ve come in a year. When I was here last year I felt all over the place, and this year I felt like I really knew what I was doing, and it’s crazy to be considered a national champion. I’m so grateful for the experience and that title.”
It was Manhard’s first time riding to her music, which she created with consultation from her brother John Manhard, who’s a deep house DJ. It was also her last Under-25 Grand Prix as she’s aging out this year and headed to graduate school in September.
“It was super fun. I love the last centerline. It’s kind of an upbeat dance house kind of last centerline,” she said.
Manhard has a degree in biology and a writing minor, and she works from home for a biotechnology company. She and Buffini train with Guenter Seidel, so it’s a balancing act to be able to ride and compete. She’s hoping to compete in the open Grand Prix with Wilfonia next.
Watch Manhard’s freestyle via USEF Network.
Buffini won the Brentina Cup division in 2016 with her longtime partner Sundayboy, and she was thrilled to be back with Wilton II, a 16-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Jazz—Olympia, Contango).
“It’s incredible to come back and to be riding Wilton, period. In 2017 he just became pretty wild and unrideable and dangerous, and he was in a field retired forever,” said Buffini, San Diego, California. “Guenter and I started reteaching him, and he’s come back better than ever. To be able to come back and not just ride but to come second is incredible. You look back on some things and think, ‘If I just did a couple things better I could have done better,’ but just being here period is a win, and there’s no one I’d rather lose to than Claire! We train together every single day. We get our nails done, we go to the movies.
“We do everything, and I see how hard she works,” she continued. “We train right after each other every day so we push each other, and we make each other better under Guenter’s incredible training. To be able to come back here with a horse I never thought I’d ride again is a dream come true.”
Buffini’s winning freestyle included some ’80s music and a recording of her singing “Hallelujah” for her walk music.
“Horses and music are my two passions, so to have them together is amazing,” she said. “I always want to make freestyles entertaining for the people and the judges. Anything we can do to push the sport and make it more entertaining for people who don’t necessarily know dressage or know it’s happening.”
After a couple of years competing in small tour and Under-25 CDIs, Buffini made the decision to retire Wilton when he became dangerous under saddle.
“He’s a Jazz, which a lot of dressage people know they can have a difficult brain; a screw loose. It just got to the point where he got so stressed and so unmanageable we just decided it wasn’t working for him,” she said.
After spending eight months in a field, Siedel suggested Buffini try bringing him back when she was without a horse to compete.
The pair started him over like a young horse, working in the round pen and using natural horsemanship techniques on the ground.
“I literally had to lay on his back and walk around and get off—just a lot of patience. Basically whatever you would think how you start a young horse is how we brought him back,” said Buffini. “I’m really proud of this show because I have a stronger connection with him now even more than I did with Sundayboy, which I never thought was possible. Because if I didn’t he would be too dangerous to ride and absolutely unrideable. Just learning him, from one step to another and bringing him back to training level, then to first level, then to second level, we just kept moving up the levels, and I figured out his little tics, and he figured out how I was going to correct him through it, just gaining his trust was the biggest part to getting him back and rideable again. I was just really proud that we could go do this as a team and that he could trust me. I think there’s nothing more important than gaining a horse’s trust, because it’s all about the horse, it’s all about their welfare, and it’s the most important thing about this sport.”
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For full results, click here.
For the schedule, click here.
USEF is live streaming the event, and tests are available on-demand here.
We’ll have much more from the Lamplight Equestrian Center in our Sept. 23 print edition!