Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023

Gran Gesto Crowned King Of Grand Prix At NEDA CDI

Canadian Jacqueline Brooks, on Gran Gesto, won both the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix freestyle at the New England Dressage Association's CDI, Halifax, Mass., Sept. 16-19. But she had to ride both tests in the same day due to the massive rescheduling that took place after remnants of Hurricane Ivan shut down all of Saturday's competition.

Close to 4 inches of rain, 50 mile-per-hour winds and a temperature drop of more than 15 degrees effectively negated anyone's resolution to compete, and it was with great relief that show management awoke on Sunday to crystal blue skies.
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Canadian Jacqueline Brooks, on Gran Gesto, won both the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix freestyle at the New England Dressage Association’s CDI, Halifax, Mass., Sept. 16-19. But she had to ride both tests in the same day due to the massive rescheduling that took place after remnants of Hurricane Ivan shut down all of Saturday’s competition.

Close to 4 inches of rain, 50 mile-per-hour winds and a temperature drop of more than 15 degrees effectively negated anyone’s resolution to compete, and it was with great relief that show management awoke on Sunday to crystal blue skies.

Still, NEDA officials were left with the daunting task of scheduling two days of Great American/USDF Region 8 Championships classes, the CDI classes, plus the open show divisions into one day, which was rather like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. But with the cooperation of the judges, the competitors and the Herculean efforts of NEDA volunteers, the show went on.

After winning the Grand Prix (65.79%) and the freestyle (68.57%), Brooks said she was pleasantly surprised when her Oldenburg gelding spooked a little in the ring during her Grand Prix.

She said the cold weather “sparked him right up,” something the laid-back gelding could use at times. Brooks and Gran Gesto were part of the 2003 Pan Am Canadian silver-medal team and were also an alternate for this year’s Canadian Olympic team, in Gran Gesto’s first year at Grand Prix.

“I’m no different than anyone with a young Grand Prix horse,” she said. “I’m always working on more engagement, more collection, trying to find that place where I can shorten without stopping.”

Owned by Ann and John Welch, Toronto, Ont., the 9-year-old, Oldenburg gelding “is a free-moving individual who offers up the work every time you ask for it,” said Brooks.

“The neat thing about this horse is that every time I ride a Grand Prix test with him, I get a little more engagement, a little more collection; he gives me reason to believe that there’s a good Grand Prix horse in there,” she added.

Because Gran Gesto keeps improving, Brooks keeps adjusting her freestyle, tweaking it to make it a little more difficult.

“You have to keep the upping the diffi-culty to get your scores up, but you can paint yourself in a corner too if your horse can’t quite get the work done,” she said.

Musical Madness

Jerome Ferro worked hard on his freestyle with his horse, Walter, and all that tweaking paid off with a Great American/USDF second level musical freestyle tricolor ribbon.

The pair started out their Region 8 championships experience by winning the open show musical freestyle class (67.91) as a warm-up. Then they earned the reserve championship in the second level division, and as the icing on the cake, the combination won the musical freestyle championship by scoring the highest freestyle score of the entire show, a 70.41 percent.

Performing to music from The Last Of The Mohicans, Ferro and his 7-year-old, Hanoverian gelding presented a seamless and composed test. The gelding was attentive, supple and relaxed, and the judges noted Ferro’s unusual choreography in their comments on his test.

Ferro extensively used bending patterns and circles, rarely using the long side of the arena. He performed his simple changes across the diameter of a 10-meter circle, always keeping his horse moving forward and through. Ferro developed his freestyle with the help of a professional singer and friend of his, Maura Ellyn.

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Walter’s faultless behavior at the busy NEDA show wasn’t an accident. Ferro, 55, started riding 10 years ago at the suggestion of a friend, who said he thought a horse might be a good investment for the entrepreneur.

“I was definitely a bit naﶥ back then,” said Ferro with a smile. “I bought a horse, an Arabian mare, then one thing led to another, and I bought a horse farm too, started riding dressage, and now I have Walter.”

Ferro found Walter two years and nine months ago when all Walter knew how to do was walk, trot and canter under saddle. Imported from Germany by Marina Genn, Walter “couldn’t even steer” and had no experience showing at all. Ferro said it took a lot of moments of “snorting like a wild bull and occasionally jumping out of the show arena” before Walter began to calm down and enjoy his job.

“He was so young and so inexperienced, things just got him excited,” said Ferro. “I went to a clinic with Lendon Gray once, and I spent all 45 minutes of that clinic at a walk, just walking and changing direction, walking and changing direction, before he figured out that everything was OK.”

Large And In Charge

Sue Jaccoma is best known for riding her two huge horses, Jellowa and Harmony’s Coolio. But recently she’s been turning heads and winning ribbons on her newest horse, Harmony’s Weissmuller. At the NEDA show, she won both the Great American/USDF Region 8 Prix St. Georges and Intermediaire I championships.

While he’s no pony at 16.2 hands, “Johnny” is a completely different horse from the mammoth Coolio, who is 18.3 hands.

“I’ve had a lot of horses that I’ve made, or maybe I should say, allowed to be nice horses. Johnny is already a really nice horse. It’s an interesting mental shift to make as a rider and a trainer,” she said.

Jaccoma has to also switch focus when riding both Johnny and Coolio at the same show. She won the CDI Intermediaire II with Coolio (63.85).

“When I go from Coolio to Johnny, it’s a total switch of gears. The arena becomes a whole lot bigger when I go down the centerline on Johnny,” she said with a laugh. Jaccoma said her muscle memory from riding Coolio can also hamper her when riding Johnny.

“He never misses a change if I can stay completely focused, but if I move my left leg in inch too far forward or squeeze just a little bit too much, he’ll miss a change,” she said.

Leslie Malone of Harmony Sport Horses owns both horses. Jaccoma has been riding Johnny for 11³2 years. This is the first time she’s ever trained a stallion.

“I had no idea how bonded stallions are to their person,” she said. “I can pinpoint it down to the day when this horse fully offered himself to me and said, ‘OK, you’re my person, what do you want?’ It took a whole year for him to trust me enough to give himself to me. He always did his job before that, but since he’s accepted me, we’ve gone forward in leaps and bounds.”

This was the biggest show Johnny’s been too since his importation, and Jaccoma said it was a nice to receive affirmation from international judges like Volker Moritz and Mariette Withages that Johnny is every bit as nice as she thinks he is.

“He’s only 7, and even though he looks strong, because he is a stallion and because his body is compact, he needs a lot of strength work yet. This was only his third Intermediaire I test and I could feel that the collection gets difficult for him to maintain toward the end of the test,” she said.

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Collection can be difficult for Coolio too, but only because there’s so much of him to collect. “He is huge,” affirmed Jaccoma. “I’m 5’9″, and I feel like a little girl on a large pony sometimes. The best thing about Coolio is that he wants to do what you ask, and he wants to do it right.”

Jaccoma has trained the 10-year-old Holsteiner since he was 4, something she thinks has made her a much better rider.

“When you train a horse this big, you really have to understand collection, understand engagement, it’s all that more meaningful when you are on 18.3 hands. A slow hind leg just doesn’t cut it in the Grand Prix,” she said.

After winning the Intermediaire II class on Friday, Jaccoma and Coolio finished second in the Grand Prix on Saturday morning and then had to come back and ride the Grand Prix freestyle that afternoon.

When Coolio was finished with his tests, he received extra applause from the spectators seated around the arena. Jaccoma said she knows her horse has his own special legion of fans that have fallen for his gentle giant ways. “He has more fans than any other horse I ever had,” she said with a laugh. “They come and see him at shows, and he sticks his big head over the door and laps up the attention. It’s really sweet.”

Jaccoma, who lives in Arundel, Maine, and Wellington, Fla., is “trained by an entire committee,” she said with a laugh. “I get help from Dottie Morkis, she lights a fire under my butt, Jennifer Huber, Lilo Fore, Tina Konyot and Patrick Burssens too. It takes a village to get Sue Jaccoma down centerline.”

After fruitlessly searching for a horse for a year and a half Ashley Peterson wasn’t sure when she’d have the opportunity to go down centerline again. Then Augustus just “fell out of the sky” three months ago. Despite a brief partnership, Peterson and the dark bay gelding won both the third and fourth level, junior/young rider Region 8 championships and the dressage seat medal, 14 and older class (80.00%).

Peterson spent time with Lendon Gray this summer as a working student, where she found Augustus. The 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood “is my dream horse,” said the 18-year-old. “He has such a willing temperament and he’s such a sweetheart, I’m so lucky to have found him.”

Her elegant riding style and the assurance and harmony she and “Gus” presented highlighted Peterson’s two championship rides. She said she was confident before her third level ride because she felt prepared, but she was apprehensive for the fourth level ride.

“I’ve been showing the FEI junior tests, and those sequences are more complicated than a fourth level test, but I had never really done pirouettes or tempi changes in a test before, so I was a little nervous,” she admitted.

Apart from a few minor technical mistakes, Peterson pulled off the test with aplomb. Now she hopes she can figure out “where and when to push his buttons. I know he has so much more in him, it’s all going to be whether I can figure out how to ride him properly.”

Right after the show, Peterson loaded Gus up and shipped to South Hadley, Mass., where she attends Mt. Holyoke College. Peterson was chosen to ride on that college’s prestigious dressage team and is planning on majoring in biology and minoring in business so she can express her interest in genetics by one day owning a bio-technology firm.

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