This young equestrian reigned over her competitors for three days to capture another title.
The pressure was doubled for Rebecca Hart at the USEF Para Equestrian National Championships and Paralympic Selection Trials, held concurrently at the Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, Ill., May 17-18.
Hart wasn’t only competing for the championship title but also for one of the six slots on the 2008 U.S. Paralympic Equestrian Team.
“It’s been an ultimate goal of mine,” she said of the chance to represent the United States in Hong Kong. “I thought this year I had a really good chance.”
With her partner of four years, Norteassa, Hart fulfilled not one, but both of her goals. Consistent performances put her at the top for the title during the weekend, and Hart was officially named to the 2008 Paralympic team four days after her victory.
Thrilled to win the title as the 2008 USEF National Para Equestrian Champion, she anxiously awaited May 22 for the official announcement for the riders named to the team. Upon receiving the good news, she said, “I was so excited when I read the e-mail. I went into an afternoon of a phone fest and texting nonstop!”
At the competition, Hart finished ahead of veteran para equestrian rider and 2007 national champion, Lynn Seidemann on Phoenix B, whom Hart rode at the 2003 Para Equestrian World Championships
“Coming into the competition, I wasn’t thinking about beating [Seidemann], just keeping my horse relaxed and focused. I wanted to do the best I possibly could,” said Hart.
A grade II competitor, Hart’s tests require her to execute moves at a walk and trot. An initial score of 69.68 percent in the team test the first day put her behind Seidemann, but she turned in stronger performances in the next two phases, scoring a 74.09 percent in the individual championship test. Her strength in the freestyle phase didn’t go unnoticed, either, as she was rewarded with her highest score of the weekend, 74.81 percent, and the overall championship.
“I was feeling confident on Friday with him. Saturday, he was a little more amped, and I had a little more to work with,” she said of the 16-year-old Hanoverian gelding. “He gets excited by the music, but Sunday he was great.”
Winning isn’t new to Hart; she earned the same title at the 2006 Para Equestrian Championships in Gladstone, N.J., with her own Nordkap after the pair swept all three classes of the competition. The triumph does, however, mark one of her bigger victories with Norteassa.
“Our final ride Sunday, I feel that was our best one. All the transitions were there, he was completely relaxed and the amount of focus he gave me was amazing,” she said.
The winning partnership, described by Hart as “more or less he fell into my lap,” almost didn’t happen. While traveling as an alternate with the 2004 U.S. Paralympic Team, Hart came across the gelding in the Netherlands. At the time, he was owned by Rebecca Eisner of California, also the sponsor of Phoenix B when Hart competed at the World Championships.
“He was reserve for the team, and I wasn’t planning on even trying him. I was looking at another horse,” she said. “I sat on him, and we really kind of clicked with each other. Our personalities work really well,” she said.
After purchasing Norteassa, Hart maintained a busy schedule between school and riding. She’s competed as a para equestrian for the past 10 years and before was an active hunter/jumper rider. An international business and accounting major at Penn State University, the 24-year-old senior managed to ride horses fulltime until taking off this past semester to focus on the Paralympics.
“I really was constantly balancing my schedule, and it took some time to figure it out after I bought Norteassa,” she said. “But I wouldn’t ever give it up.”
Hart trains with Missy Ransehousen of Blue Hill Farm in Unionville, Pa. Ransehousen was selected as the coach for the 2000 Paralympic team and will coach at the 2008 Paralympics as well.
Though Norteassa was already a well-trained horse when she bought him, Hart credited Ransehousen for helping her turn him into a stronger partner.
“Basically we’ve been working to keep him settled and focused and improve his walk. We’ve really worked to make him more relaxed, and I think he’s really come a long way,” she said of the pair’s progress.
The youngest team member, Hart will join Robin Brueckmann, Barbara Grassmyer, Keith Newerla and Seidemann to train with Ransehousen before they travel to Hong Kong in August. The U.S. team is currently ranked fourth in the world, and this year’s team combines veterans, such as Brueckmann, 50, with new talent such as Hart.
Anticipating her first Paralympic Games, Hart said confidently, “I feel really good about preparing in the next three months. I’m ready for this, and I feel positive about my horse too. I’m really excited and looking forward to representing the United States.”