Monday, May. 27, 2024

McDonald And Brentina Build Momentum At Del Mar CDI

Brentina has more energy and desire than ever to strut her stuff in the Grand Prix.

Brentina spent almost two years on the sidelines because of injuries, but now she’s itching to prove her career isn’t over. In her second CDI since 2006, she looked better than ever as she and Debbie McDonald went home with two Grand Prix wins.
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Brentina has more energy and desire than ever to strut her stuff in the Grand Prix.

Brentina spent almost two years on the sidelines because of injuries, but now she’s itching to prove her career isn’t over. In her second CDI since 2006, she looked better than ever as she and Debbie McDonald went home with two Grand Prix wins.

“A lot of people thought she was retired, because they haven’t seen her, and she’s 17,” said McDonald. “She’s just an amazing horse that loves to compete. We wanted to bring her back and hoped that she would feel like the young woman that she is in her heart.”

McDonald showed Peggy and Parry Thomas’ Hanoverian mare (Brentano II—Lieselotte) at the Festival Of The Horse CDI (Calif.) in early April, but the pair proceeded cautiously in their first Grand Prix performance this year. At the Del Mar National, April 24-27, McDonald harnessed a bit more of Brentina’s fantastic power and energy to lead the Grand Prix (72.70 percent) by 4 points over Steffen Peters and Lombardi 11. Her freestyle score was even more impressive, 76.00 percent to the sound of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”

“We waited until the last two qualifiers. It was meant to be or it wasn’t,” said McDonald. “I was shocked how young she feels to ride right now. In all the years I’ve had her, this is the best she’s felt. I never really thought there was a lot more I could bring out in her. I think she’s feeling like she has more expression and more energy. She’s making me realize there’s even more in there than I thought there was.”

McDonald experienced strong emotion at Del Mar for many reasons. Her brother died shortly before the show, so she dedicated her Grand Prix ride to him. She also said that each ride on Brentina gains meaning as she nears the twilight years of her career.

“You do realize when the horse is 17 that you’re getting to the end of your time,” said McDonald. “[At Del Mar] I really realized how loved she is by so many people. The freestyle was amazing. Everybody was on their feet, stomping their feet, screaming and hollering and yelling her name. I thought, ‘It doesn’t get any better than this.’ ”

Time out of the ring has made McDonald appreciate her strong partnership with Brentina even more.
“I always knew she was special,” she said. “When you’re not able to ride one for a while, and then you get back on and feel that amazing relationship, it definitely made me feel like I have may taken this a little bit too much for granted. It’s a very special relationship.”

McDonald’s plan before the Olympic trials in June is to keep Brentina feeling happy and sound.

“I think she’s in the best shape she’s ever been in in her life,” said McDonald. “I’m trying to keep her fitness at a good level because of her age, and if we were fortunate enough to make it to Hong Kong we’d need it.”
 
She said she seldom schools the movements but occasionally gallops her and spends plenty of time in rising trot to keep Brentina’s back loose.

She’s Movin’ On Up

When McDonald wasn’t warming up for her own rides, she was helping 15-year-old Holly Bergay achieve victory in her young rider classes. Bergay, Tucson, Ariz., won the Young Rider Team test in the CDI (64.22%) and the freestyle (66.66%) as well as placing second in the Young Rider Prix St. Georges (62.50%) with her own Soliloquy.

Bergay was born without her left hand, but that hasn’t stopped this high school freshman from storming up the ranks of able-bodied junior and young rider dressage. Last year she placed fifth in the junior portion of the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships (Va.) in the individual class and the freestyle. Now’s she graduated to the young rider divisions.

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A Euphoric Partnership

Nick Wagman initially purchased Uforia as a 4-year-old in the Netherlands with the intention of selling her. The 34-year-old dressage trainer from San Diego, Calif., soon learned that he’d bought a far better horse than he’d anticipated.

He won the Intermediaire I test at the Del Mar CDI (68.25%) over Steffen Peters and Montango, a horse that Wagman trained before Peters took over the ride. Montango won the Prix St. Georges (72.08%) and the Intermediaire freestyle (72.16%).

“The Grand Prix horse I was riding just got sold. When you don’t own the horse, you can lose it at the wrong moment. It was amicable but still a heartbreak,” said Wagman. “[Uforia] is mine forever, and I’m very excited about it. I get to call the shots and decide when and where I go. It’s really nice.”

Wagman said “Ufie” quickly became a daddy’s girl. “She truly is my horse. She would jump through fire for me. I’ve never had this bond with another horse,” he said.
The 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Negro—Montana) showed strong trot half-
passes and tempi changes.

“I didn’t have any expectations,” said Wagman. “Knowing that we’re still green, I have to say it was good. It’s a scary arena, and she was more wound up during the Intermediaire I. I think the Prix St. Georges test was cleaner and more harmonious, but we’re a new combination and not known to everyone. The judges were ready to give us more generous points [in the Intermediaire I].”

Wagman was also proud of his young horse Winsom, whom he debuted at first level, and his many students who earned wins of their own. Elizabeth Keadle won the amateur Prix St. Georges sweepstakes with Radley, and Yvette Pickrell took the amateur FEI high-point award.

“It’s a whole other world of competition. These people are almost professionals,” said Bergay. “It can be hard because a lot of people are a lot older. It’s been really fun. Having other riders close to your age that you can compete with is a good experience. Everyone has been really nice.”

Bergay said that she initially had trouble with the pirouettes, which were new to her and “Lily,” an 18-year-old, Canadian Warmblood (Frontenac—China Lady) mare. She normally trains with Pat Baker-Hunter in Arizona, but she got the chance to spend some time with McDonald in her Hailey, Idaho, home before the Del Mar show to tune up the difficult movements.

“That’s the first time I’ve been to her place. It was incredible. It was the best week of my life,” said Bergay. “She volunteers her time and helps me a lot. I think that’s the reason that I did so well. I had the extra help that I needed.”

“We got to really sit and concentrate on some work,” said McDonald. “We find ways to work around things that would be more difficult. She has such an amazing feel. It blows me away. She’s truly an inspiration. Here’s a kid who will never use her handicap as an excuse. I don’t treat her any different than anyone else, and she doesn’t want to be. She’s my hero.”

Bergay hoped to compete in the 2008 Paralympics in Hong Kong this year, but she wasn’t able to obtain her certificate of capability in time. Paraequestrians gain this certificate by competing in an international paraequestrian competition and earning scores above 60 percent. Only three to four of those competitions occur per year, and Bergay wasn’t old enough, until recently, to compete in them. She’s consistently earned 60 percent in able-bodied competition at CDIs and at the NAJYRC, but she couldn’t count those competitions.

“They wouldn’t use those because they weren’t designated para competition,” said Bergay. “I was supposed to go to Australia [for an international paraequestrian competition], but because of equine influenza that was cancelled.”

So Bergay will sit out the Paralympics this year and aim for the NAJYRC instead. “In 2010 the World Equestrian Games is adding paraequestrian for the first time. I’d definitely like to do that,” she said. “I have a ton of time to do the things that I want to do. I feel blessed that I have so many people behind me.”

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She Owned The Open Show

Bergay wasn’t the only McDonald student to impress the judges at Del Mar. Adrienne Lyle, 23, cleaned up in multiple divisions of the open show with four different horses.

McDonald used to ride Lyle’s top horse, Wizard, but Lyle, who’s worked for McDonald for the past three years, was a better physical fit for the big, strong gelding.

“He was very tough when I got him, especially in the ring,” said Lyle. “He has some stress and tension in the ring. He’s improving a ton. We’re figuring each other out, and he’s learning to trust me. He’s an incredibly talented horse. The technical movements come easily. It was a matter of convincing him to work for me instead of against me.”

Lyle has her sights set on the young adult Brentina Cup championship this year with the 9-year-old Oldenburg (Weltmeyer—Pica), and at press time she was leading the U.S. Equestrian Federation ranking list with an average score of 66.80 percent. Although Lyle didn’t win her Brentina Cup class at Del Mar, she did take blue in both Intermediaire II classes (67.07%, 67.80%).

“This was our fourth [show at this level], and I was feeling much more comfortable and secure in the ring,” said Lyle. “I was happy with the way he went in my Brentina Cup ride because he stayed very relaxed and focused on me. It’s easy for me to power him up. Keeping him calm and focused was the goal for this test.”
Lyle said she was excited at the idea of riding one of the Thomas’ horses in a competition named in honor of Brentina.

“I’m incredibly thankful to the Thomases and the McDonalds for giving me the opportunity at such a young age to ride such amazing horses and have such amazing help,” said Lyle.

She also showed Whidbey and won all three of her fourth level, test 3, classes. The Thomases purchased the 7-year-old, Hanoverian gelding (Waikiki—West Virginia) for Lyle at the Verden, Germany, auction three years ago.

“He’s a hot little thing, a firecracker to ride,” said Lyle. “He’s so sensitive and eager. He’s one of my favorite horses to ride.”

Lyle won first level classes with Wenessa and Argentinia, two 6-year-old Hanoverian mares who were showing in their first show.

“Debbie and I have both been riding them,” said Lyle. “I’ve been riding them more exclusively the last few months. I was incredibly impressed at how they handled the environment.”

Sara Lieser

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