Hanna Dolan got her first taste of horses at a local Arabian barn. After tagging along for her cousin’s riding lessons, Dolan caught the horse bug and spent the next three years showing Arabians in hunter pleasure classes.
While it’s an unusual start for an aspiring hunter seat equitation rider, Dolan’s broad education has only been an asset in her quest to ride in the Hamel Foundation National Horse Show 3’3” Equitation Championship at the National Horse Show (Kentucky), which takes place Sunday October 25.
“On the Arabian circuit there’s equitation, which is all flatwork,” said Dolan, who rode Arabians with Karen Baldwin of Baldwin Stables in Deep River, Connecticut. “You do patterns, almost like a dressage pattern. There are also hunters, which is about how pretty the horse is. But theirs is [judged differently]; they want the legs to pick up a little bit and not be so flat.”
At the end of 2017, Dolan followed a friend to an Interscholastic Equestrian Association practice. As soon as she jumped her first crossrail, she was hooked.
“The [open] horses are a lot calmer [than the Arabians],” Dolan said. “I had to learn how to do lead changes and find my distances. But I moved up pretty quickly. I didn’t have time to really do a lot of practice; I only jumped once a week for a few months.
“I didn’t find the transition that hard; the jumping felt natural,” she continued.
Dolan didn’t have to adjust her attire too much either. While some Arabian competitors wear flashier colors and hunt caps, Dolan’s mother, Nicole Dolan, used to be in the hunter world and steered her daughter toward muted tones and a helmet. She did wear tall boots for showing the Arabians and switched to jodhpurs for her time in the pony ring.
Once Hanna swapped over to ponies she progressed from the short stirrup to the children’s ponies to the medium ponies with Jaime Richard of Epic Farm. She spent last year in the large pony hunter division, traveling to USEF Pony Finals (Kentucky) and the fall indoor circuit. That year she started training with the team from Heritage Farm in Katonah, New York, 1 1/2 hours from her home in Essex, Connecticut. She kept her mount at Epic Farm and shipped to Heritage once a week for lessons.
In December last year Hanna stepped up to full-sized mounts, and in June she swapped to training at Heritage full time. She competed Gail Dady’s Avalon at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida), and then she started showing Aubrienne Krysiewicz-Bell’s Finnegan in July, but he came up lame at the New England Equitation Championships (Massachusetts), just a few days before they were going to contest the Taylor Harris Insurance Services National Children’s Medal Finals at Capital Challenge (Ohio).
Trainer Andre Dignelli started working his Rolodex and tracked down a suitable replacement for the rest of the season. That’s how Hanna paired up with Dimaggio De Bellerose, a 10-year-old warmblood (Vegabond De La Pomme—Ramona Van’t Schuttershof) owned by Court Farm LLC.
Their debut together at Capital Challenge wasn’t perfect—they broke to canter during the extended trot in the flat phase of the EMO/USHJA Jumping Seat Medal Final, and they picked up the wrong lead at the start of the Taylor Harris.
“It was hard at Capital Challenge because I only rode him one day before I had to show him,” said Hanna, 15. “I didn’t really know him that well. I feel like I know him a little better now.
“He has a giant stride, and he holds his head lower than a normal eq horse, which took some getting used to,” she continued. “He has a big slow canter and big jump; he can jump me out of the tack over big jumps.”
Hanna has been working hard to get ready for finals season, practicing over old ASPCA Maclay Finals courses and taking demanding flat lessons.
“We’ve been doing a lot of no-stirrup work,” said Hanna. “I have gotten to know [Dimaggio De Bellerose]. We’ve been doing a lot of difficult courses, and I’ve been working to figure out his adjustability and figure out his quirks.”
Hanna hopes she can put in a solid trip in Kentucky and make the top 25. Long term she’d like to step up to the 3’6” equitation and ride on a team at college.
“I love watching the [3’6”] finals and all the girls from Heritage,” she said. “I watched [the Dover Saddlery/USEF Medal Final (North Carolina)] the whole ride up to the barn and the whole ride home.”