Despite constant rain and cold temperatures, Cesar Parra and Horses Unlimited’s Galant du Serein showed a strong performance in the CDI Cincinnati at Paxton Farm to win the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix freestyle on May 12-14 in Batavia, Ohio.
“The weather was awful. It was raining every single minute,” said Parra. “But the footing stayed good, and I was so impressed at how helpful everyone was. The Paxton family took care of every single detail. They tried to really make it the best for us.”
This was Parra’s first time at the Ohio CDI in almost six years. He’s been competing the 14-year-old, Selle Franï¿½ais stallion (Apache d’Adriers–Sojornet) often this season to work on re-creating the harmony and pizzazz that they have at home in the show ring.
“We tried to fiddle around with the warm-up so we can get him to show his best in the class,” said Parra, 43, who splits his time between Jupiter, Fla., and Whitehouse Station, N.J. “He’s really improved a lot. At home he looks ready for the international competition, but I don’t seem to reproduce that so well in the ring.”
Parra hopes to represent his native country of Colombia in the World Equestrian Games this summer in Aachen, Germany, with Galant du Serein. The pair contested the 2004 Athens Olympics as well, and this time Parra hopes to be more competitive.
“The test is pretty clean now; you don’t see any faults. But we need to get some more brilliance,” said Parra. “He doesn’t look as sharp in the ring as he does in the warm-up. We’re really trying to figure out how to keep him fresh and get him to look his best in the ring.”
Parra said that the strength in their test came in the harmony. “You don’t see any weak part,” he said. “You don’t see mistakes; it looks organized. He knows it and is willing to do it.”
He explained that sometimes just performing the movements in a flowing manner with no mistakes is the best you can hope for. “But with Galant, I know he can do better, so I really want to try for it,” said Parra. “I have to push for more cadence, rhythm and brilliance. In the whole picture, I’d like to see him a little bit fresher. I think it’s coming.”
One of the ways Parra is improving Galant’s freshness is by getting him a bit fitter. “He comes out in the morning to walk for 45 minutes in the hills. Then I ride him, and he goes back out in the afternoon and walks again. I think that’s helping him to get a little bit more condition,” he said.
They also have to take into consideration Galant’s breeding schedule. After a heavy season of showing and breeding in Florida this winter, Parra gave the stallion a few weeks off before tuning him up for the CDI.
“This was our first show back, and now he’s really ready for the next one,” said Parra.
He’s Living Up To His Name
While Parra was searching for a little extra spark from his steed in the Grand Prix, Katherine Poulin-Neff’s ride, Brilliant Too,
was just getting confirmed in the small tour classes.
“Zuel” won the Great American/USDF Region 2 championships at third and fourth level last year, but Poulin-Neff had no expectations that he’d excel in the small tour classes so quickly.
“There’s no pressure with this horse. Whatever he’s capable of doing while remaining happy and healthy–that’s what I do,” said Poulin-Neff.
Poulin-Neff’s parents, Michael and Sharon Poulin, bred Zuel (Brilliant–Blue Brigetta). When the Dutch Warmblood-Thoroughbred cross failed to grow beyond 15.1 hands, Poulin-Neff earned the ride as the shortest member of her family.
“A lot of people come up to me and ask, ‘How big is your horse?’ But I’ve never had a judge make a negative comment about his size,” said Poulin-Neff. “Spectators just can’t believe that a horse his size is doing what he’s doing. It tells people that you don’t have to have a big, fancy horse to make it with the big boys.”
Poulin-Neff is especially proud of the fact that Zuel is an American-bred warmblood. “I was the first person that ever sat on the horse, and I’m still training him,” she said. “There’s always one particular horse that you enjoy riding every day, and that’s him. Everything comes very naturally for him.”
When she made her annual trek south from her home in Newbury, Ohio, to Florida this winter to train with her parents, she had no plans to move the 10-year-old up. But by January, he seemed ready to go.
“Every show he’s gone to, he’s done well,” said Poulin-Neff. “I’m happy with his progress, and he’s happy. You couldn’t ask for anything more. I don’t pressure myself in the competition arena.”
They won all three small tour classes in the CDI. It was their first CDI and only Zuel’s fourth competition at that level. It was also the first time they’d shown in the Intermediaire freestyle.
“Terry Gallo designed the freestyle. She emphasized fun, and that’s what I wanted,” said Poulin-Neff. “It’s got a lot of brass to it, and it’s very upbeat. They played my music for the awards ceremony, and Janet Brown [Foy] was dancing. I just went out to do what I could do. I wanted to have a fun time. My horse was relaxed, and it worked.”
Sharon flew up to coach her 26-year-old daughter, so Poulin-Neff was pleased to be with her mom for Mother’s Day. “It was nice to see her,” said Poulin-Neff. “I don’t train with anybody when I’m in Ohio.”
Zuel’s flying changes particularly pleased Poulin-Neff. He also had a lovely extended walk and fluid, harmonious half-passes.
“We’ve been working on our pirouettes,” said Poulin-Neff. “There’s always one thing that has to be worked on, and that’s the one thing.”
Her immediate goal with Zuel is qualifying for the Intermediaire championships in Gladstone, N.J., this spring. Poulin-Neff also faces the challenge of gathering sponsorship and continuing to launch her career as a dressage trainer in Ohio.
A Promising Start
Zuel is unusual in the dressage world because of his size, but Grande Crimson, who won the USEF/Markel Young Horse Central Selection Trial for 6-year-olds, is unusual because of her breeding.
“CC” is by Rio Grande, a Canadian Warmblood stallion known for his talented hunter offspring. When Michelle Folden, Greensboro, N.C., first saw CC, she knew nothing about her breeding but immediately recognized her as a talented dressage prospect. So she asked her owner, Andrea Driscoll, if she could take the horse for training.
“I fell in love with her immediately,” said Folden. “They let me have her and try to sell her. But all the calls that I got were for a hunter, and we don’t even have one jump at our farm! Nobody ended up being that interested because they were looking for a made hunter.”
Folden convinced Driscoll to let her show CC, and they entered their first show in July 2005. Her talent for dressage was immediately clear when she scored 78 percent in her first outing.
They finished the year by winning the Great American/USDF Region 1 championship at training level and finishing sixth at training level in the U.S. Dressage Federation standings.
“I told [Driscoll] that we shouldn’t sell her,” said Folden. “We should just see what she could do.”
Folden took CC to Florida for the winter and came up with a new goal for the mare. She decided to train her for the FEI 6-year-old test and see if they could qualify for the national championship.
“The horse was only training level, so we knew we had to cover a ton of ground with her over the winter,” recalled Folden. “The 6-year-old test is very close to third level, with flying changes, half-pass and collected, medium and extended gaits.”
She worked with John Zopatti while in Florida and rode in a clinic with Scott Hassler, the U.S. Equestrian Federation National Young Horse Dressage Coach.
Folden, 38, had planned to wait until the Raleigh CDI (N.C.) in June before entering the young horse selection trials, but CC was going so well in Ohio that Hassler encouraged her to enter.
“We still had one flying change that wasn’t confirmed,” confessed Folden. “Some days we could get it left-to-right, and some days we couldn’t. But we were getting it in Ohio more than we weren’t, so we did it!”
Although their test wasn’t perfect, Folden couldn’t have been happier with it. They won the preliminary test and the finale, qualifying them for the national championships, which will be held in Lexington, Ky., Sept. 8-10.
“I think over the next three months we have a lot of room for improvement, and I think I can show them a lot more,” said Folden. “I think this horse is definitely a super FEI prospect. She’s loving the work and eating it up.”
The rain didn’t dampen Folden or CC’s enthusiasm throughout the weekend. “We just walked around in the mud, and I sang ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ and tried to laugh,” said Folden.
When they won their first class, Folden peeled herself out of her wet breeches and noticed that they actually weren’t very muddy at all.
“I didn’t have the best ride because the PA backfired and she grabbed the bit and took off,” admitted Folden. “I felt like the gods must be with me, so I wore the same breeches the whole weekend! I felt like I had something going and I shouldn’t change a thing.”