Wednesday, Jun. 5, 2024

Rifradin Rises To The Occasion At Woodside Spring Dressage

Under the guidance of rider Helena Espinosa and trainer Debbie McDonald, this mare finds much success in California.

Spending the winter training in California paid off for Helena Espinosa. Her scores at the Woodside Spring Dressage Show, May 15-17, in Woodside, Calif., put her on track to qualify for the Intermediaire I Championship at the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Festival Of Champions (N.J.) this summer.



Under the guidance of rider Helena Espinosa and trainer Debbie McDonald, this mare finds much success in California.

Spending the winter training in California paid off for Helena Espinosa. Her scores at the Woodside Spring Dressage Show, May 15-17, in Woodside, Calif., put her on track to qualify for the Intermediaire I Championship at the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Festival Of Champions (N.J.) this summer.

Espinosa, based at Leatherdale Farms in Long Lake, Minn., has been in Thousand Oaks, Calif., since early January with her mare Rifradin training with Debbie McDonald.

“I’m just so thrilled,” said Espinosa. “Training with Debbie is a wonderful opportunity. Rifradin is rising to the occasion and getting stronger and carrying herself better. I’m just thrilled with how she’s doing. She’s lighter and getting steadier. Sometimes she’s a little tense, but I think she’s gaining confidence. We both are. Every time out is a new lesson.”

The 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Gribaldi—Atradin, Formateur) won the qualifying Prix St. Georges class with a 68.42 percent on Friday and a matching 68.07 percent in the qualifying Intermediaire I. Doug and Louise Leatherdale bought her two years ago in the Netherlands when the mare was just starting out at Prix St. Georges. Espinosa competed with her at Prix St. Georges last year, and this year she set her goal for Gladstone, N.J.

“I’m just so grateful to the Leatherdales for all of their support,” said Espinosa, who grew up in Rochester, Minn., about 11⁄2 hours south of Minneapolis/St. Paul. “When I was 14 I was working for Marianne Ludwig, and the very first horse show I ever went to was at Leatherdale Farms. And much later I met them again.”

Espinosa has worked for the Leatherdales for eight years. She has a master’s degree from Princeton University (N.J.) in architecture and worked as an architect and taught design at the University of Minnesota for five years after graduating.

“I had always wanted to ride seriously again,” said Espinosa. “I had the opportunity to be a working student for Sue Blinks, so I went to work for her thinking I’d take a sabbatical from architecture. But after I came home I just couldn’t stop riding. Working for Sue was a great opportunity and opened a lot of doors for me.”

Espinosa hopes to move Rifradin up to Grand Prix next year. The mare is showing a lot of talent for the piaffe and passage and has natural cadence.

Espinosa also took the Leatherdales’ 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Uivertje Ruta (by Jazz) to California for the winter. Uivertje Ruta was the top-scoring mare at the 2005 Dutch National Championships for young dressage horses. At Woodside she was the open reserve champion at the upper levels, winning third level, test 1, with a 69.23 percent.

FedEx To The Rescue

Anya Bershad celebrated her move up from the young rider ranks with a 68.68 percent and a win in Friday’s Prix St. Georges class with her Hanoverian gelding Wonderboy.

Bershad almost didn’t make it into the ring, as she realized when packing for the show that her shadbelly and top hat were at home in Santa Fe, N.M. She had to ask the judge’s permission to ride the test in a short coat and helmet.


“I got a friend to FedEx it from New Mexico,” said Bershad with a laugh. “And my mom asked me three times if I was sure I had my shadbelly in my closet, and I thought I did. I’m never taking it off. I’m starting a new fashion trend!”

Bershad, 22, is a senior at Stanford University (Calif.), majoring in biophysics and comparative literature. “I couldn’t decide what I was interested in,” she said with a smile.

This was their first show since competing on the Region 5 team at the North American Junior And Young Riders Championships last August and her first show competing as an amateur.

“It was amazing,” said Bershad after Friday’s ride. “I’ve never felt my horse like that. Both of us just clicked. It was very exciting. Both of us were very relaxed because I wasn’t expecting much at this show.”

The Woodside show grounds are just one freeway exit down the Interstate from the Stanford University stables, so Bershad hauled in every day and showed from her trailer. That made the show low key for her.

“All his movements are super confirmed in the PSG,” said Bershad. “It’s amazing. He’s really a schoolmaster in the movements. If you can keep him forward and keep him through, then he does everything perfectly. The minute you have a sticky issue it’s a bad situation. He can get resistant in the reinbacks and pirouettes sometimes.”

Sunday she rode the Intermediaire I for the first time in competition and placed third in the amateur/junior/young rider class with a 62.63 percent.

“It was a little bit over our heads, but it was fine,” she said afterward. “It was the first I-1 of my life, and the first I-1 of his life, and it was a billion degrees out! [Actually 102 degrees.] I just warmed him up for only five minutes because I didn’t want to overheat him.”

Bershad purchased the 11-year-old Wonderboy (Weltmeyer—Romantika, Rosenkavalier) in January of 2008. He’s a flashy 16.2-hand chestnut with a big blaze and three socks. Sometimes he has a flaxen mane and tail, and sometimes he doesn’t. “I feel horribly superficial because I want to highlight it all the time,” said Bershad with a laugh.

“Wonderboy is a silly name and everyone makes fun of me, but it suits him,” continued Bershad. “I love him. We have the same exact personality. Kind of feisty and independent, and we have very little patience. We get along extraordinarily well. If I didn’t have him I’d probably be studying 100 percent of the time. It’s good to have a responsibility that’s fun.”

Bershad, who trains with Heidi Gaian of Hollister, Calif., also picked up the FEI junior/young rider/amateur high-percentage championship.

Kind And Honest


Karen Cohen, Santa Cruz, Calif., earned the high-point lower level amateur award at the show with her 6-year-old Oldenburg gelding Wasabi (Wolkentanz II—Donna, De Niro) with 74.00 percent and 73.60 percent in training level, test 4.

Cohen didn’t start riding until she was 47 and only started dressage five years ago when she met trainer Amie Beauregard of Vigne’ Farms in Bonnie Doon, Calif. She imported Wasabi last summer from Germany.

“In 19 years I’ll be 75 and Wasabi will be 25, and we can ride the centennial ride,” said Cohen. “That’s my goal. He’s the horse of my life. I just adore him. I feel so blessed.”

This is only the third show together for Cohen and Wasabi. He was green when she bought him and didn’t have canter transitions down yet. Their first show was at the Golden State Premiere at Rancho Murieta in January, and in April they earned the high-point amateur award at the Golden State Dressage Festival (Calif.).

“I feel really good with training level, test 4, because I understand that test really well,” said Cohen. “I went out on Friday and rode it with a lot of gusto, and it just turned out great. Wasabi’s the kind of horse that if you have the contact right he’s with you. When you drop the reins, that little nose goes straight down. He wants to stretch; you don’t have to mess with him too much. He’s a real confidence booster.

“I’ve been really practicing to get the geometry right and get his neck in a beautiful place,” continued Cohen. “We’ve worked really hard to make it relaxed and to make it harmonious. I’ve never gotten scores like this on my other dressage horse.”

Cohen won her two classes on Friday, and she decided to experiment a bit on Saturday.

“I tried to ride him in a little more of a training level frame and not so much on the bit,” she said. “That wasn’t so good—he likes a little more contact.”

She went back to the original plan for her second ride on Saturday and received a 69.21 percent in first level, test 4. This was their second show at this level.

“He just wants to try his little heart out,” said Cohen. “He wants to give you everything you ask for. I feel so lucky to be able to have a horse. That was my dream my whole life.”




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