Meghan Benge is a Grade III para-equestrian dressage rider based out of Aiken, South Carolina. She got her start at a therapeutic riding center in Texas before moving into the pony hunters and then taking up para-driving. Benge, 36, represented the United States at two FEI World Driving Championships and won individual gold and team silver in 2008 in Germany. She changed tack to go down centerline in the dressage arena in 2017. Benge and her pony, Zoey, are FEI-ranked in para-dressage, and she’s also racked up some impressive scores on another pony, Worth The Trip. Benge is in Wellington, Florida, for the show season to compete in the CPEDI3* shows at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival.
Tell me about your amazing ponies.
Right now I have Zoey, my palomino. She’s a 14-year-old Welsh pony (The Key—Kurbaums Future, Rhystyd Flyer) I’ve had since she was 3. She competed in driving in a pony pair with me to the FEI level. Then I started riding her and, like most things with horses, it’s just sort of snowballed from me wanting to see if I could actually ride again to, hey, maybe we can go to an international show.
What made you decide to start doing dressage?
It was just something new. I’d been driving in regular competitions, and they have all this one-handed stuff in the dressage tests which, after struggling with it forever and ever, I kind of got a bit discouraged. So, I started riding my pony again. The para-driving group is a lot smaller than the para-dressage group, and I discovered this whole world of opportunity. Everybody is out there competing to be the absolute best in the world. Sometimes people think of para competitions as being “less than,” and I think that para-dressage has proven they’re pretty much on the ball with the rest.
I still drive my pony around in the woods; it’s my idea of going for a hack. She’s a worker bee.
You’ve been competing another pony, Worth The Trip. Tell me about him.
My other pony “Trip” (Anjershaf Rocky—Moorland Victoria, Roeland), my chestnut, he’s 23, so he’s been out in the field. He’s perfectly sound, but he has cataracts in both eyes. He’s always found the ring in Florida sort of spooky anyway, so I thought why not give him a break.
Tell me about your goals.
I was just lucky enough to be able to buy a new pony that I’m hoping can take me a little bit further. Zoey’s awesome, but her walk has always been a little bit of a problem spot, and he’s a super mover but still a pony. So hopefully with him I can go to the next level and be competitive with the top people and maybe go to a championships or the Paralympics. We’re just sort of starting in our journey. I’ve only had him for a month.
Are you going to compete him in Wellington?
No, I don’t think we’re going to be ready for that because he’s just beginning to understand. He’s used to an average-sized person riding him [Benge is 4′], and he doesn’t always quite understand my leg and doesn’t always quite understand that I’m not going to be able to hold him up and drive my seat. But he’s a real sweetheart, so I think it’ll work. His name is Rudy.
Is Rudy his real name or his barn name?
That’s his barn name. I don’t really even know how you pronounce his official name, because it’s Richard Löwenherz. It means Richard the Lionheart in German. He’s a 7-year-old German Riding Pony. I had been admiring him for a while and just thought I could never afford him, but the owner was willing to work with me and make it possible. It kind of doesn’t really seem real that he’s mine because he’s unbelievable for being a pony and super sweet.
Is he hard to ride because he’s a big mover?
I went through the same thing when I got Trip. Zoey has all this power, but she doesn’t really swing. She doesn’t have that front-end movement going on, and then Trip is like Mr. Swingy. Rudy’s kind of in the middle of them. So hopefully it won’t take too much, but it is definitely different.
Let’s talk about your freestyle with Zoey. Who helped you create it?
Her name is Leslie Berro. She goes by her business name, Musical Freestyles by Leslie. I had Mary Poppins music before, and we decided to make it a little bit more challenging to make up some points. I had created my freestyle before, and I think, because Leslie actually DOES it and is a music person, it’s probably a little bit more classy than what I had.
To me, it’s the one chance you have to be yourself or have some sort of individual expression. I didn’t want to have the same music as everybody else.
What do you do when you aren’t in the saddle?
I work part-time at a therapeutic riding center. I do a bunch of stuff for them, like their website and social media stuff and photos. I also do photography, websites, graphic design—and ponies.