Sunday, May. 26, 2024

Stern Earns Highest Honors At CDS Southern Junior/Young Rider Championships.


Strong partnerships help two young riders earn repeat wins.

Ariel Stern is no stranger to the California Dressage Society’s Southern Junior/Young Rider Championships. She’s won a perpetual trophy at every level except for the year when she earned the reserve
championship at third and fourth levels.

But this was the first year she competed Rocko 95, and she took home not one but three perpetual trophies, Aug. 24-26 in Burbank, Calif., including the FEI-level award.
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Strong partnerships help two young riders earn repeat wins.

Ariel Stern is no stranger to the California Dressage Society’s Southern Junior/Young Rider Championships. She’s won a perpetual trophy at every level except for the year when she earned the reserve
championship at third and fourth levels.

But this was the first year she competed Rocko 95, and she took home not one but three perpetual trophies, Aug. 24-26 in Burbank, Calif., including the FEI-level award.

“It’s always really fun,” said the 17-year-old from Riverside, Calif. She acquired Rocko, a 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood, last July and has spent a year building their relationship.

Stern went to Germany to look for Rocko after she retired her junior horse Raffaelo. She went with her barn owner and her trainer, Kim Monk, and spent two weeks looking for the perfect horse.

“We looked at so many horses. It was a fashion show of horses,” said Stern. “[Rocko] really caught my eye because his canter is so phenomenal. He has a stunning canter and a really cute, sweet personality. He was hot, but he wasn’t nutty.”

The sales barn staff described Rocko as a “Prix St. Georges machine,” perfect for Stern to begin her career in the young riders division. He did need to lose a few pounds though.

“When we first bought him he was way too fat,” admitted Stern. “I tend to like fat horses, but he was put on a diet. He couldn’t even bend through the rib cage.”

And he has a personality to go with his size. “At the barn he’s known as Little Huey, or Baby Huey,” said Stern. “He’s 16.3, and he’s got big feet. He’s getting better, but he used to have a big barrel belly. His head is half as long as my body, and he’s just so sweet. He doesn’t understand personal space. He wants to cuddle up in your lap. He’ll lean up on you and want you to love him.”

A Schoolmaster’s Lessons

Despite Rocko’s experience, he and Stern took some time to bond. “He’s patient, but he doesn’t tolerate mistakes,” explained Stern. “You have to ride him perfectly or he’ll blow you off and get frustrated with you. My other horse, I could get frustrated and shut down my seat. Rocko immediately said, ‘No!’ to that one.”

But now Stern and Rocko have a routine. “It took the whole year to figure out that I need a 20-minute warm up,” she said. “You get there the day before you ride, ride your tests and leave. I don’t do any warm-up classes. He does the best when you just go in and do your ride. He knows what his job is.”

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That plan worked well for them at the CDS Championship. Stern placed second in her Young Rider Team test (64.66%),

second in the Prix St. Georges (64.75%) and first in the freestyle (68.37%). This gave her an overall average of 65.88 percent and the Guenter Seidel Perpetual Trophy for the FEI levels. They also won the Washington International Horse Show Perpetual Award for the highest combined scores of a championship class and a freestyle, and the Melanie Stiers Perpetual Trophy for the high-score freestyle.

“The first day all the horses were nervous because of the Equidome. I’d only ridden him there once, but Rocko was such a good boy,” said Stern. “The following day I had an absolutely beautiful ride and went off course. I got second place that day again.”

Her favorite part of the show came during her freestyle. “I love riding to music, and Rocko really enjoys it too,” she said.

Cynthia Collins put together the choreography and music, from the movie Alexander.

“It’s perfect for him,” said Stern. “He looks like a warrior. He’s not pretty from the ground—he has no white markings, and he’s kind of fat. But as soon as he gets in the show ring he’s got a beautiful uphill canter, and his tempi-changes are good for 9s. He’s lovely under saddle. But just standing there he looks like an average horse.”

Stern highlighted Rocko’s canter by performing four-tempi changes on a circle and three-tempi changes down centerline to finish.

Her Young Rider Days Finish With A Flourish

Emily Tears was another repeat winner at the CDS Southern Championships. Last year she earned the Bud Muravez Perpetual Trophy for the highest combined score at second level and below aboard Lopaca, and this year she took home the same award for third level and above.

Although Tears won handily last year, this time her preparation was a bit different because she didn’t compete Lopaca much before the show. Instead, the 20-year-old from Rancho Santa Margarita Calif., spent much of the year riding Luciano, a horse that Jill Cordsen loaned her for the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships.

Tears had hoped to compete at the NAJYRC on her own mount but realized that he wouldn’t be ready this year, and she would be too old next year, as her birthday is in September. But she had a great show with Luciano, leading her Region 7 team to the championship in Lexington, Va. Then she had just enough time to return and prepare Lopaca for the third level CDS championship.

“Going into it I was a little bit unsure how it would turn out,” said Tears. “He was good but a little high. There were a couple of bolting moments, but he got that out of his system [in the warm-up classes].”

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The 7-year-old, Holsteiner (Lorentin I—Wurania) gelding had one “amped” moment in their freestyle, which was not a CDS championship class. “We didn’t really get around our freestyle,” said Tears. “They were setting up for the evening performance, and right when my music started they brought all the tables out.”

But after a few warm-up rides, Lopaca settled back into his show routine, winning both third level, test 2 (70.59%), and third level, test 3 (70.46%), to give Tears the Mary’s Tack & Feed Perpetual Trophy and the best combined score at third level and above.

She also rode on the winning team in the team challenge with her sister, Rachel, and Kelli Newton, another rider from her barn. Rachel won the reserve championship at first level aboard Gryffindor, and Newton rode Cashel’s Rock Of Ages at second level.

Tears bought Lopaca from the Holsteiner Verband in Germany three years ago, and she has trained Lopaca herself with the help of her trainer Karen Ball.

“It’s definitely been difficult,” she admitted. “There have been a lot of ups and downs. Until this year I’d never ridden upper level. It was training myself and training him.”

Riding Luciano helped her understand better what Lopaca should feel like. “[Luciano] knew what he was doing, so when I did it right then he would be good. The general feeling of the changes and the pirouettes was a lot of help with my horse,” said Tears.

Tears has formed a strong connection with Lopaca. “I’ve gotten to know him quite well over these past few years,” she said. “He can be kind of a handful sometimes, bucking and playing. He’s definitely a happy horse, and he always wants to go out and do his job.”

Now she is preparing Lopaca for Prix St. Georges and hopes to compete him in the young horse Prix St. Georges classes next year. “We’ve done some of the movements, and we’ve practiced, but we’ve taken our time with him,” she said. “He’s definitely ready to move up, and I’m really excited to do that on him.”

Sara Lieser

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