With A Boost From Beyoncé, Rodier-Dawallo Takes Home USEF Para-Dressage National Championship

Aug 24, 2022 - 4:53 PM

Wayne, Ill.—Aug 24

As Mia Rodier-Dawallo trotted across the Grand Prix Arena with Jayden at the Lamplight Equestrian Center today, Destiny’s Child’s “I’m A Survivor” rang out through the loudspeakers.

Her freestyle medley of Beyoncé hits was a bit lively for many dressage riders, but that was her aim. Featuring a voiceover from feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Rodier-Dawallo said she was inspired while creating her freestyle after a draft of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade leaked in May.

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Mia Rodier-Dawallo had fun with her freestyle on Jayden on their way to winning the USEF Para-Dressage National Championship. Lindsay Berreth Photos

“Freestyle’s my favorite day,” she said. “We like to have a good time and smile our faces off and sob at the end. Sometimes I think you need to have fun, make a statement, get people to talk about things that are necessary to be talked about. Also, there was this antiquated concept that freestyles have to be very traditional, and we’re the furthest thing from traditional. People call us ‘extra’ as an insult, but we take it in stride and own it. Essentially we just wanted to do what makes us happy and channel a little bit of feminist catharsis through our veins.”

While her score of 69.28% netted her third place in today’s para-dressage freestyle at the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions, her overall total after three days of competition gave her the championship.

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Jayden was the star of the awards presentation.

Para-dressage was included for the first time this year at the Festival of Champions, and Rodier-Dawallo was honored to win and happy to make the long trip from her base in Southern California.

“It’s surreal. I’m in shock” she said. “Everyone else has a lot more confidence in me than I do. It’s an honor. It’s so validating that all the blood, sweat and tears we’ve put into this have come to fruition. In this sport, in a matter of a week, you can have the humbling of a lifetime. You feel like you’re on top of the world and everything in between. It’s such an emotional rollercoaster, mentally, physically. When you get an opportunity to come out on a national stage, to have the time of your life and then win, it’s a pleasant surprise. We were a lot more confident this time.”

The lyrics Rodier-Dawallo chose for her freestyle echo her life story: “I’m a survivor, I’m not gonna give up, I’m gonna work harder.”

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“Are we done yet, Mom?”

The daughter of a Persian refugee, she takes pride in where she comes from and speaks out about being a person of color in the equestrian world (see the Chronicle’s March 7 & 14, 2022, issue for a full profile).

She’s also a survivor of domestic abuse, enduring a brutal attack in 2013 at the hands of a family member that left her with a severe brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. A year later she survived a car accident which left her with a broken back and permanent disability.

A dressage rider before her assault, Rodier-Dawallo picked up therapeutic riding, then para-dressage in 2017. She rides at the Grade II level.

She’s had Jayden, an 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Bordeaux—Ardente) for a year.

“He’s the first horse I’ve ever owned in my life,” she said. “I’ve never had the means to own my own horse.”

She and husband Matt Woodman “sort of do this by the seat of our pants, pinching every single penny we can and driving across the country in our horse trailer from the ’80s and our truck from 2000. It was always a dream of mine to own my own horse. With him, it was love at first sight. I’ve never connected with another horse like I have with him,” she said.

Rodier-Dawallo’s trainer, Patty Mayer, got their barn together and set her up with Southern California Equestrian Sport, a nonprofit that helps equestrians raise tax-deductible funds, which allowed her to purchase “Pudding.”

The gelding started life as an eventer with Robyn Fisher before finding his current job.

“There was no learning curve,” said Rodier-Dawallo. “He loves his job. He doesn’t question, it’s like a mutual give and take, a conversation. He’s so young and so kind and smart and willing. He’s so special. You know how when you make cookies for someone, and they taste so much better because they have love in them? Everyone came together to buy this horse with love. He’s like a labor of love.”

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Sydney Collier rode All In One to the para-dressage freestyle win and the reserve para-dressage championship.

Sydney Collier made the trek from Wellington, Florida, with All In One to take home the win in the freestyle (69.45%) and the reserve championship. A veteran Grade I rider, Collier has enjoyed riding “Alle,” who was purchased for her by show jumper Georgina Bloomberg. She’s been training with Devon Kane at Diamante Farms recently and is sponsored by Terri Kane.

“The outpouring of love and support for the sport of para-dressage from the entire equestrian community is something that I am infinitely grateful for,” she said. “We’re excited to be here right alongside our able-bodied counterparts. It’s so special to have the opportunity to open these doors.

“This freestyle is so close to my heart, because as I’ve gotten to know Alle I’ve gotten to know all of the little intricacies of my freestyle and how to ride it so that the patterns really match up with the music and make it an aesthetically pleasing picture overall,” she said. “This is the first freestyle that’s ever taught me how to do that. It tells the story of my life and the trials and tribulations through music from the movie ‘Kung Fu Panda,’ which is surprisingly accurate.”

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Sydney Collier celebrated with trainer Devon Kane (left).

As fate would have it, when she turned on the TV this morning, it was the first movie playing.

“It’s such a special freestyle to ride because Alle has really taught me how to ride a freestyle and how to really be ‘all in one’ with a horse,” she said. “His name runs true to who we are and how I ride nowadays.

“If you haven’t seen it, spoiler alert, it’s about a panda who wants to get into kung fu, and he sees all these superstars doing it, but he feels like he doesn’t really fit the mold, and that’s something that’s always kind of run through the theme of my life,” she added. “I’ve always been the one that never really fit in, and being a young person in dressage especially, you feel sometimes out of place, a little extra, a little bit different, and you feel like you’re trying to fit that mold and trying to step up your game more and more, but in doing so you’re surrounding yourself with people, and trainers especially, that help you fit the mold of what you want to be and what you want to accomplish. It’s a super special theme to me.”

All In One, a 13-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Abanos—Dauphina), is blind in his left eye, and Collier is blind in her right eye, so she says they’re the perfect match.

“We’re literally all in one,” she said. “It’s a super special partnership because we even each other out with one good set of eyes between us!”

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Debbie Stanitski rode a toe-tapping freestyle with Heros to finish third in the para-dressage championship.

Debbie Stanitski finished third overall and second in the freestyle (69.33%) aboard Heros, an 18-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Blue Hors Hertug—Lotus, Lucky Light). She had the “time of her life” riding to popular ’80s music for her Grade I freestyle.

“I really like music,” she said. “I used to sing a lot before my head injury. I’m really happy to ride the freestyle.”

The fourth competitor in the championship, Charlotte Merle-Smith, withdrew Guata before competition.

Competition at the Festival of Champions resumes Thursday at 8 a.m.

Full results I COTH’s Coverage I Schedule I Live Stream

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Debbie Stanitski, Sydney Collier and Mia Rodier-Dawallo (left to right) celebrated.
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Alice Tarjan and Serenade MF scored a 73.86% to win the Grand Prix.
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Emily Miles and Java Dulce finished second in the Grand Prix.
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Nora Batchelder and Faro SQF finished third in the Grand Prix
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Michael Bragdell and Qredit Hilltop were fourth in the Grand Prix.
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Katie Duerrhammer, just back from the world championships, rode Paxton to fifth in the Grand Prix.
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Quinn Iverson and Beckham 19 topped the Intermediaire II test for the Adequan/USEF Brentina Cup championship.
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Quinn Iverson chatted with her trainer Adrienne Lyle after her test.
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Callie Jones and Don Philippo finished second in the Brentina Cup Intermediaire II test.
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Callie Rose O’Connell and Eaton Unitechno finished third in the Brentina Cup Intermediaire II test.
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Jordan Lockwood rode 23-year-old Sagacious HF to fourth in the Brentina Cup Intermediaire II test.
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