Paralympics: dressage riders from Pa. & NY place well


GREENWICH, England - The 2012 Paralympic Games has been the most successful for the U.S. Para-Equestrian Team in recent years.

The para-equestrian dressage portion of the 2012 Paralympic Games came to a close this week with the freestyle test in Grades IV, III and 1a. Donna Ponessa of Windsor, N.Y. was the lone U.S. rider on the day, performing her grade 1a freestyle in front of the ground jury of Kjell Myhre, Lilian Iannone, Gudrun Hofinga, Sarah Rodger and Freddy Leyman.

Ponessa closed out the 2012 Paralympic Games for the U.S. in fine style scoring 70.75 percent with Wesley Dunham's Western Rose. They finished in eighth place. 

Ponessa and Shannon Brinkman's Western Rose upped the difficulty in their test by including trot work. She also showed her New York roots selecting a medley of Broadway show tunes to complement the 9-year-old Oldenburg mare's gaits.

The trot work not only added a degree of difficulty to the test but also helped keep Western Rose's attention and allowed her to maintain a forward walk.

"Rosie's a really smart mare and she gets bored sometimes with walking. Because the walk has no natural impulsion to it, I can feed off some of that because she's using her back end. That actually makes her walk a lot more forward and more impulsive," said Ponessa. "The trot was placed in those spots for that reason she also has the most effortless trot."

Ponessa was representing the U.S. for the first time in London and was inspired by the entire experience.

"I don't know what adjective would describe the experience. It's just been more than I ever could imagine. I knew it was going to be great but just not this great."

In Grade IV competition Belgian Michele George and Rainman won gold with Britain's Sophie Wells riding Pinocchio to the silver medal and Frank Hosmar and Alphaville of The Netherlands earned Bronze. Hannelore Brenner and Women of the World won Gold in Grade III competition, Great Britain's Deborah Criddle and LJT Akilles claimed the Silver medal, and Annika Dalskov of Denmark with Aros A Fenris won Silver. In Grade 1a Great Britain's Sophie Christiansen won her third Gold medal with Janierro 6, Silver went to Singapore's Laurentia Tan, and Ruben James 2 with Helen Kearney of Ireland clinching Bronze on Mister Cool.

Both Rebecca Hart of Unionville, Pa. and Jonathan Wentz of Richardson, Texas rode their best tests of the games Monday, finishing their respective freestyle championships in fifth place.

Hart entered the main arena on Monday morning with redemption on her mind. The Grade II competitor was determined to earn higher marks then she had in the individual test, a performance she had higher expectations for then her 11th place finish. In the freestyle, 27-year-old Hart was able to get the effort she wanted out of Jessica Ransehousen's Lord Ludger. The Oldenburg gelding produced a flowing and active Freestyle, which had an added degree of difficulty by including lateral work to score 73.250 percent.

"It feels great; considering we had some problems in the individual championship test," said Hart. "So it was nice to go in there and remedy some of those and just to leave that impression with the judges at the end of the competition was nice."

The pair performed to the music of "Classical Gas" which suited the rangy gelding very well. Hart also incorporated feedback she has received from the last two tests to up their scores today.

"We thought it [the music] suited the horse; it was calm enough but increased his performance by not getting him too excited," said Hart. "I know the Freestyle well, I love riding the freestyle. We did take a look at what they [the judges] had to say and we did try to ride to that. The honest fact was that we needed to get the walk freer and more animated, so we tried to do that."

Dale Dedrick of Ann Arbor, Mich. also represented the U.S. in grade II competition, finishing in 10th place with her own Bonifatius. 

Britain's Natasha Baker scored her second individual gold medal of these Games with Cabral. Germany took silver and bronze respectively with Britta Napel and Aquilina 3 and Angelika Trabert and Ariva-Avanti .