Super Grand Prix Rides from Heidi Conlon at Dressage at Saratoga: Proving the Idiom "Never Give Up" by Nikki Alvin-Smith

Super Grand Prix Rides from Heidi Conlon at Dressage at Saratoga: Proving the Idiom " Never Give Up". by Nikki Alvin-Smith

Dressage at Saratoga was held as usual Memorial Day Weekend, May 23rd,24th and 25th and was split into two events giving the competitors a chance to earn two qualifying scores over the three days. Important when the cost of travel and time away from the barn out showing can be cost prohibitive for both the professional and amateur riders. Sponsored by ENYDCTA and the USEF this was a super weekend of competition and it was especially great to see PARA qualifying classes included.

The venue at Yaddo Garden Horse Show Grounds, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is just the other side of the backstretch to the racetrack. Three rings ran all weekend and this was an official qualifying competition for a myriad of dressage championships including FEI North American Jr.. and YR Championships, USEF National Developing Horses Dressage Championship PSG and GP and new this year, Eventing Tests were offered. The grounds were beautifully set up with a big tent housing a myriad of equestrian vendors, lots of shade, seating and it was wonderfully positioned so you could see every ring from one spot. Very helpful when the rain came down on Friday!

Heidi Conlon aboard her impressive chestnut Donnerhall grandson Donnerzauber competed at Grand Prix in adverse conditions of wind and rain on Friday to a score of 63.850%. On Saturday she rode her Grand Prix Freestyle (Test of Choice) to tunes of ACDC and Guns and Roses music. On a sidebar: ACDC is a particular favorite band of mine as I saw them in the U.K. when they were starting out and sat with the sound guy through the evening who prophetically told me to 'Watch this band as they are going to be big." Heidi clearly enjoyed this freestyle test where the pair scored 67.813%. This test included some beautiful piaffe work and some excellent collected and extended trots. Due to some highly inclement weather over Friday night the rings saw some standing water early Saturday causing some to scratch. But the sun shined and everything dried out nicely by midday for the rest of the competition and Heidi and other riders were encouraged to warm up on deck, a side area of Ring 1 where the footing was nicely dried out. This big moving gelding went again at Grand Prix on Sunday to a further score of 66.500%.

Heidi Conlon aboard her impressive chestnut Donnerhall grandson Donnerzauber

Heidi commented that the main arena was fine after the torrential downpour but the warm up arenas were not, so she was happy to warm up on deck. As an experienced Grand Prix competitor myself, I can say that the footing held up amazingly well given the amount of rain that fell, and that the management at the show run by Madame Chair Regina Cristo, was excellent. I'd also like to add as someone that previously competed, many moons ago at Dressage at Saratoga back when it was held on the actual racetrack in front of the Grandstand, this location is much better. The racetrack sand was deep and tough on the horses. Heidi also commented on the stabling and show management, " The people are so friendly, it is so organized and stabling is great. I like the big stalls at the track. If you own an 18 h.h. horse you need a big stall."

" I was very proud of my horse the way he handled the footing. The GP test is very hard. His tempi changes and piaffe are his highlights. The first class I won a one year subscription to Warmbloods Magazine and the second and third day I won a Back on Track saddle pad, I love it. I am a big believer in the product and have many Back on Track boots and wraps for my horses, " said Heidi afterward.

Heidi Conlon qualified for Regionals at HITS Saugerties, NY in September in two classes both the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle. Her goal is to compete in Kentucky at the Nationals this year. These scores are no small achievement for an amateur rider with no sponsorship, and this horse and rider have achieved everything from start to finish themselves, as Heidi purchased Donnerzauber as a two year old in 2003 during a buying trip for clients in Germany.

"What made me pick him was his big walk and rhythmical trot. I did all my own training beginning out with breeding shows, Material Classes for young horses, FEI five and six year old classes and regular tests from Training Level to Grand Prix. I had help from my long time coach Cindy Snowden who I met at a young horse symposium with Scott Hassler in 2006. We have worked together all these years. She understands me and my horse the best.   I also rode with Robert Dover, Lars Peterson, Conrad Schuhmacher, Courtney King, Mike Poulin , and many more... but only in 1 or 2 day clinic's," explained Heidi.

This horse and rider partnership has overcome ups and downs to arrive at this level. " ItHeidi Conlon aboard Donnerzauber does not matter what kind of horse you have or how tall, big he is, just give him time.  Horses tell you when they are ready to do the next step.  Believe me, my horse is an eighteen hand, big horse and I took my time, many people (other professionals) told me to sell him from the time he was three years old but I believed in my horse and with a great coach and friend by my side (Cindy Snowden) I achieved the unbelievable "Grand Prix".  Always make sure your horse has no physical issues when you go up the levels.  And sometimes you have to back off for a while if your training starts having issues.  Some horses are different, you cannot compare them with another horse that has an easier time leaning, Never give up, believe in yourself and your horse and I know you will achieve what your are aiming for," Heidi shared.

Heidi Conlon would love to spend a season in Florida but sees this as a tough option. " My goal as a rider is to spend one winter season in Wellington, FL with Donnerzauber.  But due to no sponsor, and working a full time job and train and teach on the side to support my goals, I don't think this will be possible."

Robin-Lynn BrentAlso riding in the FEI Freestyle Test of Choice this time at Intermediate 1 2009 was Robin-Lynn Brent who had some very good rides on Biolek at this event including scores of 65.188% and 64.342%. This combination is well on their way to the top of the sport. The same combination won the FEI Prix St Georges with 63.618% and 66.118%.

Another highlight of the show was the Para Eq. Freestyle Classes. With para-Olympic competitors competing in the small arena classes it was Donna Ponessa onDonna Ponessa on PG Ganda


PG Ganda who won the Adult Amateur Freestlye with 73.125%. While Sydney Collier rode NTEC Cuplee in the JR/YR 1b Freestyle to 69.500%. While Sydney was a little tearful afterward and disappointed with parts of her performance, she did an amazing test especially when her horse exuded a little naughtiness taking off across the diagonal. Sydney handled the Sydney Collier on NTEC Cupleesituation with true aplomb, and took the just six year old gelding owned by Patricia Mendenhall back around and asked again. The second time the horse behaved himself and Sydney completed her test without further mishap, and Team "Syd" was rightfully proud.Elizabeth Traband and her horse Ucar

Elizabeth Traband and her horse Ucari scored 73.500% in the FEI Para Equestrian Grade IV Freestyle, doing a beautiful job aboard the KWPN gelding owned by Helene Bergstrome.

Hannah McCabe on ValparaisoThe FEI YR team Test sponsored by Cristo Demolition, was won by Hannah McCabe on Valparaiso with 65.855%. This was a well ridden test and showed great consistency throughout.

Proving that you don't have to own a warmblood to win big in the dressage arena there was noteworthy collection of 'other' breeds at this event including the winning Fjords owned by Wendy Luscombe ( who folks may recall owned Seldom Seen, the ' little gray powerhouse' ridden to international level by Lendon Gray), and some very pretty Fell ponies.

Eleni Econoply on OrgonneThe fjord team ridden by the very capable Eleni Econoply, did extremely well and showed excellent training and consistency. Orgonne collected many blue ribbons and only slightly outshined his team mate Octane winning First Level Test 3 with 73.871%. But Octane had already won a very large First Level Test 3 class the day before with a score of 72.419%. Orgonne showed lots of promise at 2nd Level T1 coming in 2nd behind Ariella Espana Gross on Western Rose, who scored 64.143% just ousting Orgonne from the blue by a few percentage points.
Elini is a rider to watch - she rode Dauphine Of Belair to 68.421% in the FEI Test of Choice, FEI Young Riders - PSG Team 2009 JR/YR for another blue ribbon and qualified for FEI Young Rider Individual Test 2014 NAJYRC Class on the same horse with a score of 68.289% narrowly out riding the very competent Hannah McCabe on Valparaiso who showed some excellent suppleness and outstanding lateral work.

The ever growing popularity of the Friesian horse was also well represented with Jeff Lindberg garnering many blue ribbons at Third Level with Jello van de Meer, who is owned by Jacqueline St. Onge. This pair showed great accuracy and control and exuded confidence and have a great future.

This writer was also delighted to see a former horse that I had imported from the Elite Hanoverian Auction in 1997, (Willowview Hill) Balou now twenty two years young, was also competing at this event. Owned presently by Jeffrey Lindberg and previously achieving Intermediate Level, having been started in his dressage work by my husband (& Grand Prix trainer working out of Stamford, NY) Paul Alvin-Smith before moving on to Olav Drehn's barn for much of his later career, this beautiful chestnut was ridden with great harmony by Rachel Rosengart at 4th level to a score in Test 1 of 64.143%. It was just amazing to see this wonderful gentle equine looking so wonderful at his age and I agree with Heidi Conlon, it pays to take the steps slowly and with great care especially in the early stages. This truly can help assure a long and productive, sound life for a horse.

Winning the qualifying USEF 4th Level T3 Class (sponsored by tack shop) with 66.125%, was Hudson Valley rider Wes Dunham. Wes did an outstanding job as usual and could also be seen throughout the show coaching his Para riders to great success.

Alix Szepesi with Douceur Alix Szepesi also showed some seriously good riding at this event qualifying with Douceur in the USDF Freestyle Test of Choice at Third level with a whopping 73.483% . Her coach Christoph Theallet must be very proud and was present at Gladstone to see her progress a few weeks later.

Between classes there was plenty of good shopping to be enjoyed under the massive tent with everything from equestrian home decor pieces from Hart Pottery and Laswell Art to handcrafted jewelry from Bolivars and Tempi Designs, and tack repair and belts and bangles. The latter being crafted right in front of your eyes by Ploughman's Saddlery. If you are truly interested in soundness and the hoof it is worth stopping in to visit Precision Hoof, whose innovative ideas and products bear thinking about. If you ran out of Custom Saddlery something you needed you could always stop in at local tack shop The Cheshire Horse, Fit-Right Saddlery and Tracie at Custom Saddlery were kept busy with saddle fittings and purchases. After all, a horse show is the perfect time to check your saddle fit, or check out a new saddle.

Some neat prizes were also donated by various companies including one of our own advertisers, The Horse Studio who donated two beautiful Masters line Degas bridles from their own collection, Back on Track saddle pads, and the beautifully made horse bonnets by Laura Stulberger of Saratoga Bonnets who custom makes each and every one. They were truly delightful.

In all, this was a very well run and friendly show with some excellent

Phoenix Blum with Berniceriding, promising young horses coming up the ranks such as Stan Horton's Rais, and some excellent talent from riders such as Amanda McAuliffe's on Curious Christopher Robin, the latter did an outstanding job at Training Level winning with scores of 72.600% in Test 3. Plus some excellent FEI riding from Paula Pierce aboard Hunter Douglas Rhapsody.

The event was enjoyed by folks of all ages both in the ring and spectating and dogs on a leash were a welcome part of the visitors to the Yaddo Gardens. This young rider from Pennsylvania was spectating this time but enjoyed time catching up with horses and was more than a little inspired. Her Mom was en route from Canada back to Pennsylvania and stopped at Dressage at Saratoga to take in the show which made her daughter very happy. What a great way to break a long drive!

Lois YukinsEverything was on time, the announcing professional as always from Brian O'Connor and judges Scott Peterson, Lois Yukins and Ida Norris worked hard as always to provide the competitors with good feedback to work through the 2014 show season in the North East. Good job ENDCYTA!