December 2015 - Parade of Champions

Welcome to our third annual Parade of Champions feature. We’ve asked a few of the year’s top junior and amateur winners to tell us a little about their year, their hopes for 2016, their horses, their riding and their inspirations.

Getting fitter, staying calmer and adopting a positive attitude were among the goals these riders shared. The horses they ride revealed a love of green grapes, candy canes and bananas, along with some odd, yet adorable, habits, including lip flapping and removing bellboots.

Congratulations to this sampling of West Coast stars and we hope you enjoy learning more about them!

We asked ...

  1. What was the best riding improvement and/or horsemanship insight you experienced?
  2. What was the most fun thing you and your horse did?
  3. Does your horse have any unusual habits or preferences?
  4. What is your favorite horse show or event and why?
  5. How many times did you fall off?
  6. Do you do any non-riding fitness activities that have helped your riding?
  7. Riding goals for 2016?
  8. Inspirational quote or coaching comment that most inspires you.


Horse: Wynsum, aka “Sammy.”
Age: 16
Trainer: Nadine Pestana, Top Hat and Tails Equestrian Center in Pleasanton, CA

Top 2015 finishes
NAJYRC - Junior Team Silver Medalist
USDF/GAIG Region 7 JR/YR Champion - Fourth Level
CDS JR/YR Fourth Level Horse of the Year

  1. My best riding improvement this year is being able to carry over my connection and contact with Sammy from the warm-up to the show ring. Sammy tends to get very animated and strong in the arena and this year I feel like I’ve finally managed to maintain the lightness and suppleness I need to be able to successfully get through a test.
  2. My most memorable experience with my horse from this year would be going down the centerline at the Rolex Arena at NAJYRC this past summer. It was an exhilarating and mind-boggling experience to be competing in an arena with so much prestige and to be competing against some of the top junior riders in North America. The experience really solidified the relationship I have with my horse, knowing that he could handle the stress-riddled atmosphere resulted in me being able to put my complete trust in him and vice versa.
  3. Sammy has a never-ending list of quirks. His favorite treats are green grapes and candy canes, and he’ll proceed to lick his lips after he eats them, as if trying to savor the taste. If I take too long to saddle and bridle him up, he’ll cross his front legs and take off his Velcro boots. When we’re at horse shows all he wants to do is nap, which probably explains his high level of energy in the show ring. Age is truly just a number with this horse; he may be going on 17, but in his mind, he thinks he’s 5.
  4. My favorite horse show is the CDS Northern Junior Championship because the atmosphere is light-hearted while also still being a competitive show. There are always fun social events in the evenings. I enjoy connecting with the other junior dressage riders in my region and watching the pas de deux and freestyles. I look forward to this event every year and it is a great way to end an often-busy show season.
  5. I’m proud to say I’ve only fallen once this year, and knock on wood I have never broken a bone or been seriously injured. I was riding a horse for a lady at my barn when he slipped in the mud and we ended up taking a tumble together.
  6. Occasionally, when I have free time and am not exhausted between school and riding, I enjoy going on runs. When I find that I’m having difficulty sitting the trot, I do some core exercises to help strengthen my abdominal muscles.
  7. In 2016, my goal with Sammy is to compete at Prix St. Georges and to show our Fourth Level freestyle, which we will be putting together this winter.
  8. Not really related to dressage specifically, but a quote I like to live by is, “Take pride in how far you’ve come and have faith in how far you can go.”


Horse: Notable, aka “Eli”
Trainer: Mary Gatti and Kim Tasker of
Rainbow Canyon Ranch in Azusa

Top 2015 finishes
Champion CPHA Foundation Finals 22 & over
Champion SFHJA Challenge Finals
Reserve Champion Foxfield Finals

  1. I think my biggest riding improvement this year was learning to relax a little while I’m riding. I am your typical Type A personality, who tries to control everything. That can be a problem for me when I’m riding. I get too rigid, and I tend to overreact to things when I’m anxious. My trainers and I have been focusing on letting things flow more, rather than trying to control every step. I’ve gotten better at relaxing and taking deep breaths while I’m on course, and I try to under-react to things, especially when I’m nervous.
  2. I don’t know if I can pick just one thing, because I have been so lucky this year. Eli is the most fun horse I have ever had, and he makes everything seem easy. He tries so hard for me, and he is great at hiding my mistakes. Having him takes a lot of pressure off of me, so everything is fun.
  3. I don’t know how unusual it is, but he is a big fan of bananas. I would actually call him a banana connoisseur. He has different methods of eating them, depending on how ripe they are. If they aren’t ripe enough, he will only eat the banana. If they are perfectly ripe he first eats the banana, and then he eats the peel. If they are really ripe, though, he likes to eat the banana and the peel together.
  4. My favorite horse show is probably the Foxfield finals. The finals are held all in one day, and that is the only thing going on that day. They do a good job of making it special. It is a long day, but it’s really nice.
  5. Knock on wood … I’ve only fallen off once this year.
  6. Because of work I can’t ride as often as I would like, so I have to do something to try and stay in better shape. I go to Pure Barre, an exercise class that is sort of a combination of ballet, Pilates and yoga. I definitely think it helps with my riding because it has strengthened my core, and improved my posture.
  7. My goal for 2016 is to continue working on my consistency with Eli, and to do some more of the 3’6” medals.
  8. I recently read a quote that said, “Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.” I like that because it reflects what I try to do when I am showing, especially in important classes. Before I go into the ring I visualize how I am going to ride the course. I try to focus on all of the things I want to do right, rather than thinking about mistakes that I don’t want to make.     Thinking about how I am going to ride each part of the course before I go in the ring helps me to make the right decisions while I am on course.


Horse: Zilveren, aka “Zorro”
Age: 19
Trainer: Kelly Van Vleck,
of Van Vleck Sporthorses in the
Sacramento area’s Rancho Murieta, CA

Top 2015 finishes
Champion CPHA Adult Medal Finals
Champion NorCal Adult Medal Finals
7th out of 51 in the Modified Junior/Amateur Classic at the Summer Festival at Showpark Del Mar on LEGIS Maloubet

  1. I think the best riding improvement I experienced this year was enhancing my abilities to work with a horse that I did not really know. I started leasing Zorro mid-July, and had a little less than a month to get to know him before CPHA Adult Medal Finals. Compared to other horses I have ridden, Zorro is a little stronger and nervous in the ring. I had to adapt to his ride more and, in order to keep him calm, I had to stay calm as well.
  2. The most exciting thing for Zorro and me this year was winning the CPHA Adult Medal Finals because both he and I really had to trust each other.
  3. When Zorro is standing in the crossties or when he is bored, he starts to kind of wiggle his nose and flap his lips together. It sounds very strange, but it is actually very cute to watch because I’m always curious as to what he is thinking.
  4. My favorite horse shows are held at Showpark in Del Mar because I enjoy the grass rings they have. For example, CPHA Foundation Medal Finals 21-under are out on the main grass field, and it is something really fun to experience.
  5. No falls this year.
  6. I am on Texas Christian University’s Equestrian Team and we have to work out in the morning Monday through Thursday. We do a lot of upper body, core and leg work to enhance the muscles we have already built from riding.
  7. My riding goals for 2016 are to go to USEF Talent Search Finals and to move up in the jumper ring
  8. In 2013, I went to my first USEF Talent Search Finals, and at the end of the weekend my trainer, Kelly Van Vleck, sent me an inspirational message that has carried me through my career today. In it she says I handle success and defeat with equal amounts of grace and poise. I have her to thank for that because she taught me from a very young age that we learn from our mistakes, and that placing in an event does not always matter; it is about what you think of your ride that matters.


Horses: Sinatra’s Ruhm, Cansas, Mille Bisous
Age: 15
Trainers: John Bragg & Karen Healey

Top 2015 finishes
Winner of CPHA Junior Medal Finals
Winner of PCHA Medal Finals
Champion Small Jr. 15 & Under and 3rd overall Jr Hunter at West Coast Jr. Hunter Finals

  1. Over the summer, I stepped into the jumper ring. I have been competing in the Junior Jumpers with Mille Bisous, owned by Emma Wujek, and this has helped me immensely in the equitation ring.
  2. Competing and winning is great but I thoroughly enjoy every second that I’m in the saddle.
  3. Sinatra loves to be ridden bareback and in a halter.
  4. My favorite horse show is the Washington International Horse Show. I love being in the city while getting to show my horses.
  5. I have fallen off twice so far this year.
  6. I play varsity soccer for my school. This makes my body stronger and helps my leg and body position.
  7. My goals for 2016 include competing in Young Riders and competing in the medal finals back east.
  8. “The horse you got on is not the same as the horse you got off. It’s your job as a rider to ensure that, as often as possible, the change is for the better.”


Horse: Elton
Age: 17
Trainer: Kelly Van Vleck,
Van Vleck Sporthorses in the
Sacramento area’s Rancho Murieta

Top 2015 finishes
Champion, NorCal Junior Medal Final
4th, Second Round of CPHA Foundation Medal
Qualified for Pessoa, Maclay, and CPHA Medals

  1. This year, I worked on keeping my focus while under pressure.
  2. Participating in the NorCal Medal Finals was really fun! It was so rewarding for all the work and training to come together for Elton and me.
  3. Elton loves his treats and gets pretty irritated when I don’t produce them quick enough for him.
  4. I enjoy all of the shows in Northern California. The shows are competitive, but the atmosphere is relaxed.
  5. No falls this year!
  6. I work out at the gym doing a combination of aerobics and weight training. At the beginning of the show year, I started eating a vegan diet. These two lifestyle changes have really helped my overall fitness.
  7. My 2016 show year will be shortened, as I plan on attending Texas Christian University in August to ride for its equestrian team. For 2016, I hope to lease a jumper and show in some jumper divisions and compete in Talent Search classes. Also, I want to qualify for the CPHA Junior Medal finals so I can compete in a medal final before I leave for TCU.
  8. “Since we can’t outbuy the competition, we’ll have to outtrain them!” (Kelly Van Vleck)


Horse: Orlando
Age: 16
Trainer: Linda Cooper, Maverick Farms at Peter Weber Equestrian Center in Rancho Palos Verdes

Top 2015 Finishes
Reserve Champion LAHJA
Horsemanship Medal Final
Champion CPHA Child/Adult Medal Final
11th place SFHJA 17 and under Medal Final

  1. The best riding improvement I experienced this year was becoming more comfortable at the 3’ level. My position over the fences has become much stronger and I am able to stay with the horse more than I used to. There is still room for improvement, but I’ve become mentally and physically stronger this past year.
  2. The most fun thing Orlando and I did this year was winning Champion in the CPHA Child/Adult Medal Final. The feeling of accomplishing a goal is something that leaves one speechless. It gives a sense of pride and has a way of making you feel proud of all the hard work you’ve put into riding.
  3. Orlando doesn’t really have any unusual habits or preferences. He is just a very big licker and the most sweetest and bravest horse I know. He has a way of making me feel safe and confident. When I’m on him I feel like I’m flying. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to ride and get to know such a beautiful horse.
  4. My favorite horse show is Portuguese Bend National Horse Show because it’s right in my backyard. It’s a way to both support my community and also do what I love… Ride. PBNHS is a great way for me to come and support the community while supporting my fellow teammates. Just the atmosphere of the entire show is very friendly, welcoming, and heart warming. All the volunteers who gather to help and support the horse community remind me of a big family. Even if I don’t have a good show, I still go home with a smile on my face because the spectators, volunteers and other riders are all very supportive and have a way of making me forget the losses and remember the wins.
  5. I was incredibly blessed and am proud to say that I had no falls this past year.
  6. The beginning of this year, I had a personal trainer that helped me with my calves, core, lower and upper body strength. Calf raises on stairs, squats and weightlifting really contributed and made me much stronger so I can stay in the saddle.
  7. My riding goal for 2016 is to qualify and hopefully win SFHJA 17 & Under. I also plan on practicing more without my stirrups to develop a much stronger leg. Finally, I hope to learn to stay off my saddle more often and do less “butt riding.”
  8. “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)