Wellington, Fla. – January 10, 2016 – When Rebecca Hart and Schroeter’s Romani left the 2015 USEF Para Equestrian Dressage National Championship CPEDI3* in November with their seventh consecutive championship title, one thing was apparent: they are riding to Rio. The first step for the dynamic team in the road to the Paralympic Games, however, was to go straight to the drawing board and begin making changes in their training and musical freestyle to prepare for the podium. Their efforts proved effective, garnering Hart the $10,000 CPEDI3* Championship at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida, on January 10.
“Basically, we have done a lot of preparation work to get to this point. We went to Europe, put in the leg work, the miles and the training. We are specifically keeping her for these competitions, and for the Olympic Games in Rio this September,” Hart described. “Having the experience with the European riders, and especially with Margaret [Duprey] and Todd [Flettrich] of Cherry Knoll Farm has been amazing. It is a fantastic feeling to have the whole team focused on one goal. Without that, we would not be where we are right now, and this weekend would have been very different.”
The $10,000 CPEDI3*, presented by Mission Control, Mane Stream, courtesy of Rowan O'Riley, Adequan®, and Nutrena, offered a first glimpse of the contenders aiming for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil and 19 FEI para-equestrians competed for the top marks in their grades this weekend. It was two-time Paralympian (2008, 2012) Hart and Schroeter’s Romani (owned by Hart in conjunction with Margaret Duprey, Cherry Knoll Farm, Barbara Summer and Bill and Sandy Kimmel) that stole the limelight, proving that they have only just begun to tap into their potential.
Trainer Todd Flettrich commented, “What I like about this competition is that we have shown a lot of progress. What I like even more, is that there is untapped potential. Some people max out, and do not have the room to improve, but this is only the beginning for Rebecca and Romani. Both the mare and Becca have the ability. I was really happy to see how much improvement has been made in their medium trot, there is a lot more power, and we have been working on that.”
Hart was awarded the high score of the day both for her Team and Individual Tests in the Grade II. They earned a three-day average of 73.805 percent, with top scores from the FEI ground jury including President Kristi Wysocki (USA), Carlos Lopes (POR), and Marco Orsini (GER), clinching the championship title for the first leg of the 2016 Para-Equestrian Dressage Tour.
“It means that our program is working,” Hart said of her recent change to move to Florida and train full-time with Flettrich out of Margaret Duprey’s Cherry Knoll Farm. “It was scary coming down here four months ago, and it was intimidating. Margaret and Todd have been absolutely phenomenal in making me feel supported comfortable and to really focus on the goal to go to Rio. It is fantastic to see the results and see the improvement from where we were to where we are now.”
“To have progression with Romani from when I bought her; our first show was actually here at Global, and it was not our shining moment as a pair, to where we are now, is a fantastic feeling. We have come full circle,” Hart said.
After recently returning from a highly successful summer European tour, Hart dropped her stirrups and began working on a new freestyle, both of which were unveiled over the course of the competition weekend.
Hart laughed, “No stirrups was a bit of a scary change, but it has been better. Since my disease is progressive, my spasticity and tone has worsened with time. Every time I would hit the stirrup bar I would have spasms and basically become a human clothespin—I could not use my body at all, and it created disharmony in our rides.”
While in Europe, Hart spoke with several riders who have similar conditions, and their insight was invaluable. They told her to “drop her stirrups,” which made all the difference.
“One of the reasons going to Europe is so essential is that you not only get insight from the judges, but also the other riders. We have been working on dropping my stirrups for the last month, and it has really helped with the harmony and the flow.”
Hart rode to the score of 74.167 percent for their Team Test, and was thrilled with the improvements she felt for both herself and Romani. They duplicated their efforts during the Individual Test on Saturday with the score of 73.095 percent. It was their all-new Freestyle, however, that showed the beat and expression that Hart believes will put them on the podium at Rio. The ground jury awarded the pair a 74.5 percent for the pilot ride.
“We have all new music, and I have not stopped listening to it,” Hart smiled. “We went to Nationals and there were three Olympic judges. They said that it was a beautiful test; however, they would like to see something else. We came home from Texas, called Marlene Whitaker, who we do all of my musical freestyle through, and she put this together for us. We wanted something with a very definite beat. It is a technical risk, but luckily, this one came off well today.”
Hart and Schroeter’s Romani will compete again in the second leg of the tour during the $10,000 CPEDI3* January 21-24, 2016.
“I would like to give a huge thank you to Rowan O'Riley and Mane Stream, Rebecca Reno, Mission Control, Adequan® and Nutrena for putting us in the limelight in the big international ring, getting us ready for Rio, which is so important, and also supporting the para-equestrian sport. This is a prize money class, which has never been done in U.S. Para-Dressage history prior to this weekend. It is wonderful to see the sport getting this kind of recognition,” Hart concluded.