Voices of the Bay

Hold Your Horses

Young Bristol dressage athlete Elizabeth DaPonte competes in Kentucky

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At the New England Dressage Association 2018 Fall Festival Region 8 Championships, Bristol’s Elizabeth DaPonte and her horse Fritz fan Signature Friesians, qualified for competition at the United States Dressage Finals held last November at Lexington’s famed Kentucky Horse Park. Following their solid showing at the impressive equestrian facility surrounded by some of the very best dressage athletes in the country, the 23-year-old rider and her horse knew they belonged there. As the 2019 season gets underway, that realization is adding fuel to the grueling three to five hours, six days a week, training schedule. In the sport of dressage, rider and horse are judged on the execution of a precise series of movements. Elizabeth, whose maternal great-grandfather was a horse trainer in the Azores, received her BS in Accounting from Roger Williams University in December. Elizabeth has been training with Alyshia Gaw for 18 years at A.G. Dressage of Royal Oaks Stables in Rehoboth, MA.

My mom jokes that my first word was ‘horse’. I always loved them and wanted to be around them. I started lessons before I turned five. I got into dressage starting in middle school. Dressage is the classical art of horsemanship; it is the harmony between horse and rider. They perform a freestyle routine to classical music. To the layman, it looks like ballet. You receive a score on every single movement you do. A new horse or inexperienced rider begins with the most basic movement, and each level you learn builds on the fundamentals of the last. A basic movement would be walking in a circle to the highest level where the horse is doing tempo changes, which looks like the horse is skipping every single stride, swapping their front legs. In dressage it can take a lifetime to achieve perfection.

I took ballet and played soccer when I was younger. I was never coordinated enough to be a ballerina, but ballet forced me to have balance and the core strength needed to be a solid rider when you’re on a moving animal. Soccer helped with the
stamina of riding.

Overall there were 500 to 600 competitors. For the first level (my group) there were 30 competitors. I was a little star-struck to see the people you hear about. It was a shock [at qualifying]. I remember getting Fritz ready and thinking, ‘Oh my god, it’s real. I am actually here.’ I thought I was going to be more nervous, but everyone was so supportive and helpful to all the competitors. It was so rewarding to discover [from the results] that I belong here in this stadium. My goal is to strengthen my second level work, and qualify to compete in Lexington again in the fall.