Riding the Wave: The Road to IEA Nationals

Awards team picture at 2016 IEA Nation Finals - 3rd place Hunt Seat Upper School Team - Double Deuce Farm Equestrian Team. Front left to right - Bernie Villeneuve (coach), Madison Rheinheimer, Natalie Siktberg, Sophie Olsen, Amanda Kray, Jeannine Palozzi (coach)

By Bernie Villeneuve

Early Sunday morning on the final day of competition at this year’s IEA Nationals, I found myself wide awake, long before the alarm was scheduled to shriek.

Unlike the other mornings when we’d hit the ground running in order to watch the horses school in the Alltech Arena, I decided to take advantage of this time to gas up the car and enjoy my morning coffee – the latter being a luxury I had yet been able to enjoy since we’d arrived in Kentucky.

It was as though time had slowed down, allowing me the opportunity to reflect on the year that Jeannine and I had had with our Double Deuce Farm Equestrian Team. All year long we had stressed to the kids to simply work hard, and to take the season one show at a time; and not look too far ahead. When the team met with early success, we again encouraged them to stay grounded and understand how humbling a sport this can be.

I found myself unable to actually pinpoint exactly when they had come together as a team, but knew that they had gotten here because they were a team in the truest sense of the word. Through all the ups and downs that each individual on the team had experienced, there was always a rider who pulled the team back up. In a format where “luck of the draw” can play such a role, they had managed to lead the region in points, place first at Regional Finals and then again at Zone Finals. Yet all of their success seemed to be a byproduct of the fact that this group of kids just loved being together; whether it was at a show, team practice, a Prep Tournament, College Preparatory Invitational, or a team fundraiser. This crazy fun loving group of kids, young as they were, had learned how to be a team in sport that is primarily and individual one.

It was during this peaceful moment that Sunday morning, when the world slowed down for just a brief moment that I realized that these kids had already achieved success, long before Regional’s, Zones, and National’s. On this last morning of competition, I understood why they all seemed to have a calm sense about them; that everything was going to be okay. Not only had they bought into the concept of being a team, they had witnessed it. At Zones, when J.V. Novice team rider Amanda Kray failed to place in either team class, it was Madison Rheinheimer, Sophie Olsen, and Natalie Siktberg who carried the team to a first place finish that day. Now at National’s, Amanda was able to return the favor by winning her J.V. Novice over fences team class. Although only our Upper School Team qualified for National’s, they also rallied around Lola Covotta, the lone Middle School team rider to have qualified for National’s. This young group of riders had figured out what Jeannine and I had been preaching for years and years – not to blame one another, but rather to know and understand that they would each be asked to carry one another at some point during the season; the very reason they needed to work so hard as individuals.

This realization came as an enormous sense of relief to me, since teaching has long been a passion of mine, and I long ago realized the responsibility that comes with this role. I’ve been an IEA coach since its inception when I first worked with our association’s founder, Roxane Lawrence, at The Andrews School. Now, 14 years later, and still just as passionate about IEA I’m lucky enough to share coaching duties with my fiancée Jeannine Palozzi at Double Deuce Farm, a program she started 15 years ago.  Our combined efforts, along with the willingness of our riders to be “teachable”, made our jobs much easier.

We had a tremendous amount of support along the way, from the parents helping with all the fund raisers and team parties, to our sponsor, Dana Miller of Chagrin Saddlery – our self-proclaimed “super fan”.

As I finished filling the car with gas it dawned on me that at some point during the year without us realizing it, the riders on our team “took the reins”, and during the entire series of finals, Jeannine and I were just riding the wave……

About the Double Deuce Farm Coaches

Jeannine Palozzi opened Double Deuce Farm 15 years ago after graduating from ATI at Ohio State University. Her program has grown dramatically since that time and now includes not only a large lesson program, but also a Hunt Seat as well as a Western IEA Team.

Jeannine has been an IEA coach since 2006 and has had many individual National Champions both in the Hunt Seat and Western disciplines. Her Hunt Seat Team has also qualified for National Finals twice in the last three years.

Jeannine has also served as a 4-H advisor, as well as a judging team coach. In 2010 her judging team was Reserve Champion at National’s.

Double Deuce Farm also offers a show program for the experienced rider at the “A” show level on down to the beginner rider doing his/her very first horse show.

She and her fiancée, Bernie Villeneuve now combine their experience in operating Double Deuce Farm.

Bernie Villeneuve has been teaching since 1987 when he obtained a certification through Equine Canada in his native country. In move in 1996 brought him to the U.S. where he spent the next 17 years teaching in riding programs at the private school level in both Maryland and Ohio. Bernie has been and IEA coach since its inception when he worked for IEA Co-Founder, Roxane Lawrence, at The Andrews School in Willoughby Ohio.

Along with their IEA success, Bernie’s riders have also had success in hunter and equitation divisions both locally and nationally, and some of his students have gone on to become trainers in their own right.

Bernie now enjoys working with his fiancée, Jeannine Palozzi, at Double Deuce Farm in Concord Ohio and also serves as member of the IEA Board of Trustees.