California Girls Rise to the Challenge at the OCHSA Junior Masters Medal, sponsored by The Plaid Horse


Photos by Sydney Lowe and Rick Osteen

Written By TPH Intern Sydney Lowe

The OCHSA Junior Masters Medal Final, sponsored by The Plaid Horse, was held at the Orange County Championship Show on October 16, 2016, in San Juan Capistrano, CA. This competitive class consisted of a written exam which comprised 60 percent of the total score, an equitation course set at 3′-3’3 for 40 percent, and an additional work off of the top 4 riders. For this unique third phase, riders were separated from trainers, given a new course to walk that included handy turns and bending lines, allowed only a groom to set jumps for them, and had a judged warm up with a time limit of five minutes and a maximum of five jumps.


Champion Paige Dendiu and fourth place finalist McKinna Morris shared what they felt were the biggest challenges they faced in the horsemanship test and in their riding. Dendiu, the class winner, commented on the importance of maintaining a strong mental game throughout the week. She felt confident after the test, and after finding out she was leading with an impressive and nearly perfect score of 99, she knew she had to keep her cool. Her strategy for phase two, the riding portion of the class, was to get around with a clean, smooth round to advance her to the top four for phase 3. During that portion, Dendiu said she needed to stick to her plan, “I got a little nervous while walking to the gate but once I was in the arena, I knew it was my time to shine with Cortador, and we did just that.”

Dendiu, who is 16 and trains with Acorn Farm, said her mother (and trainer) Lauren Dendiu had her work on all possible tests the course designer could demand. They practiced the counter canter, trot jumps, gymnastics, and the harder inside turns to make sure Cortador and she were ready for anything. Paige independently walked all her courses in classes previous to The Plaid Horse Medal and then reviewed them with her mom. She explained her enthusiasm that the third phase did not allow outside assistance. “Being a trainer’s kid, I have had to really be independent and am used to doing things on my own. But. that also puts additional pressure on me at times, too, and I definitely felt that.” Paige expressed that she is very thankful for David Bustillos, owner of Cortador, for his constant belief in her and her riding. She said, “David has always been very supportive and I cannot thank him enough for allowing me to ride such an amazing horse.”Seventeen year old McKinna Morris, trained by Michael Croopnick of img_6244Shadow Run Farms, is a less experienced equitation competitor and faced unique challenges in this class, although no one would have known by watching her lovely and confident riding. With a score of 98 on the horsemanship test, it was clear that Morris did her homework. She said, “I prepared for the test by reading and taking notes on the USHJA Handbook and also took the practice tests online. I felt the practice tests were most helpful!” However, Morris knew she had to over-prepare, as she is diagnosed with Expressive Language Disorder, which causes her to leave out words and mix up simple words making reading comprehension and writing more challenging. “It posed a challenge with the short answers in particular, but I just had to believe in myself.” Like Dendiu, Morris had limited time with her borrowed mount, Optimus Prime, and she expressed the challenge of getting to know him quickly. “I had only ridden him twice prior to the show, but it made me work harder to give him the best ride I could,” she explained. During Phase 3, the sun had started to set and the horses and riders were faced with spooky shadows and bright sun in their eyes which necessitated a confident ride. Morris put her nerves aside and put in a lovely round, with only one snug distance putting her in fourth place. She expressed her gratitude toward Karen and Lindsey Schiefelbein for their generosity for allowing her to ride the beautiful black gelding. She said, “I really wanted to make them proud, just as I wanted to make my trainer and parents proud of me.”

1 438 Cortador Paige Dendiu
2 482 Serendipity Sydney Mc Mannus
3 429 Titan Sarah Matzinger
4 555 Optimus Prime Lindsay Schiefelbein
5 432 Carlton Mckenna Roe
6 573 Bookmaker Julia Damour
7 488 Mr. Nice Guy Gillian Penna
8 415 Quentin Nicole Brennan