Big Moments on the Biggest Stage: Heritage Farm at USEF Medal Finals

Skylar Wireman. Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography

By Andre Dignelli as told to Catie Staszak Media

I think that when every young rider is at home, and they’re practicing the test, they’re practicing for these big moments. And this was a very big moment on the biggest stage, and we couldn’t be more proud.”

Preparation is a pillar of Heritage Farm’s program, and at the 2022 USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final, 11 Heritage riders put their plans into practice at one of the most prestigious—and equally most pressure-filled—competitions in the country. 

In the latest installment of his popular “Ask Andre” video series, Heritage Farm’s Andre Dignelli looks back at two rounds in Harrisburg that stood out to him—and one moment that he won’t soon forget.

Get his perspective, in his words:

Final Work-Off: Skylar Wireman

After two rounds of competition, the top four riders were announced, and they were brought back into the center of the ring, and they read the following test:

  • They were to canter directly to Fence 9 
  • Counter-canter Fence 7
  • Counter-canter Fence 2
  • Trot Fence 3
  • Canter Fence 4
  • Canter 10a in reverse
  • Canter 10b
  • Hand gallop 1
  • Sit the trot to the out-gate and exit at the walk.

This was also written down on a piece of paper so that there’d be no confusion. Once the test was read, they had the top four go out the back gate, and without any further assistance, they started the ride off, and they were not able to watch each other. It would basically be on them to deliver the best round that they could for this work-off round of the Medal Finals. 

All the trainers were by the in-gate area, and when I heard the test and started to look at the course, the first question I had was, Would it be possible for a horse to land on the counter lead after Fence 9? Because the landing was so short, I wasn’t sure that it was even possible, and I felt the same about the next counter lead, because in years past, we’ve watched people do this, and they’re basically running into the wall.

So, I was curious. I knew that Skylar’s plan of action would be, Hey, go big or go homeI’m in second place. I’ve got to pull out all the stops and do what I can do. So I was definitely thinking that it was on her mind that she would possibly consider landing on the counter lead.

As I predicted, she did. I wanted to go over her round, because in my career, this will stand out as one of the best work offs that I’ve ever seen:

Watch Andre’s Take:
(And Listen!)

Amira Kettaneh. Photo by Art of Eq Photos.

Round 2: Amira Kettaneh 

The second round course has some options. The first jump, a triple bar, was set in a direct path from the ingate, so it looked very clear that you could pick up a canter and go directly to the first fence. There was a floral decoration immediately on the backside of that fence that looked like you could probably get inside and canter up the outside line in a hunter five. It was a little direct in four strides to a large Swedish oxer right by the gate. 

Then you could kind of take a breath. You rolled back around to a narrow jump, and that was a jump that we’d already jumped in the first round, so we were not really predicting any issues there. Then you had a step down, and there were a pair of oxers away from the gate, which was long in one [stride], and the line walked 5 1/2 strides to a narrow vertical. It was clearly written on the course sheet that they wanted to see you execute six steady strides in that line. So the exercise would be, Can you catch the pair of oxers right off the turn and ride the forward in and out and then have the horse back in a collected six?

The next line was a little bit tricky. It was a sort of serpentine line. The first two parts of that line were direct in three strides, and then it was 4 1/2 strides to a bending two stride. So we decided that we were going to sort of step down, go direct in the three and try to create some shape in the five, so we’d be headed back across for the two stride. 

The last line was just a little bit soft in seven strides, and it seemed clear to us that they did not want to see you try to fly down there in six strides because of the design of the last fence. It had a big cross-rail in the middle, so they really wanted to see that jump executed straight.

Amira had a very nice first round and was called back in 21st position. We really felt like we had nothing to lose. We said, We’ve got to pull out all the stops.

Amira’s second round would ultimately move her up a remarkable 15 places. She turned in a top round when it mattered most. The moral of the story is, don’t give up fighting until it’s over, because you don’t really know where the chips will fall. This was a brilliant round that I really thought was worth sharing:

Watch Andre’s Take:
(And Listen!)

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