Natalie Pai Continues Progress to U25 Grand Prix
Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Tuesday, June 27, 2017
The youngest person in the small tour at Dutta Corp.’s U.S. Equestrian Festival of Champions in Gladstone in May was Natalie Pai. After just turning 20-years-old in April, she rode 15-year-old Hanoverian gelding Fritz San Tino (Falkenstern II x Wanderbursch II) aka “Santo.” Competing against professionals and Olympic medalists who have been riding for decades, the pair came in 8th after the first two days of the Championships in Prix St. George and Intermediare I, and 10th overall in the Intermediare I Championships. According to USEF’s records, Natalie was the youngest person ever to qualify and compete in the Intermediare I National Championships. In the U25 Grand Prix division, Natalie competed on Unlimited (Jazz x Winckenburgh) a 16-year-old KWPN gelding aka “Jazzy” owned by Peacock Ridge LLC and leased for Natalie. The pair ended up overall Reserve Champion at the Dutta Corp.’s U.S. Equestrian Festival of Champions in Gladstone, New Jersey.
A demanding task for a young rider to accumulate as many points as possible in a CDI international dressage arena within its allotted seven minutes, there are many facets to a test that need mastering. To achieve triumphs and victories, a successful Small Tour and U25 Grand Prix competitor must nurture a keen mind with a desire to continually learn, cultivate great instincts and draw on the basics while steadily progressing toward higher scores.
Building her foundation in Wellington, Florida training with Kevin Kohmann and Devon Kane at the supportive and high performance competition training stable Diamante Farms, Natalie has been working her way up to 70% scores in the international arena.
With great mentorship by Devon and Kevin along with a small group of riders at Diamante Farms Dressage training center, only a couple of miles from the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival showgrounds. Natalie shared, “Diamante has a great group of people and perfect environment for getting things accomplished,” says Natalie. “It’s a small environment and very private; we’re really a family. I am very blessed to have so many supportive people in my life. I wouldn’t be where I am without my parents’ help and support. My friends and my family have helped me tremendously. They keep it fun." She continued, "Emilija Anderson, my friend and groom, has taught me so much and always knows how to put a smile on my face no matter what is happening. I don’t know what I would do without her help, especially balancing school and riding. This sport can be very stressful and it can put on a lot of pressure on a person at times. Last year, I was trying to figure out what I want to do in life. I took a break over the summer to reflect on things. There were things going on that I needed to figure out. That break allowed me to come back stronger than ever.”
In mid-June Natalie competed Unlimited in the Open Grand Prix at the Palm Beach Equine Sports complex at a local national level competition, “I could hear Kevin and Devon in my earpiece. Devon really helped me with my pirouettes at that show.” Sharing the complexities of being a petite rider with Devon, Natalie said, “I’m five feet two and Kevin is six feet tall and a man. Because Devon and I are both smaller girls, she was able to give me some tips and tricks of hers that helps her in her riding, which ended up working out great for me.”
She continued, “The way Kevin words things is really important because he’s able to phrase things for a young rider to understand. He was doing Young Riders not too long ago, himself. If he says something I don’t understand, he is able to quickly reword it another way. And, if I am still confused, he can get on and show me what he means. Sometimes, being able to watch can make it more understandable. It’s quite remarkable the way he coaches and his way of teaching has made all the difference.”
Training for Confidence
Showing eight times in the big stadium in Wellington in the small tour with scores in the mid-to-high 60%, Natalie shared, “There were some ups and downs with Santo. Because he’s so sensitive to the atmosphere in the big stadium at Global, we were eliminated almost every single time we competed in 2015 and 2016, but this year we worked past his fears. It’s been a long process in figuring out how to get him to trust me. I used to try and calm him by slowing down and petting him, which would just cause him to get even more anxious.”
“This year, though, I was able to figure out what to do if it felt like he was becoming insecure in there. Now, I push him more forward, which gives him confidence. I also think because this is our third year together he trusts me a lot more and he tries so hard for me now. He was the most relaxed in the Gladstone National Championships CDI ring than he’s ever been and actually enjoyed the atmosphere there. We finally have a really good partnership. I’m absolutely thrilled with him.”
Unlimited and the U25 Grand Prix
PJ Rizvi, mom to four kids and a top U.S. Grand Prix rider herself shared her horse Unlimited (Jazzy) in a lease for Natalie to learn. “I am so grateful to PJ Rizvi for allowing me to learn on her horse. This has been a once in a lifetime experience. I had no idea I would ever have such an opportunity to ride such a talented horse. Not only is he talented, but he is just so sweet. He loves to cuddle and be petted. But feeling his powerful passage and piaffe, it’s just incredible. He is amazing.”
“Jazzy is a very different horse than Santo. Jazzy is more confident in the big stadium, and isn’t as fiery as Santo. He wants to help me; he tries so hard for me. He’s so patient with me and I have learned so much from him. At times, he’d look up at me like, ‘what are you doing?’ We’ve gotten so much better even from Nationals in Gladstone to now, a month later. I can’t believe how far we’ve come even in just this last month alone. It takes a solid year to build a partnership, and we have come a long way in our six months together.”
Natalie attends Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida, about a half-hour drive from Diamante Farms. She is a Business Management major. “I ride the horses in the morning and then in the afternoon I attend my classes. Last semester I took 16 credits. My days were completely full with school and riding and competing at Global. While I was competing Santo, I would drive from campus to Global to ride him in the stadium at 6 am everyday to try and get him used to it, so he would be more calm when I competed him. Then, I would drive back to school and go to classes. Afterward, I would drive back to Global and compete in the afternoon. To be able to go to college full-time and still be able to ride has been an incredible opportunity. Being so busy, it actually helped me focus more.”