Carmen De Bondt Coaches Belgium Junior Rider Antonia Arl at the Florida International Dressage Youth Championships

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Tuesday, March 17, 2015

14-year-old FEI Junior Rider Antonia Arl of Belgium Equestricons Ziggy at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival

Under Carmen De Bondt’s careful guidance, 14-year-old Junior Rider Antonia Arl of Belgium competes this week in the Florida International Dressage Youth Championships at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival. De Bondt started training Antonia when she was 9 years old and also began training her elder sister, Lavinia, two years older, with the pony Equestricons Epiascer and after that with her horse. Already a leading coach, she has succeeded in preparing many pony riders to win the Belgium Dressage National Championships.

This week Antonia competed Equestricons Ziggy at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival in the Junior division for the Florida International Dressage Youth Championships. Placing second overall with scores of 67.649 percent in the FEI Junior Team Test, a 72.711 in the FEI Junior Individual Test and an amazing 74.325 percent in the FEI Junior Freestyle, Antonia proves she’s a force to be reckoned with. Her first week in Florida, at the Palm Beach Derby, Antonia scored 70.730 percent in the Junior Team Test, 70.737 percent in the FEI Junior Individual Test and 71.400 percent in the FEI Junior Freestyle.  

Not always easy for Antonia, with an inner drive to pursue the sport, she trained Equestricons Dornröschen (previously owned by Carol Cohen) as a first pony and then Equestricons Défilé de Mode up to FEI level, where she had many successes. Last year she was successful with another pony, Equestricons  Epiascer and became Belgian National Champion in the Pony division for 2014; the pony that won the Belguim National FEI pony Championships the year before with her sister, Lavinia Arl. Now a Junior rider at the age of 14, she prepares Equestricons Ziggy in 2015 for a spot on the Belguim Junior Team for the European Junior Young riders Championships held in Vidabaun (FRA) in July.14-year-old FEI Junior Rider Antonia Arl of Belgium Equestricons Ziggy at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival

De Bondt understands the ponies educate the youth riders. Allowing the young rider under 16 to understand exactly how a pony’s movements should feel, and how the youth learn best by learning first to focus on what they need to do in the ring. “In the competition arena alone, there is much to learn. When they are young,” De Bondt said, “they do need to know how to supple their ponies and improve the gaits. We do not want to give them so much that they’re overwhelmed.  We try to make it as simple as possible so they can close their eyes and be at ease where they are. I want them to have no stress when they’re in an arena first, and then later we work on the suppling work.”

She continued, “When they are older, we really work on much more.  But, when they’re kids, their body and mind does not have a quick enough reaction to train the pony from the beginning, to gymnasticize the pony and to prepare for the tests. It’s just too much.”

She continued, “Because of school, most youngsters can only come to the stable 3 to 4 days a week. On the days they’re at school, we keep their ponies going and do all the basic work to keep the ponies loose and happy in their bodies.”

She described the necessity for top FEI ponies, “The ponies we have are top ponies trained to FEI level, all of them. It’s the best way. The feeling you’d get from these ponies would be the same as a Grand Prix horse. The kids really get a good feeling from the start.” Carmen prepares the kids to have success in the international ring. The pony builds the foundation the kids need to move on to be champion Junior Riders, Young Riders, Under 25 Grand Prix Riders. They are prepared for great careers in Dressage.  

She shared, “At age 16 when they move out of the ponies to the Junior division, they know how to do the tests, centerlines, circles and serpentines. With success, confidence, and understanding, the young riders learn from the ponies, they must step up to the Junior division and begin competing on a horse. It’s a big step.”

Ever since Antonia won the Belgium National FEI Pony Championship last year at age 13, she has wanted to move up. She would be able to continue competing in the FEI Pony division throughout the entire year that she is 16-years-old, now 14 years old, she has pursued the Junior division after only riding her current mount for four months, “Moving up from ponies has been a challenge. With them, I only had one set of reins, I could hold my hands and body in a certain way and I learned the correct use of my seat and legs. Now with the horses, I’m still learning.”

With Carmen now for 5 years, Antonia said, “I ride three times a week because school is from 8am in the morning until 4pm in the afternoon and there’s a lot of homework.  I ride Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Carmen takes care the other days. It’s a lot, but it works out.”

L-R (Carmen De Bondt (BEL), Antonia Arl (BEL), Vivien Niemann(GER), Dana van Lierop (NED), Rosalie Bos (NED), Nicolette van Leeuwen (NED))