Doha, Qatar – The Adequan® U.S. Para Dressage Team has earned unprecedented levels of success over the past few years, including reaching the top of the FEI Para Dressage World Team Ranking and bringing home the country’s first-ever Paralympic team medal in equestrian at the Tokyo 2020 Games. The para dressage program looks to continue its successful streak heading toward the FEI World Championships in August, and a few U.S. athletes had the opportunity to kick off the 2022 international competition season at CHI Al Shaqab in Doha, Qatar.
Cindy Screnci was one of three U.S. athletes who competed at the CPEDI3*at Al Shaqab in February of 2022. With her teammates Kate Shoemaker and Rebecca Hart, Screnci came home with a second-place team finish from the competition, which is the first and only one of its kind in the Middle East region.
“It’s one of the most beautiful venues I’ve ever competed in,” said Screnci of the Longines Arena at Al Shaqab. “It’s amazing. But even though it’s huge, it didn’t feel so intimidating. They’ve done it in such a way that it’s very horse-friendly.”
Screnci has represented the U.S. as part of previous para dressage teams at competitions on American soil. This experience was different not only because it was halfway around the globe, but because she wasn’t riding her own horse. She borrowed West Side, a 2003 KWPN gelding owned by Lauren Asher, an American dressage athlete based in Germany. West Side retired from competing at the Grand Prix level in 2019, but Asher felt that he wasn’t quite ready to hang up his dancing shoes just yet.
“She had called me and said, ‘You know, I think I might have a great horse for you. He’s not ready to retire, but I don’t want him doing the Grand Prix anymore,’” said Screnci. “So I flew out there and spent some time learning about him and how she wanted him to be ridden. I was over there for the month of February, and we schooled a few days a week.”
Coming out of semi-retirement and returning to competition at a venue with big atmosphere brought out some nerves in West Side, and Screnci said that showed up in the pair’s scores. Nevertheless, she describes the gelding as a “super horse,” and reflects on her time training with him and competing as part of the team overseas as an exceptional experience.
“I’ve competed with Kate and Becca on teams here in the U.S., and we’re very close,” said Screnci. “We get along great, and we really support each other. We’re there for each other, and if we needed help, we all sort of chipped in and made sure the horses were taken care of.”
Screnci was quick to applaud her teammates for their performance and their camaraderie at the competition.
“Kate had a new horse—an incredible horse—and she just knocked it out of the park,” said Screnci. “And Becca is our most experienced rider in the U.S. Para Dressage program, and she always knocks it out of the park. She’s an amazing competitor, and she gave me a lot of wonderful advice. When they both saw that I was struggling a bit with my horse, they were there for me and gave me their thoughts, and a lot of what they said was really, really helpful.”
The athletes found some time to enjoy their trip to Qatar after the show as tourists, taking a day to go dune surfing and camel riding.
“We had a blast,” said Screnci. “It was a fun experience. It was definitely something I would do again if the opportunity arises.”
Screnci will continue her season with Sir Chipoli, her 2007 KWPN gelding. The competition in Doha and the training leading up to it was a valuable experience as she looks ahead toward her future goals in the sport.
“I spent a month sleeping, eating, and breathing riding with no outside distractions,” said Screnci. “I came home with a year’s worth of knowledge that I didn’t have before, and I was very excited to bring that home to my horse, Sir Chipoli. [The 2022 FEI World Championship in Herning] is definitely on our radar, and hopefully Paris [for the 2024 Paralympics]. So we’ve got pretty lofty goals set, and we’ve been working really hard toward those goals. And we’ll continue to do that. As many experiences like this as we can get, it adds one more penny in the piggy bank, if you will.”
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