Para-Equestrian Spotlight: Meghan Benge

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A Paris 2024 hopeful, Sponsored Rider Meghan Benge has been part of the RW team for several years now. Her journey with horses started at a young age and eventually led her to the FEI World Championship for Disabled Drivers in 2008, where she brought home the Individual Gold. Even though it had been years since she had been in the saddle, Meghan soon found herself riding her Welsh driving mare in international level para-dressage competitions. Read on to hear more about her inspiring journey and meet her new mount, Rudy!

Photo credit (above): Nicole McNally
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In 2015, I had my fabulous palomino Welsh mare, Zoey, started under saddle to help her learn more dressage to improve our performance in combined driving competitions. I had been competing in combined driving since around 1998, with a single pony. In 2008, I had competed in and won Individual Gold and Team Silver at the FEI World Championship for Disabled Drivers.

Afterward, I began driving a pair of ponies, and my collection of palominos seemingly multiplied on its own. Zoey was bred by my good friend and driving coach, who generously gave her to me as she was too small for her. Zoey’s fantastic temperament allows her to be good at just about everything ever asked of her. When I had her started under saddle, she was good at that too.

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Zoey's sweet demeanor helped Meghan made her debut in competitive dressage. Photo credit: Sharon Packer

Slowly, having someone else train her under saddle turned into wondering if I could ride, even if it was just walking around my farm. I had ridden when I was much younger, prior to having a significant portion of my spine fused due to scoliosis, which is common with people with pseudoachondroplasia dwarfism. After conquering some initial fears, I began riding Zoey. Riding at home turned into riding at local shows until eventually, we were competing under the lights in the stadium at the Global Dressage Festival.

Zoey tries harder than any pony I have ever known. Sadly though, competing alongside purpose-bred Warmbloods showed her weakness, the walk. As a Grade III para-dressage rider, just about half my test is in the walk. Grade I is the most disabled, meaning all walk, and Grade V, the least disabled and includes canter and lateral work. The top para dressage horses often have walks (all gaits, really) of equal quality as a Grand Prix horse.

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Meghan competes as a Level III para-dressage rider. Here she is shown on her pony, Trip. Photo credit: Sharon Packer

So, I was at a crossroads. Do I continue down this road and see if I can make it to the ultimate dream goal, the Paralympics? Or do I continue to have fun with my palomino dream pony? Enter Rudy.

I’m also a photographer and had seen this cute buckskin German Riding Pony at a bunch of the dressage shows. When I saw him advertised for sale, I thought I could never afford him, but my dressage coach convinced me to try him anyway. Well, not only does he have the gaits I need for international para-dressage, he has a fantastic temperament and goes great for me, even on that first ride.

He was also well out of reach price-wise. Luckily, an understanding seller, the generosity of a few people including my long-time veterinarian at Aiken Equine Veterinary Associates, made it possible for me to buy him in January 2021. Sometimes, this still feels like a dream. Even though he is only seven, Rudy had a professional rider for most of his training and has all the buttons I need. Now I just have to learn to use them.

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Everyone, meet Rudy! We hope to see this pair in on the para-dressage team traveling to Paris in 2024.

So, while the Paralympics in Tokyo is happening now, we are already thinking and dreaming about Paris in 2024. Having competed at a handful of national-level shows, we are getting to know each other better each time. Last weekend, we earned the final two scores we needed to qualify to go to Tryon in October for the National Championships. Hopefully then we will be onto the CPEDIs (para-dressage equivalent of CDI) in Wellington in the winter of 2022. No matter what happens, I am having fun seeing just how far I can go with my dream ponies!

Thanks for reading and happy riding! Shop Meghan's Favorite Products on RidingWarehouse.com.
 
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