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Mary Adelaide Brakenridge
November 7, 2013
Junior Rider and Senior Horse Forge Perfect Partnership
By Mary Adelaide Brakenridge
Thursday, November 7, 2013 :: Posted 10:28:12 PM EST


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© Mary Adelaide Brakenridge: Kristin Counterman and BellingerKristin Counterman and Lauren Sprieser's Bellinger did a trial run of their Second Level Freestyle on Thursday in preparation for Saturday's Second Level Freestyle Championship at the US Dressage Finals, presented by Adequan

Lexington, KY - November 7, 2013 - Kristin Counterman of Ashburn, VA, has made the trek to the US Dressage Finals, presented by Adequan, on a mission to test herself against some of the best riders in the country. At 13 years old, she has a strong work ethic and desire to succeed, but she can’t match the decades of training and experience that others in her Second Level Freestyle division possess. That’s where Bellinger comes in.

The 21-year-old Trakehner gelding, nicknamed “Billy,” has his own years of experience at the upper levels of dressage, and he has earned an impressive competitive resume with owner Lauren Sprieser. He carried her to a team bronze medal at the 2003 North American Young Rider Championships, an eleventh place finish the following year and a third place in the 2006 Brentina Cup, as well as helping her earn her USDF Gold Medal. But as he grew older and seemed less comfortable in his work, Sprieser decided it was time to slow down.

“He wasn’t getting any younger,” she explained. “I said, ‘Look, buddy, you’re my life and my heart. You can be done.’”

Sprieser retired Billy from grand prix competition and leased him out on a weekly basis to one of her clients, who loved him so much that she ended up keeping him for four years. At the end of 2012, Billy returned to Sprieser.

“At that point, Kristin was riding with me more and more,” Sprieser said. “She had a fabulous pony that she was dramatically overqualified to be riding, and she really needed to move up.”

© Mary Adelaide Brakenridge: Kristin Counterman and Lauren SprieserKristin Counterman and Lauren Sprieser

Sprieser realized she had just the ticket to help Counterman further her goals while also giving Billy a chance to keep doing a job he enjoyed.

“I thought, ‘This is my chance to give back to this incredible kid and this incredible family who I love, and also to this horse that I love.’ What a great thing for him to have a kid to bring along. I know that’s anthropomorphizing a little, but I really do think that he gets a lot of joy from teaching.”

“As wicked and wild as he can be, there is not an evil bone in his body,” she added. “And there is no slowing him down. He comes out with his hair on fire every day. We all should be so lucky as to have a horse like this, and I just keep trying to do right by him.”

Counterman and Billy started working together in December of 2012. They have come a long way since their first ride, building a remarkable connection along the way.

“The first time I got on him, I could barely make a straight centerline!” Counterman laughed. “It was new to me to learn how to turn this huge animal. He had so many buttons. He really likes flying changes, so in the beginning, it was difficult to keep one lead. If I moved my legs at all he’d change his lead.”

Counterman drew on her strong Pony Club background – she’s a C-1 member of Misty Brae Pony Club – and coaching from Sprieser to learn how to work through Billy’s quirks and elicit his best performance.

“Over the months, we’ve been developing a much better partnership and working really well together,” she said. “I love riding him. He can be really focused, and he gets so nice and floaty. I feel so grateful to learn on him and be able to ride such an experienced horse.”

© Mary Adelaide Brakenridge: Kristin Counterman and BellingerKristin Counterman and Bellinger

Their results reflect their progress: at the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 1 Championships in Lexington, VA, they took third in the Third Level Junior/Young Rider Finals and were named champions in the Second Level Junior/Young Rider Finals. They took on professionals in the Second Level Freestyle Finals, where they placed sixth and scored a 68.717% that earned them a wild card invitation to the USDF Dressage Finals.

Heading into Saturday’s Freestyle Championship, Counterman has a few tweaks in mind.

“I’m going to try to make sure that my timing is really on and that when the music changes, I change along with it,” she said. “And I want to make sure that I have him relaxed, especially in the walk.”

But no matter how her ride goes, she will have a one-of-a-kind memory to take home with her as she sets her sights on moving up with Billy next year.
 
“It feels really special because I know I’m kind of a part of history now, coming to the first Finals,” Counterman said. “It’s really neat knowing that you’re good enough to compete with all these professionals and put in a competitive score. I feel so honored to be here and be competing with the best of the best.”


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