11-year-old Pepperell rider wins equestrian event

Tessa Holloran brought home a gold medal and the 2015 overall champion title from the Lendon’s Youth Dressage Festival recently.

Tessa, an 11-year-old equestrian from Pepperell, Mass., won gold for her division in a sweep of blue ribbons placing first in the written test, dressage and equitation. Her numbers were so good, she went on to receive the overall high score for the entire show, outscoring 300 riders – many twice her age.

This festival is the flagship event of Dressage4Kids. It was held in August in Saugerties, N.Y. The event offers individual and team competition for riders from ages 4-21.

Tessa’s trip to the showgrounds included her trainer, Orintha Silva, and Dutch warmblood mare Usela, affectionately called "Beau."

Tessa started riding at 3 1/2 on her Welsh pony, and went on to train with Silva, of Ten Broeck Farm in Pepperell.

This was the "Team Holloran’s" third trip to the show. The trip always includes now 9-year-old sister Ella, who Tessa proclaims is "the best groom ever."

Tessa adds of her trainer, "Ms. Orintha is a great teacher, and I’m so grateful for her support. She has helped me learn so much."

Orintha is past president of the Nashua Rotary Club, and served as director of development for Home Health & Hospice Care in Merrimack, a nonprofit agency providing community health, nursing and other services.

Together with her husband, Phil, and a large group of volunteers, the couple hosted a "Horses for Hospice" dinner and equine performance at their farm in 2012. The event yielded a $5,000 donation to the Community Hospice House, which is managed by HHHC.

"The care received from Home Health & Hospice Care is invaluable," Silva said. "They have touched the lives of many people close to us. The work that they do for people of all ages at the end-of-life is simply extraordinary. We wanted a chance to give back."

As a coach, Silva shares nearly 40 years of equine experience through her training programs. That experience serves as the foundation of her professional philosophy, which she explains as to base her business "on integrity, strive for excellence, and treat every student with fairness and dignity." Her passion is training with a style that "promotes the best possible partnership between horse and rider."

It is a style that clearly paid off in New York, said Tessa’s mother, Kristine.

"On Friday, they rode a schooling test, basically a practice ride that does not count toward the show," she said. "They were fifth in their division and pretty disappointed. Everyone knew it was time to regroup."

Tessa agreed, saying, "I had some real work to do, lots of areas for improvement. Ms. Orintha helped me with my nerves and got me more focused. It worked; I rode better and tried really hard to make the corrections from the schooling test."

The teamwork resulted in an unforgettable show – a team that wouldn’t be complete without the perfect equine partner. This promising equestrian also gives enormous credit to her horse.

"I am lucky to have an amazing new schoolmaster," Tessa said. "Beau is teaching me so many things, and that’s not always easy for both of us. She knows a lot more than I do. I love her more each day, and especially for being patient and forgiving."

In addition to the three-phased competition, Tessa also won blue for the handling class, in which the handler presents the horse to a judge from the ground. The goal is to showcase its best features while standing still, as well as performance at the walk and trot in a predefined pattern. This success she credits to Phil Silva, who is one the area’s premier professional handlers.

The festival was instituted in 1999, and the number of 2015 riders surpassed any registration in history. The event is only possible because of the support of three-time Olympian Lendon Gray, volunteers, sponsors, judges and trainers. According to the D4K website, dressage4kids.org, Gray set out with a goal that all youths might learn how to become not just better riders, but all-around horsemen.

She has rapidly expanded Dressage4Kids, a nonprofit organization incorporated to provide educational and competitive opportunities for youth riders and the adults who support them.