Adrienne Pagalilauan doesn’t remember much about the first test she rode in her return to dressage showing. “It just went by so fast in my head! I came out and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that was the worst ride ever!’ ”
It had been a number of years since Pagalilauan, who works as an assistant trainer and groom for Allison Brock at Fritz and Claudine Kundrun’s DeerMeadow Farms in Wellington, Fla., had shown. And her mount, Peajay, hadn’t strutted his stuff in front of judges in more than a year, either. Pagalilauan really didn’t know what to expect when she entered the Global Dressage Festival National 3, held March 19-20 in Wellington, Fla.
After showing in her open Prix St. Georges test, “Ali and Fritz told me it was good. Then I saw my score and thought, ‘Wow, it must have been better than I felt!’ ” In their first test together, Pagalilauan and Peajay scored a 70.00 percent and placed third.
“The next day, everything slowed down, and I was able to sit up and think through the test. I felt much better coming out of the ring. He was a bit more settled, too,” Pagalilauan said. That open Prix St. Georges test earned them a 71.57 percent and a blue ribbon.
“He’s a blast to ride. I could not be any luckier than to have him,” Pagalilauan said of Peajay.
Usually, Pagalilauan is standing ringside at shows, towel in hand as she’s putting the final polish on Brock and her horses. She’s worked for the Kundruns for six years, keeping some of the horses in work when Brock has been training and showing abroad, and grooming for Brock when she’s stateside. But this time, it was her turn to canter down centerline.
Brock had trained Peajay from a green horse to Grand Prix for the Kundruns, but in 2011, the Polish Warmblood developed some issues and injured a suspensory. “It was really a group decision with the Kundruns and Ali and his vet, Carolyn Weinberg, that it was in the best interests of the horse that he no longer be a Grand Prix horse,” Pagalilauan said.
In December 2011, Brock sent Peajay home from England to Pagalilauan, who undertook a lengthy and painstaking rehabilitation. “He was just walking when I got him. I've taken my time with him; it took a year to get him fit enough to put him in the ring. But he’s healthy and happy now,” she said. “I had to learn about him as his rider, not just as his groom on the ground. I've tried to build our own relationship from there. Fritz and Claudine have been amazing. They're fantastic people to work for, to give me the opportunity to ride him and show him nationally is just a dream come true for me. I feel so blessed that I get the opportunity to ride him.”
Peajay, 13, is full of personality both on the ground and riding. “He marches to his own drummer. You half-halt, and there’s not always a response,” Pagalilauan said. “He likes to do extra-credit tempi-changes. He’s very proud of himself when he does it. In the second test, I had problems in my fours; we got to the end, and he said, ‘Let’s do some more!’ and he threw in four ones right as we were coming around the corner. He’s been known to do that even with Ali; he likes to be overly helpful sometimes.”
Brock and the Kundruns have been very supportive of Pagalilauan’s partnership with Peajay (West—Lakota). “They’re happy to see the horse out doing something and see him healthy, in the ring, and being successful,” she said. “I was definitely nervous about showing; I'd been dragging my feet for a month or so. Finally, I said, ‘I’ve just got to go do it!’ I needed to get that first ride behind me. Ali and the Kundruns didn’t push me. They all said, ‘When you feel like you’re ready to show, you make that decision.’ It was when I was ready and felt like the horse was ready.”
Pagalilauan’s nerves didn’t come from inexperience; she’s shown in dressage since she was a teenager. But her last showing experience, on a Thoroughbred-Oldenburg cross owned by the Kundruns, had chipped away at her confidence.
That horse, Roadster, had a bit of a spook, and though Pagalilauan got her USDF silver-medal scores on him at Prix St. Georges, he was limited. “I learned a lot from him, and I was able to teach him a lot, but I was showing him in Wellington, and when you’re on just a little guy against big-moving horses, it’s hard. He’s since been sold and is with an amateur doing fantastically. I taught him as much as I could and got my scores on him, but it was difficult,” she said.
Pagalilauan grew up in Ohio, and like most young, horse-crazy girls, dabbled in hunter/jumper and eventing with any horse she could find. By the time she’d hit high school, however, she’d found dressage. She was riding horses and teaching lessons for local trainer Sue Black, but she reached a crossroads.
“Sue sat me down in the kitchen when I was a senior in high school. She told me that if I wanted to pursue this as a career, I had to leave. She said, ‘I don’t have the horses for you. I’ve taught you as much as I can, so if you want to do this, you’ve got to go elsewhere.’ It's probably one of the greatest things somebody has done for me. She shoved me out the door and said ‘You need to go do this.' "
After a few working student stints and some other jobs, Pagalilauan worked for five years for Linda Smith, who eventually gave her a similar nudge to her dream job with the Kundruns. “She also told me that this job with Ali was a good opportunity for me and that I should take it,” she said. “I feel like I owe both of those people a lot for giving me the push I needed when I needed it. They have been the two most influential people on my riding career so far.”
For now, Pagalilauan plans to just keep Peajay happy and healthy, and continue showing at Prix St. Georges as long as he is. She’s hoping to have the opportunity to move up to Intermediaire II and possibly qualify for regional championships and earn her gold-medal scores.