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September 2, 2005

Stedt Makes Area I Novice Championship Part Of Her Retirement Plan

Retirement hardly means slowing down for Bonnie Stedt of Pine Plains, N.Y. The 61-year-old former executive vice president of human resources for American Express now pursues her passion--eventing--full-time.

At the Fitch's Corner Horse Trials, Aug. 6-7 in Millbrook, N.Y., Stedt beat a field of 40 riders, many of them half her age, to win the USEA Area I Novice Championships on her 9-year-old, Irish-bred gelding, Clancy Himself. She also finished fourth on Jasmina, her 10-year-old, Holsteiner mare.

A popular member of the Millbrook hunt community, Stedt enjoyed a home-court advantage all weekend. Event organizer Fernanda Kellogg awarded Stedt the first annual Fitch's Corner award last March, recognizing "a member of the community who has long supported horse sports."

Stedt thought, "Wouldn't it be great if I could win here? But then, I put that idea out of my mind quickly and thought, I'd better just concentrate on riding well."

Stedt won the dressage with a score of 24.5. "Clancy was just so forward, and he moved so freely," said Stedt. "It was the best test I've ever had."

Stedt, who trains with Olympian Kerry Millikin, gave herself some competition, though, finishing on 25 penalties and tied for a close second place with her mare. "She was just a little tighter than Clancy, but she had a fabulous test, too," said Stedt. "I was thrilled with them both."

Fitch's novice cross-country course proved to be a true championship test for the level, as 15 out of 40 competitors accumulated jumping penalties. Fence 12, a log before the water complex, stopped nine horses, and fence 4, oak rails preceding a bank complex, prompted five horses to take a second look.

No such problems affected Stedt on either horse, how-ever, as she rode two clear rounds within the time. "Clancy just loves the cross-country," said Stedt.

"He just looked for the jumps and larked around. He is the single best horse I have ever had."

Jumping in reverse order of standing, the leaders felt the pressure mount as rails tumbled with regularity over Fitch's technical show jumping course.

Thirteen horses brought poles down, including Stedt's mare. This prompted a four-way tie for third, so the placings were determined by cross-country time, landing Stedt in fourth.

"I just hung on her mouth to the first fence," Stedt lamented. "I didn't ride forward, which is exactly what Kerry told me not to do. It goes so much better when I ride the way Kerry tells me to!"

True to her word, Stedt did just that on her second round with Clancy, keeping all the rails upright to finish on her dressage score and win the championship.

"He has so much scope, he'll jump out of any distance and he'll always jump me out of trouble," she said of her enormous chestnut gelding, whom she bought sight unseen three years ago.

A former show jumper, Stedt began eventing Clancy last year; after stopping three times on his first cross-country attempt, the horse soon got the hang of the sport. The pair won novice divisions at Kent School (Conn.) last fall and GMHA (Vt.) in June; they also placed second at Groton House (Mass.) in their last start before contesting the championship.

As the scorers scrambled to break the third-placed tie, Linda Albert and her 18-year-old, Thoroughbred gelding, Sid Slick, quietly moved into second with flawless jumping rounds.

Albert owns a wholesale foods business in her hometown of Bellerose, N.J., and credits her fourth-placed dressage score of 28 to her trainer, Jeanie Hannen, who suggested she switch to a happy mouth bit.

"He was much more relaxed and submissive and his score improved four points over his last test," Albert said.

She had no worries about cross-country with her long-time partner, whom she has been competing for eight years. "You just look between his ears and sit there," she said.

Albert was thrilled not only by her placing but also by her horse's resolve. "Sid got entangled in an electric fence last March and couldn't bend left for weeks because of burn marks," she said. "I'm a happy camper just to be here and have my horse go so well."

For Stedt, a governor of the Millbrook Hunt, winning the championship at Fitch's was especially meaningful because of the many supportive spectators cheering her on. "I'm a single person and this community has become my family," she said.

"I used to work 80 hours a week, manage 85,000 employees, and travel around the world three times a year," she said of her New-York based job at American Express. "Some people retire and don't know what they want to do. They don't have a passion. I wake up every day and look out at my glorious horses in this beautiful countryside, and I feel so lucky."
 
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