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home : sports & recreation : sports & recreation June 25, 2016

9/17/2013 12:49:00 PM
Sisters rider is a dressage champ
Autumn Saunders has seen success on 19-year-old Oliver Twist. photo provided
+ click to enlarge
Autumn Saunders has seen success on 19-year-old Oliver Twist. photo provided

Sisters equestrienne Autumn Saunders rode her 19-year-old horse Oliver Twist to the Oregon Dressage Society State Championships in junior/young rider, second-level dressage last weekend in Sherwood. She's now turning her sights to regional competition at the United States Dressage Federation Regional Championships this weekend in Washington.

Saunders' achievement is remarkable by any standard, but made all the more impressive by the fact that she took first-place honors without using a trainer.

"I didn't have a trainer all summer," she said.

According to the International Equestrian Federation, dressage is defined as a discipline in which "horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements."

Judges closely examine the most minute aspects of the horse-and-rider ballet, from the execution of the movements to the rider's seat and position. Scores are given on a 0-10 scale. Riders are considered ready to advance to the next level when they have attained 60 percent or better score.

The judges were especially stringent in the state competition, Saunders reported. Her median score has been in the 66-percent range in recent shows. Her state score fell below that mark.

"It wasn't that high," she said. "It was 61-something. The judges were tough."

Still, it was good enough to win, despite the fact that she spent the summer honing her program on her own. It's difficult to improve in dressage without a critical eye to discern areas that need work. Going into competition without a trainer is more than unusual.

"It's pretty much unheard-of," Saunders said.

Saunders said she had a pretty good idea of what she needed to work on, and she did so faithfully, training four times a week.

That's no hardship for the Sisters High School senior.

"It's sort of my release," she said. "Some people go running or whatever - I go ride my horse. My horse is my best friend, so it's nice to always have him around.

"My mom and I rode horses in California, and it was more like a once-a-month thing just for fun," she recalled.

She got more seriously into riding after moving to Central Oregon, taking up the sport of eventing, which centers on jumping. To continue eventing, she needed to get her own horse, and she found Oliver Twist. He did not exactly impress her peers.

Oliver Twist is a 16.1-hand thoroughbred/Holsteiner cross. He wasn't regarded as championship material when he came into Autumn's life.

"Everyone who saw him thought he had no potential," Saunders said.

Saunders moved through several local barns before landing with Audrey Goldsmith. Goldsmith is renowned for competing in dressage with a mule.

"We realized that my horse didn't really like jumping," Saunders said.

Goldsmith urged Saunders to give dressage a try, and it turned out to be a good fit for both horse and rider.

"He turned out to be really good," Saunders said.

Saunders says that her goal is to compete in the championships at Level 3, one step up from where she is now - and she won't change her training set-up.

"I'll be without a trainer pretty much until I graduate," she said.

She'd like to continue riding.

"I've been looking into colleges that have an equestrian team," she said. "I think that would be great - to ride in college."

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