California Riding Magazine •September, 2013

Horse People: Jamie Pestana
Young Rider team gold and silver individual medalist sets sights on Grand Prix ranks, with a detour Down Under.

by Kim F. Miller • photos by Tamara With The Camera

Jamie Pestana has seen more of the North American Junior/Young Riders Championship than most. With the horse she's brought along herself, Winzalot, a 71.105% led Region 7 to Young Rider team gold, then they capped the week with individual silver in dressage. Jamie is a three-time NAYJRC participant and a many-time attendee thanks to being the daughter of East Bay Area trainer Nadine Pestana, who has now taken a remarkable 18 contenders to the FEI competition. The event was held this past July at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY.

But it's never become old hat, reports 20-year-old Jamie. "Every year is really different depending on who is on your team and what else is going on." Last year, she helped Region 7 to team silver and, in her first year, 2010, she earned double gold as a member of the Junior squad.

Jamie and Winzalot

This year was particularly great thanks to the silver individual medal and a day's worth of next-step presentations organized by the USDF and USEF. Newly anointed USET chef d'equipe Robert Dover, USEF Young Riders coach Jeremy Steinberg, Developing Riders coach Debbie McDonald and Young Horse coach Scott Hassler came to Kentucky to help the Championship's participants prepare for the next move in their careers.

"That was a pretty unique and special opportunity," Jamie reports.
"The idea was to show us how one level of the sport leads to the next."
Terrific camaraderie among the members of her Region 7 team (Teresa Adams, Ariel Thomas and Jaclyn Pepper) and with chef d'equipe Jan Ebeling were additional highlights. Getting an extra training visit with the 2012 Olympian at his Moorpark stable and seeing him don goofy glasses and crazy hat for the Championship's trademark golf cart parade are indelible memories.

Jamie and Winzalot

Between the Young and Junior teams, four Region 7-ers ride at
Nadine Pestana's Top Hat and Tails barn in Pleasanton and "all of us are just really good friends." Jamie and teammate Jaclyn Pepper are equal veterans of the Championships and they enjoyed being go-to girls for their less-experienced teammates.

Jan has coached riders at the Championships, but this was his first outing as a chef and he loved it. "Of course, it's really fun to win, but for me it was especially great to see their attitude and team spirit," says the veteran international competitor. "I've been around teams a few times and I know how there is pressure pulling on your mind from many different angles." The whole experience reminded Jan "how wonderful it is being on a team when everybody is pulling on the same string and it was really great to see that at this age."

On a squad full of stand-out girls, most of whom were already pals on the Bay Area circuit, Jamie made the most of her edge in experience. "She took a bit of a leader role and she handled the pressures really well," Jan recalls.

On To Australia

A month after the Championships, the excitement lingers while "getting back into the groove of things," Jamie reports. That includes readying for her junior year at UC Davis, which starts with a much-dreamed-of semester of studying abroad, in this case Australia. While she hopes to get in some riding, the priority is simply being a student in a foreign country. "I've always put it off, using the excuse that I couldn't because I couldn't leave my horse. But this year, my mom said, 'Hey, you've just come off Young Riders and it won't hurt to let him be for a few months. He'll still be here when you get back."

Encouraging Jamie to lead a balanced life has been a parenting principle for Nadine. In addition to pursuing serious dressage, Jamie also pole-vaulted for her high school. Of course, it's a little easier leaving her horse behind when she can leave him in the capable hands of her mom while off Down Under. The role reversal of schooling her mother on how to ride "Winny" has been a little weird, Jamie admits. "It's been really cool to have done all the training on him myself. When my mom started riding him there were times she'd have to ask me, 'How do I ask him for this?' -- which was cool."

Region 7 chef d'equipe Jan Ebeling

Not in a position to buy a made upper level horse when the time came for a move in that direction, Jamie got Winny, a now 9-year-old Hanoverian by Wolkenstein II, in 2008. He'd had only 30 days under saddle and "only went to the left." The Pestanas bought him sight-unseen on the recommendation of frequent coach Dennis Callin. He had a good calling card from Catherine Haddad-Staller's barn in Germany, but also some less reassuring reports. "Not well behaved" and "no horse for a junior," were among the latter, recalls Jamie, who was 14 at the time.

The caveats proved accurate. "The first day I got on him, he reared straight up," she says. "We've definitely had some rocky times." His "unique" attitude revolves around the idea that "he's always in charge," Jamie explains. "So long as I let him believe that, we are great," she laughs. She's convinced that his dominant attitude is what "makes him pretty brilliant in the show ring." Whatever their ups and downs, they're
best friends. "He whinnies every day when he sees me."

When Jamie returns from Australia in December, their next goal is qualifying for the Brentina Cup, a valuable waypoint en route to competing against professionals on the Grand Prix stage. But just as in the past, Jamie won't push the pace. In 2011, colic surgeries sidelined the pair for a year during which she realized that "when I make plans, they tend to go awry."

Competing at Grand Prix and riding professionally are goals, but becoming a trainer is not. After determining that her original plans to become a veterinarian would be hard to juggle with serious riding, Jamie is pursuing plans to become a physical therapist, a degree that requires three years of post-graduate study. As an equestrian, she's required a fair amount of physical therapy herself and she hopes it will be a career with the time flexibility needed to maintain her riding goals.

The Mother/Daughter Thing

Although she's asked about it frequently, having her mom as her trainer hasn't been the dramatic saga some seem to expect. "We work really well together and we always have," Jamie says. It has meant that she's often low on the list for lessons or at-show coaching when push comes to shove. But there's been a silver lining in learning to work on her own. "Sometimes I'll be having a lesson and my mom asks me why I'm doing this or that," Jamie relays. "And I say, 'Hey, maybe it's because I haven't had a lesson in three months!'" In the end, it's worked out quite well, as Jamie's results and ongoing enjoyment of the sport attest.

She likes helping out younger riders in the Top Hat And Tails program and regularly clinics with outside instructors to broaden her knowledge and experience base.

The horse world has been a great onramp to the real world, Jamie reflects. "A lot of my friends were worried about going off to college but I didn't really have that. Growing up, I was constantly around adults and in the position of presenting myself to judges, parents, veterinarians, etc., I think it tends to make you more mature." The responsibilities of representing her much-appreciated sponsors Custom Saddlery and Platinum Performance fall into the same category.

"We are in the position of needing to make friends with people we compete against and interacting with a wide range of people. That's helpful in any real world situation and I think it helps make you a better person in general."