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Jessica Di Genova Wins Debut CCI** at Florida
Ocala, FL, USA
Photos: Anthony Trollope/EWBNews.com

EWB News Service
Jessica Di Genova and Upolu
At just 16 years old, Jessica Di Genova now hasÊan accomplishment on her resume that most people will never achieve: She not only won a CCI**, she placed above such names as Olympians Karen O'Connor, Darren Chiacchia and Ian Roberts and other well-known eventers such as Buck Davidson, Nathalie Pollard, Kyle Carter, Colleen Loach and Karl Slezak.

And this is only her fourth year in the sport of eventing.

The event was the Florida International CCI*/CCI**, aka the Festival of the Horse, held at the Florida Horse Park in Ocala, April 20-23. The one-star and two-star were the first internationally-recognized three day events to be held at the park.

"I don't think about the fact that I am competing alongside Olympians," said Di Genova. "In eventing, it is all about the horse and rider partnership. You have to have the horse that you just click with." With Upolu, Di Genova said she knew right away that they would click. "The moment I got on her back, I knew right away I had to get her. I love her."

Di Genova and her horse Upolu, a 16-year-old Dutch warmblood/Thoroughbred mare, clicked all the way through the competition, starting with Day 1. "My dressage test was really good; the best I've ever had," said Di Genova, who was tied for third following her test. "At this event, I reflected what Darren (Chiacchia) has taught me over the past three months: Really go in there and show off! Dressage is more than just sitting there and having an obedient horse and doing movements."

The cross county went even better. "She kept the same pace throughout the course and jumped everything perfectly," said Di Genova, who was especially pleased that Upolu made the time. "At The Fork (Horse Trials in North Carolina, April 14-16), we didn't make time" and received six time faults, "so I have been spending a lot of time conditioning her." Upolu was still ready to run the next morning, too. "She was perky and spooky, just the way I like her to be," said Di Genova. "It lets me know she is OK."

Upolu proved she was OK when she put in a clear round in the stadium jumping, one of only seven clears in the class of 43. They had been tied for first with Nathalie Pollard and Icarus going into stadium jumping, but an unfortunate 12-fault round dropped Pollard to fifth.

Di Genova's overall score or 43.5 points was 8.2 points lower than second, which was Stephanie Butts' 51.7 points, followed by Karen O'Connor's 52.

EWB News Service
Karen O'Connor
Di Genova has had Upolu for three years, following an eventing hobby that got started aboard a 22-year-old Training Level horse that had been in retirement for nine years. Formerly a pleasure rider, Di Genova can't place her finger on what inspired her to switch to eventing four years ago. "I used to think it was so dangerous and I was such a chicken," she laughed. But, now her aggressive style is what is rocketing her to the top of the charts. "Upolu takes a very aggressive rider, just because she is a very careful jumper," explained Di Genova. "She is not an easy horseÉIf your confidence falters, her confidence goes way down, too. Or, she'll take advantage of me. That is why I always have to be on the ball with her, all the time."

Lately, Chiacchia has been helping her with that, as well. Di Genova started training with Chiacchia on Feb. 1 and will be at his farm in Ocala until May 1, when she will head back to Norval, Ontario to continue her training with Leahona Rowland.

"My parents and I heard about him and heard very good things about how he was good with young riders," said Di Genova, who has since formed her own opinion: "I really like his teaching style. He really gets to the point and doesn't let you stop until you get it right. He goes through a lot of yelling and screaming, but it gets through my head and I love it."

She said his words even resonate through her head when she is competing. "Activity, more activity, impulsion, energy, more energy," are in the back of her mind when she is riding her dressage tests. However, the most important one is "show off." He knows I have the potential to get higher marks if I show off, said Di Genova.

During cross-country and stadium, the words are more along the lines of, "Growl at her, be aggressive, do whatever you have to!" Di Genova said he also reminds her to keep her head up.

"I can't express how to thank him. He really got me to this point. He brought me so far in three months. I wouldn't have done it without him," said Di Genova in a hastily thought-up speech she was requested to give following the presentation of her ribbon, prizes and $800 check. She also thanked her parents, Mario and Katherine, for supporting her.

But, upon returning to Canada, Di Genova may be putting head down, back into her school books. A home schooled 10th-grader, Di Genova has a lot of studying still to do if she is going to pursue one of her other goals: medicine.

The next time you'll probably see the talented Jessica Di Genova competing in the States will be the North American Young Rider Championships, Aug. 1-6. "I am hoping to work my way to the Young Riders in Virginia for the two-star," she said.

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