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U.S. Finals a boost for rising dressage rider Barnes and her Benvica
By Nancy Jaffer

November 16, 2017

(Photo by Susan J. Stickle Photography)

(Photo by Susan J. Stickle Photography)

“I’m still smiling,” said Maia Barnes, days after winning the Fourth Level Adult Amateur Championship at the U.S. Dressage Finals presented by Adequan.

Maia, who rode Benvica to a score of 69.889 percent at the Kentucky Horse Park, had little in the way of major mileage before finishing as Fourth Level reserve champion in a combined open/amateur competition at Dressage at Devon, six weeks prior to the Nov. 9-12 Finals.

With 351 entries from all over the country, the Finals can be intimidating for first-timers, especially someone who had only been doing dressage for two years.

“Show experience wasn’t really there for me,” said Maia, who is based at Back Brook Farm in Ringoes.

Before she even started competing, she said, “I was actually nervous, because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to handle the pressure.”

Maia and Benvica on their resrve champion victory lap at Dressage at Devon. (Photo by Hoofprint Images)

Maia and Benvica on their resrve champion victory lap at Dressage at Devon. (Photo by Hoofprint Images)

But the Finals victory with her 11-year-old Dutchbred gelding (Sandreo x Renieta by Jazz) gave 24-year-old Maia a boost, and may have started her on a new course in life.

At Temple University, she switched her major several times before graduating with a psychology degree, but now it looks as if she has found her focus.

“This will definitely help with the confidence aspect. I’ll probably change my status soon to open and hopefully people will feel comfortable paying me to ride their horses or helping them,” said Maia, who trains with Stephan Cheret and hopes to become a professional.

In exchange for lessons, she is cleaning stalls and turning out horses at Back Brook, but has dreams of being an assistant trainer and moving up the levels some more.

“Next year, I would like to keep my horse and do I-1. I was watching the freestyles at nationals and I want to do that. Full pirouettes might be hard, but if we work over the winter, I think we can do it.

“I’m thinking to take him as far as I can and let him give me this awesome show experience, which obviously is going really well.”

Her trainer, the 1994 French national champion, notes how fast she has progressed, from a novice in 2015 to training at Prix St. Georges this year.

“She’s extremely serious, very hard on herself. She’s also very competitive. She has the right attitude to be a very great show rider,” he believes.

“She is a talented rider for competition because she really focuses and does her thing and does it well.” Of the horse, Stephan said, he was green in the changes and the lateral work when he was imported.

“He was a little bit of a handful to begin with,” the trainer continued.

“He’s a lot better now because of the showing and the experience he’s getting. She really loves him. They really have a good connection and work together well.”

Maia noted that going to “huge competitions is so exciting and so much fun. Just being there, you learn so much and get to meet so many great people. I would love to take my riding as far as I can and one day be in a Grand Prix ring.”

Maia has a kiss for the equine love of her life. (Photo courtesy of Maia Barnes)

Maia has a kiss for the equine love of her life. (Photo courtesy of Maia Barnes)

Starting out as a jumping and eventing rider on borrowed mounts, Maia participated in one eventing competition, but chuckles now as she recalled that the horse would only walk around the cross-country course.

“It was a disaster. I couldn’t get him to move,” she explained.

Even so, she had thought at one point she’d get back to jumping, “that was fun for me. Then I started doing dressage. I got on a horse and piaffed for the first time and did an amazing pirouette for the first time. To me, it felt so much more exciting, even though it’s on the ground. You sit on a horse that can do these amazing movements and for me, that totally trumped jumping any day.”

Her father, David Barnes, is helping his daughter achieve her ambition and saw the purchase of Benvica as “an investment in my future and went for it,” she said, noting Dad has developed an eye for dressage.

When she bought Benvica off a video, “It was like the ultimate blind date,” Maia observed. “It was a huge gamble.”

Luckily, the gamble paid off. Maia started at Training Level when the horse arrived from the Netherlands in July 2015.

“I had never ridden him. He was very wildly crazy,” said Maia, who wondered at the time, “What did I get myself into?”

She started lessons with Stephan’s wife, Caroline, then moved on to Stephan because her schedule didn’t mesh with Caroline’s.

Having Stephan ride the horse in training sessions improved his collection and made his flying changes more expressive. He even had “an inkling of a pirouette,” she commented.

Being able to do well at shows is a huge bonus.

“The excitement of it all makes me ride better than I do at home,” she said.

“The more I get out there and the more I see myself doing well, the more I feel like, `Okay, I can do this and I could have a lot of fun with this.’”

Day Two of US Dressage Finals: Results and Photo Gallery

6 Days Ago
Annan Hepner

Lexington, Ky. – Nov. 10, 2017 – On the second day of the US Dressage Finals eight championship titles will be earned at the Kentucky Horse Park. Hear from the rider’s from each of Friday’s divisions, as well as see photos and results! The article will be updated as more champions are crowned throughout the day.

Claiming the tricolor ribbon in the Fourth Level Adult Amateur Championship with a 69.889 percent was Maia Barnes of Ringoes, New Jersey, on Benvica, her 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding. Earlier this fall, the pair won the division championship at the GAIG/USDF Region 8 Championship. Bonnie Canter of Hockley, Texas, and her 7-year-old Connemara mare, Fifinella GCF, followed closely behind and finished with the reserve championship with a 69.519 percent. Coming from Wellington, Florida, Amy Swerdlin earned a score of 67.556 percent on her 7-year-old Oldenburg gelding, Quileute CCW.

Maia Barnes / Benvica / 69.889, Fourth Level Adult Amateur champion

Maia Barnes / Benvica / 69.889, Fourth Level Adult Amateur champion

On her ride:

“My ride was very good today. He has been a little sluggish lately, so we went into the warm up in hopes he would be more up and ready to go, and luckily he was. The wind helped a little bit. He was a bit more there. He wasn’t looking, he was listening to me which was really nice. I think the test went really smoothly, we didn’t have any major mistakes. I was really happy with how it went.”

On Benvica:

“I got him just over two years ago in 2015. At that point, I was just starting dressage. I was going to start at Training Level with him. He was sold as a Fourth Level horse, but his basics weren’t all there. Since then it’s all gone pretty fast. Last year was our first regionals and we did Third Level. This is the first year he’s kind of started being there for me and really being a show horse. It went much more smoothly this year. Now we are here, something I never thought we would do. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s such a great learning experience for both of us.”


Region 8 Riders Come Home With Top Awards From Dressage Championships
By Tapinto Horses Staff

November 15, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Newcomer Wins

Just two years ago, Maia Barnes of Ringoes, N.J. had never ridden dressage when she purchased her now 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Benvica (Sandreo x Renieta by Jazz), but the pair started at Training Level and moved up together, and on Friday claimed the Fourth Level Adult Amateur Championship with a score of 69.889%. “It’s come together really well, really fast. I never thought I’d be here like this, but it’s been a lot of fun and a terrific learning experience for both of us,” Barnes said. “My horse has been a little sluggish lately, so we went into the warmup with the hopes that he would be a little more ‘up’ and ready to go with the cold and the wind. Luckily he was, so he was very good in the ring and we didn’t have any mistakes.”

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