Canada’s Cheryl Meisner Begins Her Olympic Journey in Europe

In her quest to represent Canada at the 2008 Olympic Games, Cheryl Meisner of Blandford, NS, will prepare by spending the year competing and training in Europe.

With the equestrian sport of dressage thriving in Europe, particularly in Holland and Germany where the top athletes and coaches are based, Meisner is basing herself in the Netherlands with renowned trainer Bert Rutten, who she has been working with for the past five years. Having departed Canada in September with her top horses, Meisner will be based in Hunsel, in the south of Holland, until the Canadian Dressage Team is made known next summer. If all goes according to plan, she and two teammates will then compete in Hong Kong, host city of the Olympic equestrian events (quarantine concerns prevent the horses from traveling to Beijing).

"I chose to go to Europe because of the high quality of competitions, and the fact that there are more opportunities to get the scores that I need to qualify for the Olympics," said Meisner, 26, noting that this year's Olympic Team will be determined based on qualifying scores and not through formal Selection Trials. "I have been on the road to the Olympics for the past six years and I still have nine months to go. Competing at the Olympics has been my dream since I was a child."

In the meantime, Meisner is competing against the top riders in the world, at the best shows in the world, in Europe. This fall, she competed in five different venues, including International Equestrian Federation (FEI) sanctioned events at CDI3* Bremen and CDI3* Oldenburg in Germany and CDI4* Maastricht in the Netherlands. In her final show of the 2007 season, Meisner enjoyed great success at the Dutch national competition, CDN Hengelo, held the last weekend of November. Riding Paganini, Meisner scored 66.88% in the Grand Prix to finish sixth behind Courtney King and Idocus, who are currently considered the United States' top combination, and earned 67.40% for fourth place while top-ranked Dutch competitor Marlies van Baalen placed fifth with 67.08%. Meisner and Paganini then scored 69.00% in the Grand Prix Freestyle to finish a close second to Dutch rider Kirsten Beckers whose winning score was 69.38%.

"The show was really big for a national competition; it was not what I expected! I walked in and saw the venue, and was wowed," said Meisner of the ambiance in Hengelo. "The feeling that you got from the atmosphere in the arena was definitely international quality, and a lot of Holland's top riders competed."

Of her tests, Meisner remarked, "I was happy with my scores. The Freestyle was held on the same day as the Grand Prix, which is unusual and meant Paganini was getting tired, but he gave me his all. I was happier with my Grand Prix test than with my Freestyle, just because the energy level was higher in the Grand Prix. When Paganini gets tired, his piaffe and passage become less animated."

Meisner has been partnered with Paganini since her sponsor, Lobster Point Farms of Nova Scotia, purchased the 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion three and a half years ago.

"The quality of his work in general keeps improving," she says of the Havidoff son. "His focus in the arena was perfect. He was where I needed him to be with the right amount of energy. Paganini is getting much hotter, which is a good thing. A lot of and stallions are quite lazy, so to have him hot makes him easier to ride."

After spending the 2005 season at the small tour level, Meisner and Paganini made their Grand Prix debut in 2006. Together, their scores have been getting consistently higher, and the new Freestyle program that they debuted in 2007 has received a positive reaction from judges and spectators alike. Compiled by leading freestyle designer Applause Dressage of Vancouver, BC, the freestyle features powerful modern music by the Croatian pianist, Maksim.

In addition to Paganini, Meisner is also competing in Europe with Lucky Strike, a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Ferro, as well as Vivaldi, a five-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Don Schufro that was purchased six months ago. Another new acquisition that has Meisner has high hopes for is Tango, a seven-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Obelisk out of a Lohengrin dam that Lobster Point Farms purchased in August.

"I have watched the horse progress from the time he was a three-year-old and I always thought he was a fantastic horse," said Meisner of Tango, who was bred and trained by Rutten. "He has terrific movement and a great temperament, and a lot of talent for the Grand Prix. The quality of his work is phenomenal. I am happy to have the opportunity to ride him."

As the horse's breeder, Rutten believes that Tango and Meisner will make a good match.

"Tango is a very elegant type, a lady's type of horse," said the Dutch Olympian who competed Tango's sire, Obelisk, up to the small tour level while his dam's sire, Lohengrin, is a proven Grand Prix horse. "We bred Tango and trained him up; he is basically at Grand Prix level. He has not competed yet, but he does all the movements and is very talented. Cheryl is very competitive, eager to learn, and committed to achieving her goals."

Meisner is focused on her goal of proudly representing her country at the 2008 Olympic Games. Although teams have been reduced from four members to three for the first time, Meisner feels that her chances are good.

"I feel very positive about it and I think that my chances are good," she says. "There are a lot of struggles and hurdles to overcome in order to make this team, but my horse feels good and he keeps improving, so all I can do is continue to work hard every day and hope for the best!"

Having only made her debut at the Olympic level of Grand Prix in 2005, Meisner is currently one of Canada’s top international contenders. Incredibly, Meisner has only been training in the equestrian sport of dressage for the past six years and is one of the youngest Canadian athletes competing at the grand prix level.


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