Emma Bergeron has a secret weapon when it comes to her show jumping career: dressage lessons. Bergeron trains with U.S. Olympic show jumping rider Margie Engle, who makes dressage a priority for her horses and works with U.S. Olympic dressage medalist, Lisa Wilcox. Once a week, Bergeron gets on Dallas, her junior jumper horse, drops her stirrups, and settles in for some serious flatwork help with dressage rider Hannah Michaels, who works with Wilcox.
“The dressage lessons have made a world of difference in Dallas’ strength, in his rideability, in my position and control, and in my understanding of the horses,” Bergeron said. “I feel like now when I get on Dallas, I can understand how he feels so much better. It’s helpful for him to be strong in his hind end, too, when he’s jumping so big.”
Those benefits showed as Bergeron represented Canada in the CSIO-J Friendly Team Competition at the CP Palm Beach Masters in Wellington, FL. Bergeron and Dallas put in a four-fault round followed by a clear to help “The Eh Team” comprised of Bergeron, fellow Canadian Sara Tindale, and Brazilian rider Marco Antoni Peixoto Ferreira Filho, take second place behind the Stars and Stripes team comprised of U.S. riders.
Jumping for Canada on a team has been a goal for Bergeron.
“It was really rewarding,” said the 17-year-old. “It was great to know that all the hard work finally paid off. Riding sometimes seems like it’s one step forward and five steps back, but it was really nice to see the work pay off and to do the team competition that I’ve wanted to do for so long now.”
In round one at the Palm Beach Masters, Bergeron felt the need to hurry a bit to stay within the tight time allowed and had a rail down at a narrow vertical.
“I just rushed a little bit when I needed to take a little more time in the turn to set up for the skinny,” she said. “I talked to [Canadian chef d’equipe] Beth Underhill and Margie before the second round, and because my time was way under, we decided I needed to take my time at the skinny the second time out. I was able to correct the mistake, and I was clear in the second round. It was for sure a different experience jumping the same course twice. It’s a bit of a mental game, because it’s like, ‘Do the exact same thing, but better!’”
Riding With Show Jumping Legend Margie Engle
Bergeron, who hails from Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, started riding at a young age and got her early education with Robin Hannah at Sherwood Farm in St. Catharines, ON. When she was 13, she started riding with Ainsley and Courtney Vince at Linden Ridge in Burlington, ON, and began showing in the United States and throughout Canada, progressing up to the 1.30m level. The transition to training with Engle came in the fall of 2017.
“I had always looked up to Margie, and I really never thought riding with her would be an option. She’s a legend!” said Bergeron, who moved to Wellington, FL, in the beginning of 2018 to continue riding with Engle.
“I honestly didn’t think it was possible to go so far with my riding in such a short time,” continued Bergeron. “I think I’ve completely changed as a rider. She’s taught me how to ride off my feel a lot more. I think one of my strengths as a rider is that I’ve got a pretty good natural feel for the horses. And I just never really used that before; instead I was trying to ride so technically correct. Margie really has given me confidence. She’s good at finding the right horse as well. She’ll always give you confidence, but she pushes you to be the best that you can, which I really appreciate.”
Engle appreciates having Bergeron in her barn, noting, “She’s a hard worker. One of her best attributes is that every time she comes out of the ring, she thinks about what she could do better. Some students, when something doesn’t go right, they look to blame the horse, or they make excuses. Instead of doing that, Emma looks to herself and how she can improve. That’s one of the key components of what it takes to become a better rider. She has a real empathy for the horse.”
Bergeron and her mother, Susan Van Lammers, live in Wellington during the winter while Bergeron’s father, Marc Bergeron, and brother reside in Houston, TX, where Marc runs his business.
“My mom and I live in Florida from November through May, and we travel with Margie through the summer and live in a camper. We’re nomads!” Bergeron laughed. “I’m honestly so lucky to have the support that I have from my parents, to up and move their life like this to Florida. My dad comes to visit when he can. It really is for me, and for my riding, that we’re in Florida. It’s all due to the support from my family that I get to be here.”
She studies through an online school program, following the Ontario curriculum, and is in grade 12.
“I’m taking as many Advanced Placement courses as I can, and I’m definitely going to be taking a gap year,” Bergeron asserts. “As much as I want to be with the horses all the time, school is a priority. It will depend on where I am with my riding, but I think school is very important. As much as I would like to ride out the pony dream as long as possible, I know school is really important, and I have high hopes for university.”
Finding Confidence with Her Horse Dallas
Engle found Dallas, an 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion (Douglas x Nimmerdor), for Bergeron in late 2017. The bay stallion had been jumping at the 1.40m level with Colombia’s Roberto Teran.
“I was trying a whole bunch of horses, and right away I clicked with him,” said Bergeron. “When I tried him a second time, that was all I needed to know, and we bought him.
“He’s given me so much confidence,” she continued. “He’s very forgiving, so I’m able to make mistakes. A lot of horses, you make a mistake and they bow out and say, ‘No, thank you.’ But Dallas always goes to the other side of the jump. Even when I mess up, he finds a way to figure it out. That gives me so much confidence. I don’t think I could jump as big as I’m jumping on any other horse. He really has taught me to trust my horse and my ability. He’s such a good guy.”
Under Engle’s tutelage, Bergeron has moved up from the low junior jumpers to the high junior jumper division with Dallas this year.
Bergeron makes a point to spend quality time with Dallas, not just time in the saddle.
“I spend as much time with him as I can,” she said. “I think that when you have a relationship like that with your horse, they really want to do better for you. He always tries so hard for me.”
One of Engle’s grooms cares for Dallas, but Bergeron pitches in.
“I like bathing him, and I often poultice and wrap him, because I like knowing how he is and seeing if he has any kind of skin irritation or injury. Any little bump, I want to be the first person to know, so I’m always trying to be on top of that,” Bergeron said.
Engle is a fan of Bergeron’s dedication to her horse.
“She likes just being around them, she’ll take her horses out for grass,” Engle said. “Some kids come out and treat their horses like an object when they’re a living being. I think the more time you spend with them, getting to know them better and liking them, the more they’re going to like you back and try harder for you. And Emma gets that and cares about her horses. A lot of kids just hop off and hand the horse to the groom; they care more about the pictures and the social media instead of caring about the horses and liking them as a living being. She’s not like that at all.”
Bergeron is currently on the hunt for another horse to join Dallas in her string, and she’s hoping to represent Canada at the Adequan™ FEI North American Youth Championships at Old Salem Farm in North Salem, NY, in August. She’d like to continue moving up and jump in the Under 25 grand prix classes, then target 2* and 3* grand prix classes.
“Ultimately, the goal is to continue to represent Canada and eventually be on the senior team, so I’d like to make my way up the ranks slowly,” she said. “The CSIO-J Friendly Team Competition was getting my feet wet and starting that process by doing my first team competition for Canada. It was a good experience to understand how it works. You can learn a lot from watching, but actually experiencing team competition is so invaluable.”
Reprinted with permission from the March 2019 edition of The Warm-Up Ring, the official news of Equestrian Canada’s Jumping Committee.