“I would have never thought I’d come back and win. The first time I came here I had cancer,” said Alice Tarjan (USA).

“I thought, ‘this is so cool…if I can live long enough, I just want to come back and ride here. It’s been a journey.”

Tarjan embarked on that journey over 15-years-ago when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The unthinkable trials paled in comparison to her triumphs, and the now cancer free 43-year-old has fulfilled her dream of competing at Dressage at Devon several times over.

Because of the promise she made to herself all those years ago, Tarjan’s milestones in the Dixon Oval are a special opportunity to reflect on how far she’s come in and out of the saddle. Especially on Friday, when she won the CDI-W Grand Prix Freestyle Qualifier with nine-year-old mare Serenade Mf on a score of 71.804.

She didn’t slide ahead on some small margin either. Canadian rider Megan Lane placed second with her 18-year-old 2018 World Equestrian Games partner Zodiac MW on a 67% score. Michael Bragdell (USA) followed just behind for third with 14-year-old stallion Qredit Hilltop, who tallied 66.391%.

Friday’s class, however, is still a qualifier, which means there is still work left to do before they return to the ring. For Tarjan, it’s not necessarily about tweaks in the training, but replicating what they already know.

“It wasn’t what we had in the warmup, but it’s always a work in progress. Hopefully tomorrow will be better and we have a better horse tomorrow. It’s an ongoing process to try and get the quality I can get in the warmup in the ring, but she doesn’t let you down, she really tries her heart out,” said Tarjan.

Their tests might not be perfectly polished just yet, but it is true Serenade has been trying her heart out for some time now. This summer in Rotterdam, Netherlands they finished third in the CDIO5* Grand Prix Special. Last month, the pair were also named the USEF Grand Prix Dressage National Champions in the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions

Micaela Mabragana is living the American equestrian dream

Argentinian rider Micaela Mabragana pranced into the top spot in Friday’s CDI3* Grand Prix Special qualifier with 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding Diamond Russo. The pair nailed a 64.345 score, which have all the markings of a working student success story.

“I came here when I was 17-years-old to become a working student for Lendon Gray. I was working with her for five years, and then I started my own business,” said Mabragana.

The working student model often sees aspiring professionals, naive to the challenges of the industry, leave for other careers with haste. With the guidance of U.S. Olympic gold medalist Lendon Gray, Mabragana defied those odds.

“That was the beginning of my career, with Lendon. It was through her and her opportunities that she gave me that I was able to do it. The last time I was in this room I was a young rider. I had the right horse, another chestnut with four white socks. It was a chestnut affair,” said Mabragana.

Now 36-years-old, the Argentine rider has big dreams (and, like many top riders, superstitions).

“I don’t want to jinx anything, but I would like to be able to do the Florida circuit with [Diamond Russo] and be able to represent Argentina at the Pan American games. I’m training with Antonio Diaz Porras he is from Spain, and is my partner,” said Mabragana.

Her experience as a rising professions has assured that the importance of a good team is never lost on her, so with the right amount of support and grit her goals are likely well within reach.

“I actually met him in the Pan American games of 2015 because he was the coach for the Argentinian team. He was in Spain, but just came here in March. So we are running things together. He does more of the sales horses, I do more of the clients. We are a good team.”

All photos courtesy of Phelps Media Group / Dressage at Devon