Anna Marek’s Mission–Develop Young Horses for Top Sport

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Anna Marek and Cinderella.
Anna Marek and Cinderella, a winning combination in Wellington, Florida.

Nov. 14, 2014

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Anna Marek is developing a stable full of young horses with the long term aim by the 25-year-old rider of making championship prospects to help return America to medals podiums.

With financial support from A.J. Stapleton, the owner of most of the horses and of the training center, Anna chalked up successes at recent championships in the southeast United States.

She trains in the tiny (population fewer than 3,000) Florida city of Williston, 265 miles (427km) or four hours north of Wellington and the Global Dressage Festival that draws trainers and riders from around the world for the intense winter circuit.

“In terms of shows,” she told dressage-news com of her plans for 2015, “I’m just trying to do the right thing for the young horses and their future. At this point I’m green just like them. So I’m paving my own way.”

She began riding when her mother, who rode as a kid, went back to the sport. She took the then seven-year-old Anna along for mother-daughter riding lessons at a jumper barn. Anna was afraid to jump so “fell into” dressage.

Anna has been one of a steady migration to Florida of riders pursuing top sport in year round sub-tropical weather rather than make the annual trek from the northern United States where snow and ice in winters make riding an ordeal.

Pursuing her passion by moving to Florida, she stopped just two semesters short of a degree in business management from Michigan State University. Both her parents had gone to college there, but supported the move saying money was not the deciding factor as Anna needed to “compete against really good people to get better.”

The move with her trainer at the time was supposed to be temporary but, Anna said with a smile, “I never moved back.”

She teamed up with A.J. Stapleton who had retired to Williston and understood what it would take to develop prospects for American teams from the ground up–buy talented young horses, train them properly, move up the levels. If not good enough for top sport, sell and invest in other young horses. Do it enough and some should make it into the high performance ranks.

The script is followed by the world’s best–Isabell Werth, Carl Hester, Ingred Klimke, among others, have inspired a generation of riders to pursue the same path.

The perception is that the United States buys confirmed Grand Prix horses for experienced riders for championships. While the facts are mixed, 10 years without an Olympic or World Games team medal and stratospheric prices of high quality Grand Prix horses have placed more emphasis on successful European programs that stress partnerships beginning with young horses.

Anna has used contacts In Holland to source young prospects, some of which show promise for the upper levels.

She has gained valuable experience competing Unico G, a 13-year-old KWPN gelding that she has ridden at Grand Prix in a handful of CDIs in the past three years and is preparing to compete on the Global circuit in Wellington again in 2015.

Anna Marek and Unico.
Anna Marek and Unico.

Warina, an 11-year-old KWPN mare she has shown at small tour for the past two years and was Intermediate reserve champion at the regionals, will move up to Grand Prix next year.

Cinderella, a KWPN mare that Anna has been competing since four-year-old young horse classes, will likely get the most attention, though.

The pair placed third in the Prix St. Georges championship and captured the Fourth Level title at Southeast United States regional championship last Fall.

Cinderella will be eight years old in 2015. Anna plans to continue competing her at small tour for the show experience but the mare is schooling most of the Grand Prix and will work on confirming the Big Tour movements at the same time.

Dexter, her own six-year-old KWPN gelding, is showing at Second Level.

Elian, a five-year-old KWPN gelding was third overall in the U.S. Young Horse Championships this year.

Dilona, a 2008 KWPN mare that Anna competed in the U.S championships at four, five and six years old was third level regional champion last Fall.

Extra, a five-year-old , surprise!, KWPN mare that was competed a couple of times in 2013 and Anna is working on developing.

The partnership with A.J. Stapleton “has been great for both of us.”

AJ wants to see his horses go as far as they can. If not talented enough for the international ring the horse is sold and the money goes to invest in another prospect.

“We all work hard at what we’re doing,” she said, “but to have someone behind me who believes in me for as young as I am is pretty special.”

Anna is not stressed about working mostly on her own, depending on feed back from judges, watching videos, being her own eyes on the ground with help only occasionally from Anne Gribbons, the former team coach also based in Florida, and Debbie McDonald, the trainer and rider of Brentina and an official American coach who is based in Wellington in winter.

“It is in my mind I have to figure out something,” she told dressage-news.com. “The horses are all progressing. I know how to do young horses well.

“My main focus is doing the best I can training them.”

Anna Marek and Cinderella competing in Wellington.
Anna Marek and Cinderella competing in Wellington.