Anna Buffini’s Success at CDI Under-25 in First Time in Wellington

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Anna Buffini on Sundayboy in the honor round of the Adequan Global Dressage Festival Under-25 CDI. © 2017 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

WELLINGTON, Florida, Feb. 15, 2017–Anna Buffini’s success on Sundayboy as the United States Young Rider champion then two years later taking the Brentina Cup Under-25 title hardly prepared the 22-year-old for the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in this mecca of winter horse sports.

As a self-described “California girl” who loves her home state, she found Wellington to be, well, different–“it’s like Disney World for a horse rider…it’s like a pop-up world, it’s not real.”

Whether the lifestyle is real or not, her first outing in Wellington and the first time competing since last August in an Under-25 CDI was very real–world No. 1 combination Diana Porsche and Di Sandro of Austria and Florida-based Spanish star Juan Matute, Jr. were in the lineup. But she was not intimidated.

In both U25 competitions, the Intermediate II and the Grand Prix, Anna and the 18-year-old KWPN gelding placed second with scores that were higher than the three CDIs she rode in near her Southern California base in Del Mar.

Anna has a reputation as talented, hard working, focused, a smile always ready as well as a seeming subconscious pinching herself to remind herself how lucky she is to be where she is doing what she does.

Training with Debbie McDonald and immersing herself in watching the coaching of some of the best riders in America. And what Anna regards as doubly lucky–sending videos of her rides to Günter Seidel, her regular trainer in California, who recommended the move to Debbie for the winter in Wellington while he stayed home to take care of business.

The German-born Günter, a multi Olympic team medalist for the United States, knows Sundayboy better than anyone. He developed the horse through American young horse championships to Grand Prix before the owner and his sponsor of almost a quarter-century ended the arrangement in 2012. The horse was sent to Holland to be sold.

Anna is the second oldest of six children of parents whose achievements are what Anna describes as “a lot to live up to.” Though, she laughs, they’re not “animal people.”

Her father, Brian, came for a vacation from Dublin at the age of 18, was injured in a car accident and while healing sold t-shirts at the beach during the day and was a security guard at night. He found his niche as a realtor and motivational speaking that he developed into the largest real estate sales coaching business in the United States.

Beverly, her mother, was a star volleyball player and coach. She played at the University of Alabama for two years until the program ended then switched to Tennessee where she was All-American and Southeast Conference MVP. She coached the men’s and women’s volleyball teams at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point before joining the USA Women’s National Volleyball team that trained in San Diego from 1985 to 1988.

They don’t pressure the children “as long as we give 100 per cent at whatever we do, whether it’s playing the flute or riding horses or being an artist. As long as we have a good attitude and stay thankful and work hard they support us fully in whatever we do. I’m blessed to have parents like them; they’re awesome.”

What her parents did do that was unusual was home school the children their whole lives that in Anna’s case allowed her to pursue her sports and horses and “become who I am today.”

“I think we’re so close because we were home schooled. You can’t just go away if you have a fight. You have to work it out, push through it and learn to love each other. We’re really close. We talk all the time. they take up a lot of time, because I choose to.”

It’s not just the immediate family in Southern California. The closeness of the extended family was on display at the youth divisions of the national championships in the Chicago area last summer when a virtual crowd of family showed up from across the country to support Anna.

“It gave us a boost,” she recalled, “you don’t want to let them down. You go out and ride your tail off.”

Anna and Sundayboy performing at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival. © 2017 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Anna was one of a number of Günter Seidel’s students who wanted to join the growing number of riders at Global that has become the center of dressage competition in the Americas. He didn’t have a horse to bring so arranged for them to be coached by Debbie McDonald who has 2016 Olympians Laura Graves and Kasey Perry-Glass and 2012 Games rider Adrienne Lyle in her lineup.

Of her impressions of Wellington: “It’s a different world, like Disney World for a horse rider. There’s nothing like it. It’s horses all the time. Everybody is a horse rider. There are barns everywhere. It’s like a pop-up world. It doesn’t feel real.”

Most of all though is the training and competition, “just to get to see all of Debbie’s riders who are great, their hard work and her great training. Just to watch it and witness it, to learn and soak it in. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“Watching Debbie’s lessons without being on a horse you’re a step ahead when you do get on the horse. I’m watching a lesson and hear her say to collect more in the corners to prepare for the next movement. When I get on the horse I’m already thinking that.

“In the warm-up watching Tinne (Vilhelmsson–Silfvén) and Laura (Graves) it definitely improves your riding, your way of thinking. It impacts everything you do because I want to be there, too. That’s my goal. You have to see it and experience it if you want to reach that goal.”

She didn’t waste time in getting involved in one of her other passions–fitness. She is studying kineseology and science as part of an online college business program as she also wants to be a fitness trainer.

Lendon Gray, who has developed the most extensive and privately funded youth development programs in the nation, invited Anna to help with fitness at the Winter Intensive Training at Hampton Green Farm in Wellington. Now, she’s teaching lessons and helping out with whatever needs to be done.

Some of the riders are as young as 12 years old and Anna said she tells them, “you guys you don’t know how amazing it is just to be here. I’m 22 and it’s my first time here.”

On the competition front, though, she initially was “a little intimidated” to be among so many top riders from several nations including her peers such as Juan Matute, Jr and Diana Porsche whose successes she has followed.

Diana, the world top ranked rider with her Di Sandro, was stabled directly across the aisle and “I was starstruck at first.”

But it didn’t take her long to realize “I’ve been working hard as well and I’m blessed to have a really good horse. So you have to respect the competition but you also have to know that I’ve trained hard for this and I can be in the game, too. And I can be successful even with these amazing riders.

“The first day I was schooling and I thought there were so many amazing riders. Then I looked around and the next couple of days I just focused on me, my horse and my test and training. We were able to really zone in, lock in to who we were and be a team, not worry about anybody or anything and go in there and do our best.”

Anna has built a close friendship with Sundayboy, who gave her goosebumps when she first tried him and continues to do so as she recalls the ride.

“We were just perfect for each other,” she said. “He did everything I asked. He’s so sweet and so kind and forgiving. He’s my best friend.

“I sit in the stall with him and sing to him (she is in her church choir).

“He loves Taylor Swift. If you play it he looks up at the phone. Taylor’s ‘Our Song’ may be his favorite. I love singing so I sing anything and everything. We play music when we’re getting him ready. He likes country, too, but Taylor Swift is his home girl.”

Anna plans to use Günter Seidel’s old freestyle of Neil Diamond songs, but she’s planning new music that could be Taylor Swift.

She wants to ride at a high level for as long as possible. If Sundayboy is up for it, Anna would like to compete in Europe this summer.

Meantime, she is looking for a young horse with international potential.