Nicole Goncalves goes through a practice session with BackTrax Grace In Gold at the Western Dressage World Championship in Oklahoma. Submitted photo

Riding prodigy shines internationally

Penticton’s Nicole Goncalves wins Western Dressage World Championship

Not even a teenager yet, Nicole Goncalves was competing amongst the best riders in the 2017 Western Dressage World Championship Show.

The 11-year-old Pentictonite made her international debut on the big stage at Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Okla. Sept. 28 to Oct. 1. She rode American Quarter Horse mare BackTrax Grace In Gold, owned by High River, Alta.’s Julie Moorcroft. She began competing in Western Dressage a year ago, but only began training for the world championship in August with coach Lisa Blanchard and David Guerrero Garcia, an international dressage master from Spain.

Western Dressage is a basic test performed by the horse and rider of a walk, jog and lope (a three-beat gait with a moment of lift before the next stride begins).

“Lots of people knew the horse that I was riding because she was a world champion last year,” said Goncalves, a Holy Cross student.

Goncalves, who has been doing English riding for five years, wondered if BackTrax Grace In Gold would win again.

“That’s a lot of pressure for me to have,” she said.

Goncalves responded by winning the world championship in the junior division against riders up to the age of 18. Her score was 70.5 per cent. She was the youngest competitor in the fifth annual event which features more than 800 rides.

“For a young rider with very limited show experience this was a huge endeavour, with a short prep time, numerous quick trips to Alberta to be coached and to learn to ride the horse, the tests and the classes, Nicole and Grace more than exceeded our expectations,” said Blanchard, Goncalves’ coach from Tipton Horesmanship in Sundre. “We hoped she would show well, and we knew the horse had the ability to win another world championship, and we are so proud to be part of this exciting journey.”

Goncalves, who also earned third and fourth-place finishes, was impressed with her results.

“When I did the class it felt amazing to me,” she said.

Blanchard said Goncalves showed great maturity and grace under pressure.

“Opening the show, in the very first class, Nicole rode against some of the top professionals in a large suitability class where the horses are judged on how well they are suited for western dressage,” she said. “Nicole was the only junior in this class and was third in a very competitive group.”

Goncalves rode BackTrax Grace in Gold a dozen times prior. During the world championship things ran through Goncalves’ mind, but she wasn’t nervous.

“When I just get over and do it. I don’t really pay attention to who I’m competing against until after,” she said.

Because of the riding experience Goncalves has, she is able to adapt to horses quickly. Blanchard and her husband Ian immediately recognized something special in Goncalves and her natural ability. As judges, coaches and clinicians, they see several riders.

“Nicole has an unusual talent to connect with a horse and is very mature and focused in her work and training,” she said.

She rode BackTrax Grace in Gold on the weekend twice a day for a half hour each time with Garcia watching.

“David Guerrero Garcia also immediately acknowledged Nicole and her abilities and as a matter of fact she has a standing invitation to ride with him in Moron de la Frontera in Andalucía, Spain. We hope to accompany Nicole and her family to Spain in April 2018.”

It was while Goncalves was at Blanchard’s clinic in August that the opportunity was offered to ride Grace, who along with the owner were also invited to ride at the clinic.

Blanchard said Goncalves riding education has been dedicated predominantly to jumping and they helped her transition into the dressage world over the past year.

“Nicole is highly coachable, a really gifted young prodigy with an exciting future ahead of her.”

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