By Scott Shurtleff
PEPPERELL -- Tessa Holloran is preparing to enter North Middlesex Regional High School this month, and preparing for her return to the U.S. Dressage Championship in Wayne, Illinois, Aug. 21-26.
Holloran, 14, has amassed a lifetime’s worth of success in the saddle. Along with her dozens of local victories and placings, she won this year’s Dressage for Kids Championship in Saugerties, New York, last month, becoming only the second two-time winner. She also won in 2015, when she was 11. She’s now the third-ranked rider in the country.
“Dressage,” her trainer Vincent Flores explained, “is like gymnastics for horses.” It is the most technical of all equestrian events, requiring sophisticated movements of strength, agility and nimbleness.
“It is like you want to dance with a partner who doesn’t speak the same language,” he said. “It is about the more than the skill of the rider and the training of the horse, it is the relationship between the two.”
Flores, a decorated athlete in dressage, is the third member of the team, alongside Tessa and her newest mount, Tigger. He helps maintain the fitness level of Tigger and Tessa, but both seem motivated enough to workout independently.
“I used to do gymnastics and run track,” Tessa said. “Now, I do yoga and strength training, and I still do some running to keep in shape.”
“The horse is also an athlete. He needs to be worked out and massaged, iced up, wrapped, rested or have heat applied just like humans,” said Flores, a French national who works as an engineer.
Flores, who lives in Lancaster, said he and Tessa met at Townsend’s Wallace Hill Farm, where both stable their horses. Tessa was without a trainer after her long-time coach and mentor, Phil Silva, relocated to Florida.
She also had a new mount, purchasing Tigger, who is 13, after seeing him in an online marketplace. With the new team came new challenges and new goals.
Although the current focus for Tessa and Tigger is the USDC later this month, the Olympic Games are always the ultimate goal for riders, and Flores thinks that Tessa is headed in the right direction. “I think she has all the potential,” said Flores. “She has a natural feel for it, plenty of motivation and ambition but the road to the Olympics is a bumpy one.”
“I started riding at age 3,” she said.
Her mother, Kris Holloran, said that Tessa’s love of riding actually developed earlier than that. “She was about 18-months-old when I first put her on a pony.” Kris said
Tessa is a normal teenager who enjoys time at home with her younger sister, Ella, and the family’s three dogs. When she is not at the barn or competing, she is watching videos and tutorials about dressage.
During the winter months, she journeys to Florida for a three-month intensive program, led by two-time Olympian Lendon Gray.
“She is a special kid,” said Gray. “She is a talented rider with tremendous drive and discipline and focus. If she can keep a good horse under her, nothing can stop her.”
Gray added that Tessa has great character and is a fearless competitor who isn’t afraid of the big stage.
Holloran said the North Middlesex district has been “great” about allowing Tessa to study remotely while at the clinics. She said Tessa makes the honor roll, and plans to play volleyball.
Good study habits also help in dressage competitions. The three areas the athletes are judged on are: a written reflection of an assigned dressage topic; rider’s equitation; and the execution of several movements. The riding must be done without any audible communications between rider and horse, choreographed and carried out in silence, both relying on memory and chemistry.
If the Olympics are in Tessa’s future, Flores hopes she will be ready for the 2024 Games that will be held in his home country.