Megan Cheshire took full advantage of an unexpected opportunity, riding SC Dark Conquest to a first-place finish in the 789 Dressage Training Level category at the 2006 Arabian Sport Horse National Championships held Sept. 20-24 at the Idaho Horse Park Center in Nampa, Idaho.
Cheshire, a 2005 graduate of Jackson High School who is studying business and psychology at Western Washington University, and the 5-year-old Arabian stallion beat out more than 54 amateur riders with a score of 70.39 percent – the highest overall score of the 20 dressage categories judged at nationals.
“Technically, they beat 20 other amateurs and professionals (who won national titles),” SC Dark Champion owner Zarabeth Wilkins said. “No rider scored better.”
Cheshire and SC Dark Conquest earned the chance to compete at nationals by winning a dressage reserve championship at a regional qualifier held June 2-4 in Auburn.
It was an unlikely victory as Cheshire was in Auburn to ride her own horse, MWF Meszek, and had never ridden SC Dark Conquest in competition. In fact, prior to the regional, Cheshire had been on the horse just once.
Wilkins, who owns the Mighty Arabians breeding farm in Arlington, knew Cheshire as the student of her horse trainer. Cheshire had also helped Wilkins with horse grooming at previous competitions, so Wilkins asked her to be what is known as a catch rider – a rider asked on the spot to compete.
“I asked (Cheshire), for kicks, ‘Do you want to ride him?’ She literally got on his back for the second time,” Wilkins said. “It’s unusual for a catch rider to do so well.”
So well in fact that Wilkins decided to enter SC Dark Conquest, who – along with his owner – has been competing less than a year, in the national championship and ask Cheshire to ride him.
“It was a very high honor,” Cheshire said of being asked to compete with SC Dark Conquest in Idaho – her first time at nationals.
Dressage competitions are divided into levels which reflect the skills and abilities of both rider and horse. There are four tests associated with the training level, with scoring based on individual movements and collective marks in areas such as submission, which grades the horse’s attention, confidence and harmony with the rider.
The need for horse and rider to seamlessly work together, and the fact that SC Dark Conquest is a stallion – which tend to have a more difficult temperament – makes the success of Cheshire and SC Dark Conquest all the more remarkable.
“We had no expectations at nationals,” Wilkins said. “I told (Cheshire) ‘have fun.’ I didn’t want to give her any added pressure.
“It really does show the wonderful temperament of my horse and the skill Megan showed.”
Wilkins added that although the trophy, ribbon, and garland of roses won at nationals go to the horse, not the rider, she did buy Cheshire a birthday gift afterwards: a coat with the word “champion” emblazoned on the back. And Cheshire is welcome to ride SC Dark Conquest in any future competitions.
“I would always have her,” Wilkins said. “It could not have happened to a harder working and more wonderful person.”