Jessica Forend of Oak Bluffs took the equivalent of a Triple Crown in Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) competition last month, when she was named Champion in the First Level Division with a 66.71 percent score. The Johnson & Wales University senior is the first student to win her division three years in a row since IDA was founded in 2001.
Dating back as far as the Renaissance, dressage is an equestrian discipline that requires near perfect coordination between horse and rider in a series of increasingly more intricate maneuvers. At its highest levels, dressage creates an effect like a cross between ballet and acrobatics.
“When I was younger, I thought dressage was just boring flat work,” Ms. Forend says. “As I got older, I learned to respect its grace and elegance. I thought it was amazing.”
Ms. Forend’s passion for riding comes as no surprise, since her mother, Lisa BenDavid-Scannell of Oak Bluffs, teaches riding as well as working as an accountant. Ms. Forend started riding at age six in West Tisbury at Arrowhead Farm with her mother as her instructor. She followed the usual course of equine activities, competing in local horse shows, developing equitation skills and learning jumping.
During her sophomore year at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, however, she took a year off from riding. Her parents were divorcing, and she went to live with her father, Peter Forend, who serves as Oak Bluffs Fire Chief. When Ms. Forend returned to riding, she developed an interest in dressage. “I’m not exactly sure why,” she says, but she speculates that the monthly clinics she was attending with her Appendix Quarter Horse Bella, whom she calls “a tricky mare,” sparked the interest. She worked with Rehoboth trainer Tom Davis when he came to the Island, and became fascinated by the challenges of dressage.
“Back when I was jumping a lot, my mother would always tell me and her other students to remember that in between the jumps you’re doing dressage,” Ms. Forend says. Both her mother and Beth Beukema, Director of the Johnson & Wales Equine Program and President of the IDA, attribute her success to her ability to concentrate.
“She can really focus her energy and be in the moment,” Ms. Beukema says, calling Ms. Forend an exceptionally talented rider. “She rides each part of the test to the best of the horse’s ability.” In collegiate dressage competition, the student does not ride his or her own horse, but draws one by lottery, spending only 10 minutes warming up on the unfamiliar mount before competing. “It puts every student on an equal footing and showcases the rider,” Ms. Beukema explains.
“She’s had it since she’s been little,” Ms. BenDavid-Scannell says of her daughter’s ability to focus. “I feel very fortunate to have both of my kids share the love of horses that I have.” Her younger daughter, Jaime, also rides.
Ms. Forend led the Johnson & Wales IDA team of four riders in team competition this year by finishing third in a field of 12. Johnson & Wales won sixth place in team competition at the Nationals, held at St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, N.C. Each collegiate team competes as a group as well as individually.
In 2008, during her freshman year, Ms Forend won the Lower Training Level National Championship, then took the Upper Training Level championship last year. This year she won in the highest individual division level.
Although she will not officially graduate until later this year, Ms. Forend plans to attend graduation ceremonies at Johnson & Wales on May 22. Then she will return home for the summer, stabling her horse at Bittersweet Farm in Edgartown. In addition to riding, she plans to hold down three jobs to earn money to support herself while completing her degree in Equine Business Management.
She will work at the Green Room in Vineyard Haven, as an EMT in Oak Bluffs, and as a nanny. In September, Ms. Forend will move to Frenchtown, N.J., for a two-month internship with World Cup competitor and trainer Betsy Steiner, originator of Equilates, a Pilates program designed especially for equestrians.
“After that, if all goes well, I’ll be training and working,” Ms. Forend says. “This has opened a lot of doors for me.” She hopes eventually to become an assistant trainer and will continue to compete.
“There’s a lot of people back home who get discouraged,” Ms. Forend says. “I hope what I do is an inspiration.” Her own inspiration came from her mom. “She was so passionate about horses.”