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North Branford resident Giana Plano, 11, pulled off the rare feat of placing first in the Connecticut Horse Shows Association Finals for both the Short Stirrup Equitation and Hunter’s classes with her pony, Lacy, at Westbrook Hunt Club last month. (Photo courtesy of Kristi Plano )
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Giana Plano has a bright future ahead of her as an equestrian. At just 11 years old, Giana and the pony that she leases to compete, Lacy, took first place in the Connecticut Horse Shows Association (CHSA) Finals in Short Stirrup Equitation and Hunter’s classes at the Westbrook Hunt Club on Aug. 25 and 26. Giana, a North Branford resident who’s also a member of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association, has her sights set on making a nice life for herself around horses.
It’s quite an accomplishment to win both the equitation and hunt events at the CHSA Finals. Giana took the same approach that she usually does on her way to the victories. The pre-show jitters will always creep up, but Giana had trust that she and Lacy could bring home the ribbons.
“When I show, I get really nervous, but when I go in the ring and I ride, I try my best,” Giana says. “I have faith in Lacy and in myself. Lacy is a really good horse. I just try to do my best and have fun.”
Giana works tirelessly with Lacy—whose show name is Movado Chantilly Lace—at Movado Farms in Durham to improve their chances of succeeding at competitions like the CHSA Finals. In addition to doing running, jumping, and riding drills, Giana spends a lot of quality time with Lacy, so they can communicate effectively when they’re in the ring.
“We go four or five times a week, so I can practice and train with her a lot. We take really good care of her. It helps with our bonding,” says Giana, who started riding when she was 5. “If the horse and the rider don’t have a good bond, that doesn’t make for a great team, and you won’t have success in the long run.”
A rider and a horse form a team in the ring and, just like any other team, communication is crucial. However, Giana and Lacy have to communicate without sharing a common language. Giana has to understand the challenges of a course and communicate them to Lacy through subtle movements in order for Lacy to interpret them.
“It’s a lot of mental thinking on Lacy, putting the course together. Sometimes, you have to hold the reins and really control the horse, but you have to ride well,” Giana says. “You have to remember the course and where the jumps are.”
Giana hit it off with Lacy the first time they first met. Lacy knows the type of rider she likes, and Giana knew that they were going to get along with Lacy right away.
“This pony, she knows when she likes a rider. When we started riding Lacy, we knew the bond was there. It was love at first sight,” says Giana. “It has been great. We’re doing really well together.”
In order to get ready for a competition like the CHSA Finals, Giana walks through the course with her trainer, Louisa Fedora. By getting the lay of the land, Giana is better prepared to guide Lacy through the various jumps and turns required in a show.
“Before I show, we do a course walk, and I count the steps and see the line of the jumps,” says Giana. “Sometimes, there will be a jump and you count the steps. Then, you may have to take big steps to get to the next jump. That’s how you find your stride. You need to know the correct amount of steps. Your trainer will help you throughout the course walk before it begins. Then, I’m able to put it all together when I ride.”
Fedora is the founder of Movado Farms in Durham and has worked with Giana since Giana started taking lessons at Movado. Fedora says that everyone at Movado Farms feels happy for Giana and what she’s already accomplished. Fedora believes that Giana’s success stems from her never-ending commitment to training and working with Lacy.
“Giana has worked very, very hard. We’re just so proud of her and her accomplishments,” says Fedora. “She’s a real team player. She’s always there to help whoever needs it. She’s just a great kid. She tries her heart out.”
Giana hopes to continue riding as she grows up and moves into other divisions of the CHSA. Ultimately, Giana wants to help children with special needs like her brother, Matteo, through animal therapy with horses. Giana and her family donated their first horse to the High Hopes Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies in Old Lyme.
“As I grow older and compete more, I’ll keep moving up. One day, I want to teach kids with horses and teach them how to ride,” says Giana, who thanks her grandparents, Lou and Carmella Camera; her twin brothers, Matteo and Luca; her mother, Kristi; and Fedora. “Our first horse we donated to High Hopes in Old Lyme, and we want to start volunteering there.”
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