Cindy Screnci Wins Para Dressage National Championship With Sights Set On Tokyo

Cindy Screnci winning the U.S. Para Grade V National Championship on Eragon. Photo by Lindsay Y. McCall

Reigning USEF Grade V Para Equestrian of the Year Cindy Screnci of Wellington has been promoted to the Para Dressage Pathway Development Athletes roster following multiple victories on Eragon VF and Riccione at the Adequan/USEF Para Dressage National Championships at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) last month.

After being named to the U.S. team last month, Screnci secured the U.S. Para Grade V National Championship on her 11-year-old KWPN gelding Eragon VF (aka Danny) and won the Grade V Freestyle in front of judges Adrienne Pot, Elke Ebert and Carlos Lopes. She also earned reserve champion honors with her KWPN mare Riccione, posting the top two scores in both her team and individual classes. The fairytale week just kept getting better for Screnci, after making the U.S. team and winning the U.S. National Championship, she was also unanimously nominated by her peers to receive the Lloyd Landkamer Memorial Sportsmanship Award in recognition of high standards and virtues of integrity, honor, team spirit, good temper and unselfishness.

Just don’t say “break a leg” if you want to wish her luck. Because her road to Tryon and next (she hopes) to Tokyo for the Paralympic Games began 26 surgeries and a couple of riding lifetimes ago.

As a girl, barrel racing and pole bending left her unscathed from injury, but years later, when her own daughter showed an interest in horses, she joined her in the hunter/jumper ring, only to suffer a freak accident in a jumper class in Wellington that shattered her ankle and ultimately changed the direction of her life.

It was a pool not a horse that redirected her to the para equestrian world. “In my zeal to return to the ring after breaking my ankle, I decided, on my own, to start physical therapy ahead of the suggested schedule and use my pool at home,” Screnci said. “I didn’t know I shouldn’t have gone into water so soon.”

She contracted an aggressive bacterial infection in the pool water, leading to a 26-surgery battle against osteomyelitis, an infection and inflammation of bone and bone marrow caused by bacteria or fungi entering bone tissue through an open or unhealed wound.

“I am so grateful to this day for the amazing support I received from the surgeons and staff at Paley Orthopedic & Spine Institute in Royal Palm Beach,” she said. “They put my ankle, and me, back together.”

Repaired and ready to ride, she bought Sally L, a former jumper of Murray Kessler’s. “My friend, Nataly Liebowitz, told me that Robert Dover said that Sally L should be in the ‘para program’ because she had extensive dressage training. I said, para what?”

Shortly thereafter, she attended a para dressage clinic at the Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center in Loxahatchee Groves and was so impressed by the community.

“I don’t miss jumping at all. Dressage is so cognitive. Every step means something,” she said. “This is my full-time world now, and I do believe my husband, Stephen, will be sainted some day for bearing with me,” Screnci said.

She praises Sharon Decker, the chief operating officer at TIEC, and the TIEC team who helped make Tryon’s indoor arena available to all the para equestrian athletes to train in.

The pair had never performed the freestyle, produced by Tom Hunt to the music of Les Misérables, in an arena or in front of judges, when their choreographed performance was given a winning score in the 70s.

“The Tryon CPEDI received great results,” said Michel Assouline, USEF head of coach development and para dressage technical advisor. “We are very proud of the continued progress of our para dressage athletes and horses.”

The new virtual coaching program is working, the chef d’equipe said, as proven by riders, like Screnci, earning higher scores.

Screnci is the only para dressage rider among eight developing athletes on the Para Dressage Pathway list to do so with two horses, Eragon VF and Riccione. The Para Dressage Pathway’s three levels (emerging, developing and elite) identify and assist athletes on track to becoming medal contenders at the Paralympic and World Championship level.

“Breaking my leg turned out to be a blessing. It made me settle down and develop a deeper relationship with my family, and it has given me this opportunity — at my age — to have a goal of competing in Tokyo.”

The 2020 Paralympic Games have been rescheduled for Aug. 24 through Sept. 5, 2021 in Tokyo. Follow Cindy Screnci and her horses on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/cscrenci.

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