Mel Montagano is a twenty-five year-old dressage rider from Washington Township, New Jersey.  Now a resident of Wellington, Florida, Mel has pursued her riding dreams all the way to the Grand Prix arena.

“My grandfather had racehorses when I was younger, and my grandmother started taking me to western riding lessons when I was about six. I stuck with it and met a friend in middle school that rode hunter jumpers, so then I got into hunt seat riding. My parents got me this amazing hunter that was by Abdullah and would jump anything. I was keeping him in a dressage barn at the time but really wanted to jump. My instructor would never let me jump until one day she set a few fences. I went for it, and ended up scared to death! So then I decided maybe dressage was my thing after all.”

“My mom got into riding too, as a mother daughter passion that we could share together. We each had our own horse, but her thoroughbred developed a neurological issue and had to be put down. We decided to look for a second horse, and my trainer brought up the FEI Juniors. I had no idea what that was all about, but it became a goal of mine.”

“The first horse we looked at was a six year old black Dutch Harness mare. She was absolutely gorgeous, and I had always wanted a black horse. She was quiet but extremely green, so we walked away. The search continued for another six months, and we just couldn’t find the right horse. We decided to go back and look at the mare. She was still very green, and I was just a seventeen year old kid but we decided she was too willing to pass up. Plus, my mom had really fallen for her. Now I wish I could take the credit, but it was my mom that saw something in her.”

Now known as GaDeva, the black mare has come a long way over the years and has a special partnership with Mel.

“Deva was very spicy when she was younger, though she never bucked me off. You could say she’s the kind of horse that has one person, but she’s been so kind to me. We moved through First, Second, and Third Level together, and by that time I had one year left to do Juniors. We made the Region 1 team that year and ended up with Team Bronze.”

After accomplishing the goal of riding at NAJYRC, Mel and Deva continued to move up the levels .

“I honestly didn’t have the upper levels on my radar, but in 2010 I started riding with Scott Hassler. Deva and I were beginning to school the Grand Prix movements, and in 2011 we made the Region 1 Young Rider team. I believe that she excelled at the piaffe and passage work because of her breed. She has a natural metronome, making her trot very rhythmical.”

Mel began training with Jacquie Brooks after she came to Florida for the winter season.

“Deva and I really blossomed with Jacquie’s help and were able to compete in the 2015 Brentina Cup National Championships. I had had some personal ups and downs going into the show and on the first competition day, I just wasn’t in the zone. I had to remember to just ride my horse like I knew how. The next competition day was much improved and was enough to boost our average to third place overall.”

Mel now has a two year old Dutch Harness Horse, J’adore La Vie, that she plans to start and bring along as well.

“I would have to say that when selecting a young horse, the brain is the most important quality. That and a willingness to work. My success with Deva really drew me back to the Dutch Harness breed, and I think they have lots of great qualities for the dressage ring.”

Perhaps a few years down the road, Vie will make it to the Grand Prix arena as well.

“I think it was a blessing in disguise that I ended up bringing along a non traditional breed. I gained so much, and Deva has never said no to me.”

Deva is now sixteen years old, but Mel’s next goal is to compete in the open Grand Prix.

“My first real dressage trainer told me to never say the O word, but I think that if you don’t say it every day it’ll never happen. I don’t have any problem admitting that my dream is to compete at the Olympics. Why should I let anyone try to convince me that’s not a realistic goal? That’s my goal and that’s my reality.”