A Family Affair at Regionals

Rebecca and Leo Tadikonda proudly wear their Reserve Champion sashes at the 2023 Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 8 Championship! Photo by Susan J. Stickle Photography

By Rebecca Tadikonda

Horse riding has been a family affair for Leo and Rebecca Tadikonda, since the family bought a house in Rhinebeck, New York, in the bucolic Hudson Valley. Rebecca had been a horse-crazy kid who cleaned stalls at age ten, in exchange for lessons, and continued riding through her teenage years as a working student. She put riding on the back burner after college, once she started working full-time. 

In Rhinebeck, Rebecca came across a stable offering pony rides and signed up her son Leo, age five, and his sister Sylvie, age three. The kids happily took to weekly pony rides, and Rebecca jumped at her chance to restart her own riding and take lessons while the kids were doing the pony rides. Leo soon moved on from pony rides to competing ponies in hunter-jumper competitions, including on a young Welsh pony that he trained himself as a young rider. 

Leo shifted from hunters to eventing when he started at the Millbrook School, a high school in Millbrook, New York, with a varsity eventing team. While he loved the experience of being on a school team, he also found a love for dressage and its strong connection between horse and rider. Leo switched from jumping to dressage last summer, and Rebecca was thrilled to have him join her at Molly Maloney’s MMDressage. 

Leo is all smiles aboard Don in his first season since switching exclusively to dressage; Photo by Q2 Photography

Molly, a USDF Gold Medalist who has trained two of her own horses to Grand Prix, is an accomplished trainer and rider, and her farm provides top care to the horses boarded there. Dressage can attract some intense personalities (Rebecca knows this as a recovering perfectionist herself), but the vibe at Molly’s is always happy and supportive. Molly brings in top clinicians to accelerate everyone’s learning, including monthly clinics with Heather Mason. Others who have taught at MM in the last year include Ben Franklin, Gary Rockwell, and Kathy Connelly. 

Leo brought his 15-hand eventing horse to MM, but after he grew six inches in about six months, it was time to think about a bigger horse. Molly was looking at horses for another client in Florida and came across a 2008 Danish Warmblood called Don. He was too tall for that client, but Molly knew this schoolmaster would be a great fit for Leo. When Don first arrived at MM, it was a bit of a tentative start for Leo and Don, as Don was quite “looky.” Don was distracted by things appearing in the large windows of the indoor arena and the shifting shadows on the ground – surely they were horse-eating crevices. Leo learned to keep Don’s focus on him and the work, and the partnership came together quickly. 

Leo credits Don for making him a much more precise rider, as the horse is well-trained and sensitive. Leo and Don have a real knack for tempi changes, and in a recent lesson, they rode lines of four-, then three-, then two-, then one-tempis, leaving Molly in awe. Leo says that with his ADHD, he actually finds two- and one-tempis easier than four-tempis because there is less time between the changes to get distracted.

Molly says about Leo, “He is wise beyond his years. Leo is a very compassionate, empathetic, and talented young man. These qualities show through in his riding. He has such a good natural feel, impeccable timing, and is eager to learn. Since he started focusing exclusively on dressage a little over a year ago, he has made impressive progress and is working toward FEI Juniors.”

Rebecca was happy to have made riding a regular part of her life again, and the pandemic created more opportunities. While working five days a week as an executive at a financial services company in Manhattan, Rebecca could ride only once or twice a week on the weekends. COVID and the resulting hybrid work schedule allowed the family’s home base to shift from New York City to Rhinebeck, and Rebecca was then able to ride three or four days a week. While it’s a balancing act, Rebecca has found that the more she rides, the more it’s benefited the rest of her life. Her happiness from her time with horses carries over into her interactions with others at work and home. Her desire to be fit and flexible at age 50 and beyond has led to many healthy life changes – meditation, yoga, strength training, and prioritizing sleep.

Rebecca and Angus earned the opportunity to contest the Fourth Level Adult Amateur Championship and Fourth Level Adult Amateur Freestyle at the 2023 US Dressage Finals Presented by Adequan®; Photo by Q2 Photography

Rebecca’s partner is a 2012 chestnut Hanoverian named Angus. After months of searching and not finding the right horse, she had become discouraged and decided to put the search on hold. The next day, Molly got the call she had been hoping for from Jamie Fell of Fell-Vallee Equestrian in Vermont, who was willing to sell her home-bred and trained gelding to Rebecca. When Rebeca met Angus, she was instantly enamored by his long forelock, pony-like face, and “can do” attitude. 

2023 was the first show season together for Leo and Don, and Rebecca and Angus. Rebecca and Angus showed Fourth Level at the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 8 Dressage Championships, placing second in the Adult Amateur Championship class and the Adult Amateur Freestyle Championship. This season, they also competed at Prix St. Georges, and Rebecca earned her USDF Silver Medal. At the Region 8 Championships, Leo and Don were first pair down centerline in the First Level Junior/Young Rider Championship, and it was exciting to watch as rider after rider went, and they held onto the second place slot. Mother and son were thrilled to stand next to each other with reserve championship ribbons at the awards ceremony. With these results, they qualified to compete at the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® in Kentucky; this is a first for both of them, and it’s extra special to be going together, making it a family affair. 

While Leo and Rebecca enjoy competing and moving up the levels of dressage, they also enjoy hacking in the beautiful Hudson Valley countryside and just being with their horses. Leo credits his time around horses as a huge contributor to his happiness. As a junior in high school, he has a lot going on with academics, SAT studying, extracurriculars, and contributing to the household. Leo finds that time at the barn calms him and helps ease the stress of life. 

Recognizing the benefits horses have had on his life over the past decade, Leo volunteers at Hope Rising Farm Therapeutic Riding Center in Amenia, New York. He helps children of all abilities engage with horses in the organization’s Equine Assisted Services program. Executive Director Jackie Wikane notes, “Leo is very attentive to our participants and horses.” Leo particularly enjoys his interactions with children when they are on horseback. He walks alongside as their helper, and he can see the horses benefiting the riders in the same way that horses have benefited him.

Riding together is a special time for Leo and Rebecca, and it is especially precious as Leo will head off to college in a few short years. Until then, the pair will continue to enjoy their time driving back and forth to the barn, the long hacks through the fields, and spending days together at competitions. 

Leo and Don in their first competition season together. They will be traveling to Kentucky to contest the First Level Junior/Young Rider Championship at the 2023 US Dressage Finals Presented by Adequan®; Photo by Q2 Photography

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