By Lindsay McCall
Only 15 days after the 2012 London Paralympics, the passing of United States Para-Equestrian Team member Jonathan Wentz of Richardson, Texas was announced. The 21-year-old Southern Methodist University student was named the top performing United States Equestrian in 2012 among the Olympians and Paralympians. He also completed his most successful show season of his career.
Jonathan had his future in front of him, a brand new dressage horse for the 2014 World Equestrian Games and he was preparing for his final year as an undergraduate with desires to attend law school. During his short life Jonathan aimed for the sky, set goals and was more successful at his young age than equestrians twice his age. Jonathan made not only an impact in life but his impact on the para-dressage sport, young equestrians and the disabled community will remain forever.
Jonathan’s love of horses was first revealed at the age of two when he began using horses as a form of physical therapy for Cerebral Palsy. At age 12, his desire to excel in the equestrian sport combined with a discovery of the Paralympics led him to competitive dressage. Jonathan often noted he enjoyed the fact of being just another equestrian when on a horse. “When I am walking with my own feet people can tell I move differently; but when I am on a horse I am just another rider.”
As a teenage equestrian Jonathan devoted his time to competing in and promoting para-equestrian dressage. Although the sport had been in the Paralympics since the 1996 Atlanta Games, it was still not a widely discussed discipline. Jonathan continuously educated the equestrian community about this unique sport and he enjoyed the impact he had on fellow equestrians. Jonathan also served on the USEF Youth Council and was a proactive member of the United States Para-Equestrian Association.
In 2008 Jonathan and his family moved to Richardson, Texas where he began training with Kai Handt at the North Texas Equestrian Center. With a barn full of high performance dressage horses, show jumpers and young riders, Jonathan’s competitive nature thrived. In six months Jonathan competed at his first CPEDI3* and USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Championship. That same year he earned High Point Individual Rider at the Region 9 Junior Team Championship and qualified for the 2009 Region 9 USDF Championships.
At the 2010 USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Championships Jonathan and Kai Handt’s NTEC Richter Scale qualified for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. This international competition was the first World Equestrian Games that included Para-Dressage. For Jonathan this was his first look at international para-dressage competition leading to new goals for the 2012 Paralympics. It was also a great opportunity for the U.S. Team, including Jonathan, to educate the nation on the desires of the United States Para-Equestrian community.
The 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games held in Lexington, Kentucky was a main spectator event for equestrian enthusiasts. For many spectators this was their first look at the high performance equestrian sport dedicated to riders with physical disabilities. For young riders like Sydney Collier this was the first time she realized there was a sport for athletes like her that take into consideration physical disabilities. Sydney recalled a moment where she ran up to Jonathan who was wearing red, white and blue and she introduced herself. Jonathan was friendly and introduced her to Kai, United States Para-Equestrian Dressage Association president Hope Hand and Jonathan talked to her about how she may become a para-dressage rider. Thanks to Jonathan, Sydney is now a very competitive dressage rider and has her sights set on the 2014 World Equestrian Games. Her story is one of many about how Jonathan impacted future para-equestrian athletes.
After the 2010 World Equestrian Games Jonathan continually received requests for interviews to discuss the up and coming sport of para-dressage. Jonathan was always happy to give an interview and he enjoyed the fact that he could educate one person at a time. He felt great joy in explaining what makes him a para-equestrian; he was kind and he was always commenting about his teammates, his coaches, his family, and of course his horses that helped him succeed internationally.
Not soon after the World Equestrian Games Jonathan and Kai began planning the 2011-2012 year. Jonathan continued to dominate in 2011 and became the 2011 USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Champion. The 2011-2012 competition year earned Jonathan the 10th spot on the FEI World Ranking Para-Dressage list in addition to multiple champions at CPEDI3* events. His dream would come true in June of 2012 when Jonathan was named to the 2012 United States Paralympic Equestrian Team.
“This is a dream come true,” remarked Jonathan after his freestyle test on the final day of the Paralympics. Jonathan finished the 2012 Paralympics as the top performing United States equestrian. His legacy will forever be remembered among the equestrian community. Jonathan had an attitude that nothing could derail him and he worked hard to accomplish his goals.
President of the United States Para-Equestrian Association and past Paralympian Hope Hand noted, “Jonathan exemplified what it meant to be an equestrian and he went above and beyond for his country.” Jonathan’s passion, determination and commitment sent this young rider to the top of his sport in only a few years. His death struck the hearts of athletes around the world, the equestrian community and the disabled community.
Jonathan passed away at the end of September 2012 leaving his mother Christina Wentz, his father James Wentz and his sister. The cause of his death is still unknown. Memorials may be made to the U.S. Para-Equestrian Association, Jonathan Wentz Scholarship Fund, 3940 Verde Vista Drive, Thousand Oaks, Calif. 91360.
About the writer: Lindsay McCall is a lifelong hunter/jumper rider originally from Ohio. She is a talented photographer and makes it her career to advocate for the equestrian sport through photojournalism. Lindsay and her family own many horses in multiple disciplines and she enjoys spending her free time with her husband, horses and Labrador Retrievers.