NEW YORK — Micah Deligdish was five when she asked her parents for riding lessons. Her mother Sharon agreed, hoping a few months of lessons as a Hanukkah gift would satisfy what was likely just a passing fancy. However, she couldn’t find a trainer to work with Micah; most thought she was too young and too small.
“Then I found a wonderful young woman through some friends who rode,” said Sharon Deligdish. “She put Micah on one of her horses. After working with her for about an hour she came back to me nodding. She said Micah had great balance, and feel, and let’s try and do this.”
Two years later Deligdish competed in her first rated show and won her first champion ribbon. Elated, the 7-year-old pronounced she would one day own a horse farm and compete in the Olympics.
Now 28, Deligdish is one competition closer to achieving all of her goals.
Already a US Dressage Federation bronze, silver and gold medalist, she owns and operates Gemini Dressage, a training center in Wellington, Florida. But more significantly, on July 12, based on the scores she earned at two separate events, she qualified to represent Israel at the European Championships in the Netherlands this August. There, she will compete to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
“I always knew growing up when it was my time to make my international debut I wanted to represent Israel. It was my way to strengthen my bond for Israel. I feel like I’m representing my family — it means a lot to them,” Deligdish told The Times of Israel via telephone from Germany.
Her family wasn’t surprised that Deligdish, who grew up in Florida, wanted to represent Israel. When she got her Israeli citizenship last January, accompanied by her father Craig, it was the realization of a lifelong dream.
Both sets of her grandparents are Holocaust survivors from Poland and Austria. Her maternal great-grandfather was an experienced horseman in Poland, a skill that kept him and a few other members of her family alive when they were in a Polish labor camp during World War II.
Several of her maternal grandmother’s siblings perished in the Holocaust and her second cousin was born in a displaced person’s camp. Additionally, her great uncle helped bring Austrian refugees, many of them children, to pre-state Israel during the war.
Growing up in the US, Deligdish spent summers at Young Judea camp and was active in AIPAC. Sharon Deligdish has long been involved with the Hadassah women’s Zionist group, and the family supports United Hatzoloah, a Jewish volunteer emergency medical service.
Over the years, horseback riding became a way for Deligdish to bond with her younger sister Jesse, who rode recreationally and her mother, a self-described “barn mom.”
“It was an amazing conduit for us to be together for days, weekends, and sometimes more with no phones, computers, or TV. It was just the animals, the chores and us. I wouldn’t trade that time of being hot, dirty, and exhausted together,” Sharon Deligdish said.
“Seeing your little girls be strong enough to push a full wheelbarrow across a field, but also loving and kind enough to forge a trusting partnership with a 1,000-pound animal — for me, that was also quite a thrill,” she said.
Deligdish’s tenacity translated into success at the junior level. But then it was time for college. And while Deligdish was on American University’s equestrian team, she primarily focused on her studies — politics and journalism — and landing a job. After graduation she worked in government relations for the Novartis International pharmaceutical company.
During that first year after graduation, Deligdish traveled thrice weekly from downtown Washington, DC, to a barn in Maryland. Still, she thought her time in the dressage arena had passed.
“Then I went to a show and I remember thinking I’m not finished. I can do better and can do more,” Deligdish said.
Once again she began training in earnest.
Both a technical and artistic sport, dressage demands a level of perfection and detail similar to ballet. Riders practice before mirrors and video each practice for later analysis.
“Dressage competition requires that you and the horse are almost completely the same being. The movements are so specific. Even a split second of communication could mess you up. You have to be able to anticipate your horse,” Deligdish said.
Aside from competing, the newly-minted Israeli wants to help her new homeland develop a larger equestrian presence internationally. Her numerous US Dressage Federation medals made her a shoe-in for the Israeli team, which she was quick to join.
Although the team has two dressage riders competing at Grand Prix level — Eyal Zlatin and Sahar Hirosh — the Israeli team doesn’t have enough riders with horses currently competing to make a Nations Cup team.
“It’s a tough sport no matter where you’re from. To compete at this level requires a lot of talent and support. I want to show an Israeli rider can be taken seriously in this arena,” said Deligdish.
At summer’s end Deligdish will return to Wellington, which she calls the dressage capital of the world. There she’ll prepare for the winter competition circuit, which takes place five minutes from her farm, as well as running her business.
“My parents thought it would be like one lesson when I was five, and then I would move on,” Deligdish said. “But I didn’t.”
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