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Mel Montagano & GaDeva US Dressage Finals Open Grand Prix Champions 2017

Q & A with Mel:​

Q: When did your love of horses start? 

A: I've always been an animal lover! My grandparents invested in race horses when I was very young. They would take me to the racing barn to see the horses and I just loved being around them.  My grandmother started me in western riding lessons soon after when I was 6 years old at a local barn in South Jersey.  I just never stopped riding!

Q: At what age did you compete at your first show? What horse did you ride? How did you do?

A: I think I was 10 years old.  It was a local 4H show where I competed a lesson horse I had loved riding.  Her name was Charlotte and she was a chestnut Quarter horse.  We were awarded 1st and 2nd place in our Hunter Equitation classes!  I still remember the day so clearly.

Q: How did you balance school and riding commitments?

A: I attended public school and was expected to make the Dean's List every marking period.  My mother was strict that I maintain my grades if I wanted to keep riding.  Before I was old enough to drive, she would drive me an hour to our barn in PA to ride after school.  The day I got my license I drove myself to the barn - the scariest hour of my life!  After I graduated High School I attended my first choice university, University of Delaware, as a Pre-Veterinary & Animal Biosciences major.  We moved Deva to Hassler Dressage in MD where I would train 6 days per week in between courses.  While in school I competed in Juniors and Young Riders. In 2013, I graduated with a Bachelor's degree.


Q: How did you get introduced to the Dutch Harness horse breed?  What draws you to them?

A: I stumbled upon the breed actually.  My mare, GaDeva, is half DHH and half KWPN.  We purchased her not knowing much about her breeding, but people would ask me quite frequently what she was since her movement was different than your typical warmblood.  I started researching her pedigree and realized her mother was local to Pennsylvania and was DHH.  After I had such a successful career with her from Training level to Grand Prix I knew it would be hard to replace her work ethic, trainability and overall character.  When it came time to purchase a young horse I knew exactly what I was looking for.  Soon after I found Vie.  I followed my gut despite being advised against purchasing her by a few top trainers and Im glad I did! She's a superstar.  The DHH lineage is old and they have a long history of being used for driving and as work horses.  I believe this past gives them a true work ethic and love for their jobs.  They are so trainable, smart and determined.  Now I have a barn full of them!

Q: Who inspires you?

A: Two people - my mom and my coach, Shelly Francis. My mom never doubts my goals. Even though she lives out of the country she attends all my major competitions.  She has and always will be my biggest advocate.  Im inspired by Shelly's tenacity, sense of humor and the tactfulness in the way she rides.  She's well respected in the international dressage community and marches to her own drum, like me!

Q: What is your biggest goal?

A: That's simple - to ride in the Olympic Games.  I love competing and I believe in order to be the best you must compete against the best.  I want to be the most successful version of myself.  I believe in my heart that I will train a horse that will take me across the sea to ride at the Olympics with my fellow teammates. 

Career Highlights

  • USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold Medalist all achieved on GaDeva

  • 2023 5th place 4th level freestyle with J'Adore La Vie at GAIGs

  • 2023 5th place 4th level test 1 & 3rd place 4th level test 2 at Dressage at Devon

  • 2021 7th Region 1 GAIG 3rd level freestyle, 10th in 3rd level test 3 with J'adore La Vie

  • 2018 Selected as Grand Prix rider by Charlotte Dujardin for her Masterclass in KY

  • 2017 US Dressage Finals Open Grand Prix Champion

  • 2017 Region 1 GAIG Open Grand Prix Champion

  • 2015 Dressage at Devon U-25 Champion

  • 2015 Festival of Champions U-25 Grand Prix Bronze

  • 2013 Bachelor's Degree in Pre-veterinary & Animal Biosciences

  • 2011 Region 1 Young Rider Team Member

  • 2008 Region 1 NAJYRC Junior Team Bronze

  • 2008 Region 1 GAIG Jr. Second Level Champion

Don't wait until you reach your goal to be proud.  Be proud every step of the way.

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