By Jody Wilson
Bentley and I just returned from the 2017 U.S. Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, where we competed in the Intermediate 1 Open Championship class. It is always exciting to be at a big event like this. I love to compete and so did everyone else who was there. The atmosphere was very festive with quality vendors, decorations, and excited chatter, as friends from all over the country got to see each other. An arctic cold front had just arrived and the air was very, very cold. Bentley was about to have to put on his big boy pants and get his indoctrination to CDI style scoring, and holding his own against some of the best horses competing at I-1 in the country. We were there on a wild card invitation, based on his high score at the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Regional Dressage Championships earlier this fall.
On Thursday, we did a warm-up in the Open I-1 class. It was outside, windy, and bitter cold. I could barely move my fingers, after the class was over. It was a long walk from the Alltech barn to the competition ring. A ten-minute walk in the freezing cold, on a clipped, fit horse surrounded by carts, machinery, lunging, and riding horses, is a bit nerve wracking. Luckily, Bentley kept his act together and we arrived to the warm-up ring in one piece. Unfortunately, I failed to allow enough time to have a focused walk warm-up, in addition to the walk from the barn. I found myself only having time to warm up some of the movements. Without my usual warm-up routine to develop the suppleness and half halts that are the true foundation of any test, I could only perform tricks. So, in the show ring, I had a very stiff, cold horse that resolutely did my bidding, but without the suppleness needed to satisfy the directives of the test. We scored in the sixties, but it was an unremarkable test. I knew we needed more- more warm-up, more suppleness, more time.
The next day, it was even colder, and the draw for my championship ride time was late afternoon. I decided to do an early morning warm-up. The only allowable warm-up arena, for schooling a horse that is not showing, was a long ways away from stabling. It was even colder, but I was determined to give Bentley more time to loosen up, without the deadline of a test. Tami Crawford, saint that she is, bared the cold and marched along with us. She really helped, by staying focused on how his body responded to my work, me get the job done with great feedback. This was a gamble. I had to balance helping him be ready to put in a solid test, with not using up his energy or good nature. Time ticked by slowly, and late that afternoon, I started my test warm-up. It went much better than the day before, though there was still some residual tension, but it was much better. I decided the morning warm-up ride paid off.
Finally, my time arrived and we entered the stadium arena. The jumbotron was huge. There were judges at C, M, and B, along with cameras and lots of people and activity everywhere in the stands. I was so proud and happy to be there, and to compete. The whistle blew and in I went.
So how was the test? Well, it was good. Did I mention I went off course? I never go off course… except for that ride. The truth is, I was so busy congratulating myself for making a very lovely corner after the first extended trot, that I just rode right by the turn-up centerline I was supposed to make… and I had to make the dreaded circle of shame! Two points off the final percentage score, so my final score went from a 62 to a 60. Note to self… save congratulations for great corners until after the final salute.
What would have made this a higher score in an open class event like this? The answer is “more.” More suppleness, more uphill balance, more thrust from behind, more self carriage. More, more, more.
But despite the need for more, I have come home feeling like my green FEI horse successfully put his toe into the big pond of dressage. I have my homework to do now, before winter Wellington show season. I have to give myself the same lecture I give my students- it is not about the tricks, it is about the development of a beautiful, generous, big-hearted, dancing partner. Bentley’s suppleness, strength, and power will be what transform him into a true contender.
Now I’m home, and bundled up with a cup of tea and a good book. Bentley had some turnout this afternoon, in his pasture, and a yummy horse dinner. He is settled and relaxed, as well.
All is good in my world and right now, I couldn’t ask for more.