By Jennifer M. Keeler

As we look towards this year’s US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, it’s hard to believe how quickly the years have flown by! So to celebrate, YourDressage is reaching out to competitors, officials and volunteers to share their experiences and favorite memories from the first five years of this unique event.

This month we spoke with three judges who have watched the development of the Finals from the best seats in the house: right next to the arena. Jayne Ayers of Dousman, WI. (FEI 4* and USEF “S”) remembers coming to the very first Finals in 2013. Since then, she has attended every edition either as an official or to coach competitors. “I was very excited to see this wonderful event, which was so long in the planning, actually come to fruition,” said Ayers. “The first time such large and complicated events are run, there seem to be inevitable glitches. But that first Finals ran amazingly smoothly and seemed to be fun for all involved.”

Judge Jayne Ayers (red jacket) proudly stands in an award presentation photo.

“I had no idea what to expect and was just happy to be invited,” agreed judge Mike Osinski of Lacey, WA. (FEI 4* and USEF “S”). “I had been to the Kentucky Horse Park before so I knew it was a good venue, but to be honest the reality ended up being way beyond my expectations. What an incredible atmosphere, unlike anything that the average competitor might ever get to experience otherwise. It ranks right up there with what you’d see at the big shows in Europe.”

Also officiating at the inaugural Finals was Sandra Hotz of Erie, CO. (FEI 4* and USEF “S”), and since that first year she’s noticed several interesting trends. “I’ve now judged the Finals four times since its inception, and have definitely noticed not only an increase in the popularity of the show, but also an increase in the quality of horses, especially in the lower levels. I also noticed that the quality of the overall rides has increased, making it was easy to award higher scores,” Hotz noted.

Both Ayers and Osinski agreed with Hotz’ assessment. “It’s a little difficult for me to compare because I have judged different levels each time I have officiated, but my general impression is that especially the lower level hoses get better every year – there are so many amazing animals, nicely ridden, shown by both amateurs and professionals,” said Ayers.

Mike Osinski and Sandy Hotz

“I certainly think the quality of the riding is getting better and better,” Osinski added. “To be honest, a few of the rides that first year were maybe not quite up to what one would expect for a national championship, but at the same time I had to applaud everyone who ventured out into new territory for that first Finals. Since then, the standard has just gotten higher and higher. You see the top amateur riders from all over the country, as well as up-and-coming professionals. It’s a great place for everyone to shine.”

Since 2013, Osinski has returned to the Finals in 2014, 2016, and 2017, and each time has found the event to be a special experience. “They roll out the red carpet at the Finals,” he explained. “It’s special for us as judges to get together with our colleagues. There’s a large panel of officials there, we get to challenge ourselves with our scores and comments, and then we collaborate and discuss what we’ve seen. It’s actually a great learning experience for us, and I think we all look forward to an opportunity to go back.” Hotz agreed, noting that from the judge’s box she sees firsthand how magical the Finals experience is for competitors. “I think it being a head-to-head competition makes it feel more important. Riders get to compete directly with one another under the same judge panel, which makes it really exciting. Also the instant scoring makes it more exciting for both riders and spectators.”

But the wonders of modern technology embraced at the Finals also contributed to one of Osisnki’s most memorable moments there. “We were at the very first Finals judging an Intermediate 2 championship in an outside ring, and it was quite cold,” he remembered. “Of course it’s all electronic scoring at the Finals, so we sit down and start typing away and all of a sudden, about 10 movements in, the screen just goes blank. I think ‘oh dear God’ and we quickly switch to the backup paper copies, but of course there’s panic because we had no memory of all the scores we’d already given. But thankfully we got the call from the office that the computer had in fact recorded and saved the first 10 scores, so everything worked out.”

Sandra Hotz with Allyn Mann, Director Luipold Animal Health

Hotz was officiating in the Alltech Arena in 2016 when a power outage made headlines – and memories. “It was the last class of the day and all of sudden, in the middle of a rider’s test, the power went out and the arena went completely dark,” Hotz described. “After a few seconds, the emergency power came on, but the arena was only partially lit, so it was like judging at dusk! The class wasn’t even half over, and our panel had to judge the rest of the class that way.  Some of the computers were going out, so we had to go to paper tests as backup. It was quite stressful having to give technical and artistic marks when we could barely see the horses, especially the dark-colored ones! Amazingly, our panel did really well, and in the end we had the horses placed in the correct order. What a relief that was, and certainly something none of us will ever forget.”

Interested in making memories at the 2018 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, being held November 8-11 at the Kentucky Horse Park? Sign up on the US Dressage Finals website HERE. Join us!

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