Road to the Finals: The Joy of Being a Spectator

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Patricia, a former competitor now spectator, with the StarWest Team. Left to right: Martin Kuhn, Judy Ethell, Judy Nordstrom, Kate Fleming-Kuhn, Kelly Griffith, Patricia, and Pinky Noll.

Patricia McVary & Aureo,
Springfield, Illinois (Region 4)

By Jennifer Keeler

Conversely to Anderson, one-tenth of a percentage point was all that stood in the way of Patricia McVary returning to ride in this year’s US Dressage Finals. While her disappointment still stings, McVary nevertheless found a way to participate in the 2017 Finals experience. “Since like they say, ‘almost’ only counts in horseshoes, I realized I needed to move on,” she explained. “So I decided to travel to the Kentucky Horse Park this year anyway as a former-competitor-now-spectator.”

Normally when riding in competitions, McVary strives to keep her nerves and stress level to a minimum by busying herself with chores around the barn instead of watching other rides. But at the Finals, she found herself in a very different position. “I had the luxury of walking around the show grounds and trying to learn how the other riders earned the chance to compete at this level,” she noted. And this new opportunity provided McVary the ability to see a side of competition that she hadn’t appreciated before – and gave her a whole new perspective for the next time she returns to the ring herself.

“Up until now, if I had not holed myself up in the barn so much at shows, I would have seen that others do make mistakes – even professionals!” McVary explained. “Their horses spook, they go off course, they miss changes. You know how you are not supposed to let your horse stop to do his business while you are riding? So they don’t do this in the show ring? Well, this can and does happen – even to a professional. The rider kicked the horse forward, finished the test, saluted, looked at the judges and shrugged. And that rider won the class.

“If I hadn’t had my head in the sand I would have seen the strong bonds between horse and rider that allows success to happen,” she admitted. “After hearing the bell to enter the ring, one adult amateur took a moment to lean over to give her horse a kiss on the neck. After exiting the ring after a test, I saw a professional with tears running down her face while telling her horse how good she was. This is a reminder that riders are not in this alone but have a partner that is trying just as hard as they are.

“And if I had looked around at shows long before now, I would have seen how much hard work and patience it takes to coach a rider and give them the skill and confidence to enter an event like the Finals,” she concluded. “From my vantage point in the Alltech Arena, I saw half-halt after half-halt. This reminded me of something Tuny Page said during a presentation at her barn: ‘At the end of the day, we are all just looking for that perfect half-halt.’ Watching the lower levels helped me see what my trainer tries to help me improve upon; and watching the upper levels showed me what the outcome is supposed to be.”

Even though the 2017 US Dressage Finals turned out to be a very different kind of learning experience than McVary had expected, her newfound perspective will no doubt provide inspiration and motivation for a triumphant return to Lexington in 2018.

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