By Kelly Slack
When the 2016 show season began, I honestly had no intention of going to the US Dressage Finals…it wasn’t even on my radar. My six-year-old PRE gelding, Seron, was still fairly new to me, as this was our first show season together. I didn’t know what an exciting ride I was in for.
I bought Seron in March of 2015, after a nearly six month hiatus from riding. I’d had a complicated surgery, for a lifelong knee problem, and was only just getting back in the saddle when I saw the ad for him, on a dressage horse website. I was smitten. I’d had an interest in the Baroque breeds for some time (I knew that they were very amateur friendly and had lots of talent for dressage), and have always loved grays! I promptly forwarded his ad to my trainer, Julie Cochran, and she agreed that he was something we should look into. As quickly as I could, I booked our flight to Wellington, where Seron was spending the winter with his trainer, Tami Crawford. We spent the day trying a few different horses at other farms, but we knew that Seron was the horse that we really wanted to see. As soon as we rode him, we knew he was the one! Even as a five-year-old, he was agreeable, smart, and eager to please. On our flight back to Atlanta, Julie and I were giddy with excitement and I couldn’t wait to get the purchase finalized.
A couple of weeks later, Seron arrived in Georgia. My dream horse was a reality! But unfortunately, I’d had no more than four rides on my fabulous new horse, when I woke up one morning with excruciating abdominal pain. Turns out, I had a ventral hernia that needed surgery. I was devastated to have to take more time off from riding, and especially so since I had a brand new horse!
Fast forward six weeks, I was healed up and had permission from my surgeon to start riding again. In hindsight, my time off wasn’t a bad thing, since it allowed Julie to spend those weeks riding and getting to know Seron, so that by the time I was back, she could coach and train us more effectively. I spent the remainder of 2015 taking lessons and, finally, getting to know my new horse. Yet, as I got more confident riding Seron, I still didn’t feel like I was ready for the show ring. He was ready, but I wasn’t. We did one show very late in the 2015 season, just to see how it would go, but I knew that I wasn’t in a place to be truly competitive, until the following season.
By the time 2016 came along, I was ready to compete and make up for lost time! We spent the season showing Training and First Levels. Our scores stayed consistently in the 60s and 70s, and I decided to declare for the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards, for The Foundation of the Pure Spanish Horse. Turns out that our scores earned us Training Level AA Champion, Training Level Open Champion, and First Level AA Reserve Champion! We also qualified for the Great American/USDF Region 3 Championships at both levels. Before the regional championships, I decided to declare for Finals, but still wasn’t expecting to make the cut, let alone actually go.
We went to the regional championships and placed seventh out of almost 50 Adult Amateurs at Training Level, with a 70.79%, and eleventh in an equally large First Level class, with 66.91%. Our Training Level score was high enough to earn us a Wild Card invitation to Kentucky. Suddenly, the US Dressage Finals didn’t seem so out of reach! Still, there were all the logistics to consider. How would we get there? I don’t have my own trailer. Would my trainer be able to go with me? Would it be ok with my husband and two boys for me to go to another horse show? Would it be worth the effort and expense to go?
After much consideration, I knew I couldn’t pass it up because it felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity. All of the ups and downs of the past year had brought us to this point, and it seemed like a dream come true. I was going to the US Dressage Finals! My teammate, Naida Mirza, also received a Wild Card at First Level, and decided to go as well. Our fabulous trainer, Julie, agreed to haul the horses and our other teammate, Holly Carter, came along to support us. On the morning of November 11, we hit the road to The Kentucky Horse Park!
Eight hours later, we finally arrived in Lexington. We unpacked, checked in, and made a run to the schooling arena, since it was starting to get dark and cold. Both of our horses handled the new surroundings and excitement like seasoned pros! After our schooling rides, we settled them in for the night and headed to the Bluegrass Buffet Competitor Party, in the Alltech Arena. What a fun night with good food, good drinks, and lots of vendors to enjoy!
The next day was my teammate’s day to compete; I wasn’t scheduled to ride until Sunday, so I was able to enjoy the day without the stress of competing. That afternoon, I had another lovely schooling ride and was able to spend lots of time watching classes and getting a feel for how things were running.
Finally, it was Sunday, my day to compete! Seron handled the crowded warm-up ring like a champ, and my teammates and trainer were there to cheer us on. When it was my turn to go down centerline, it felt surreal to see our names on the huge electronic scoreboard. It was also a totally new, (and somewhat nerve racking!) experience to have three judges scoring my ride. Overall, we had a nice test, but Seron was a little wary of the judge’s booth at C and, therefore, we had a bit of trouble with the geometry of our canter circles (or should I say ovals…oops). When we gave our final halt and salute, I knew it wasn’t my best ride, but we still pulled off a 66.67%. Pretty good for my big, gray six-year-old! Our score didn’t place us in the ribbons, but we landed solidly in the middle of the pack, 18 out of 31 competitors, and we won the High Score Breed Award for the Foundation of the Pure Spanish Horse! I was thrilled with Seron and could not have asked for a better ride. It was a fantastic first season together, and going to US Dressage Finals was the icing on the cake.