By Jennifer M. Keeler
All equestrians know that life with horses can be an emotional roller coaster, and Amy Gimbel of Tewksbury, N.J. (Region 8) is no exception. Since attending her first US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® five years ago with her now 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Eye Candy (UB-40 x Wednesday by Weltmeyer, bred in the U.S. by Judy Barrett), Gimbel has experienced firsthand the joy of a victory lap, and the disappointment of staying home. But that won’t keep her from trying to return to Kentucky again this November.
“I definitely realize that the more I try to plan, the more Candy changes my plans, so I’ve learned to be flexible,” she laughed. “With all the ups come some pretty big downs. But absolutely if we qualify we would be honored to attend again.”
Elated after winning the Training Level Adult Amateur Championship with Eye Candy on her first trip to Lexington in 2014, “I immediately put in a time off request at work for the following November so that I could be sure to come back,” Gimbel noted. And come back they did: the pair won the Second Level Adult Amateur Reserve Championship and the Second Level Adult Amateur Freestyle Championship that fall. Gimbel couldn’t wait for more, and set her sights on 2016.
“But one day Candy came in from the field and wasn’t quite right,” Gimbel explained. “What we thought was cellulitis ended up being a much bigger issue with a serious injury to her foot. We spent the winter hand walking and she was laid up for eight months. It took so much time and patience, all the while wondering if she’d ever be able to go back.”
After a two-year wait, Gimbel’s equestrian roller coaster once more cruised steadily upward. Finally returning to the Finals last fall, she and Eye Candy made up for lost time by earning Reserve Championship honors in the Fourth Level Adult Amateur Championship, and then improving upon that performance the following day to claim the Fourth Level Freestyle Adult Amateur Championship. With the support of her trainer Heather Mason (also a long-time Finals competitor and multiple champion), Gimbel once again has her sights set on the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 8 Championships in Saugerties, New York this September, hoping to punch another ticket for the Finals – this time at Prix St. Georges, Intermediate I, and Intermediate I Freestyle.
Even though she’s won her share of accolades, it’s the extraordinary atmosphere of the Finals that has created a special place in Gimbel’s heart. “I think that for Adult Amateurs like me, it’s an opportunity for people in similar situations who are juggling work, families, life, and horses to share our experiences and passion for this,” she explained. “It’s a unique outlet for us, where we all come together in an incredible environment and share our similar stories no matter if we’re from Texas or New York. Our similarities are so strong that you feel an instant connection – we all know what it’s like to get up at 4am just to try to get a ride in before work, and all the sacrifices we make to do this thing that we love.
“I know it sounds cliché, but the Finals are an inspiration for me,” Gimbel continued. “When it’s cold and dark in February and I don’t want to go out and ride, I think about walking into the Alltech Arena and remember the awe of it, and I dig a little deeper and keep going. I’ve been fortunate to be associated with a barn where we have a great group who goes to the Finals, and the number grows every year. It’s been fun watching the dynamic every year where other people feel inspired and motivated to try to go there.
“Every year when we make that long drive down to Kentucky, I think about how we’re so lucky to have this event and be a part of something bigger than ourselves. There’s nowhere else we can do this. I’ve been on both sides of the fence – being able to go to the Finals and not being able to, and there’s no doubt in my mind if anyone have the privilege of qualifying and the availability to go to the Finals, GO. You may never have that privilege again.”
Don’t miss your chance to compete! The US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® is a unique national head-to-head competition which offers a wealth of championship titles and over $100,000 in prize money, all while showcasing adult amateur and open riders from across the country in Training Level to Grand Prix. This year’s event will be held November 7-10 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky. To learn more about the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, download competition information, declare and nominate for the Finals, and sign up to receive news and updates, visit the official event website at www.usdressagefinals.com.