By Jennifer M. Keeler
Debra Reinhardt has the kind of job most people would not want to have. As Competition Manager for the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, it is up to her to make sure that this annual equestrian showcase runs like a well-oiled machine, and that competitors who travel to Lexington from across the country will hopefully have an unforgettable experience. The responsibility and expectations are incredibly high, but Reinhardt wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Every year it’s like a big puzzle to put together, but I love the challenge,” said Reinhardt. “I love organizing competitions and especially the Finals – it’s something I’m passionate about and I hope it shows. I believe in this event and I feel like it is so important for the dressage community in this country.”
Right from the get-go, Reinhardt knew the US Dressage Finals were going to be something special, and she was determined to be a part of it. “Janine Malone had a passion for this project, and from the very beginning I could see her reasoning behind it,” she explained. “It made me excited to have all of the regions come together in one place and compete the best against the best.
“So when they began accepting bids for management positions for the inaugural Finals in 2013, of course I submitted a proposal and I said I would do anything from show secretary to stall cleaner – I didn’t care, I just wanted to be there,” Reinhardt continued. “They had so many great people from across the country just like me apply, so they divided up duties and asked me to be the Event Coordinator. I had to make sure the flowers were done and the judges were fed, that the VIP area was correct and the volunteers were ready to go. I worked in that role for four years and loved every minute. Then in 2017 they were seeking a new show manager, so I applied for that position and that’s what I do now.”
Returning for this year’s Finals, Reinhardt will once again be the ringmaster of a six-ring circus welcoming 380 open and adult amateur Finals competitors from across the country, representing all nine USDF regions and competing for national titles and $100,000 in prize money across 30 different divisions from Training Level to Grand Prix. Even with so many things to do every day, Reinhardt makes a point to take time to oversee her favorite activity.
“The awards ceremonies are what I love most – watching people’s faces makes it all worth it,” she explained. “They look so happy and proud that they made it and are getting a ribbon at the Finals, even if they’re a little terrified cantering around the Alltech Arena! Also I love watching the interaction between the volunteers and competitors. Our volunteer team is incredible and they are near and dear to my heart – every one of them want to be there and are so happy just to be a part of this event.”
But the first six editions of the Finals haven’t been without challenges for Reinhardt and the rest of the organizing team. In addition to weather (which can rapidly fluctuate in November in Kentucky between balmy and frigid with little notice), the Finals have also experienced some growing pains. Since 2013 entries have dramatically increased, and last year the trend shifted into a slightly different direction.
“Even though the approximate number of entries was generally the same in 2018, we had significantly more rides – about 130 more,” Reinhardt elaborated. “People aren’t coming here for just one class anymore – they’re entering multiple championship divisions and/or cross-entering into the open show, getting more bang for their buck.”
But as Reinhardt explained in a recent USDF Connection article, more and more rides equate to longer and longer competition days for competitors, staff, officials and volunteers – to the point where it can be just too much. Last year, Friday and Saturday performances in the Alltech Arena went well after 11pm at night; and on Sunday, the championship schedule extended almost two hours longer than previous years, extending final awards ceremonies until after 6pm and delaying many competitors’ departures.
In addition, the spectacular growth of freestyle divisions at the Finals have also added to the scheduling nightmare: almost 30% of Finals rides last November were freestyles, jamming both the Alltech and Murphy rings until they literally run out of daylight. “In the Murphy ring alone, we had almost eight hours of First Level Freestyles on Sunday,” Reinhardt noted. “And it’s not as easy as one might think to just add another ring. Not only is it expensive to hire another announcer and sound system, but the outdoor rings also aren’t far enough apart to prevent musical interference.”
Reinhardt believes that these are actually good problems to have because it shows the Finals are thriving. But it does mean that some changes are in order for this year. “The reality is that you have to adjust all the time – it’s a natural evolution that some divisions will get larger or smaller over time,” Reinhardt noted. “In the early years, the intention was to only have championship classes on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, leaving Thursday as a warm-up day. In the last couple of years, we did hold a couple Finals divisions on the first day, and now we’ll have to further utilize Thursday for even more championship classes to try to lighten the load on other days.
“It is a challenge because we look at past years’ data and try to estimate what the class size will be for the current year, and how that will fit into each day and ring,” continued Reinhardt. “A dramatic change in class numbers (like we’ve had recently with the freestyles) will impact everything else. So I hold my breath every year until the entries are in. It’s like a big puzzle and you have to try to figure out how to make it all work as best you can.”
Reinhardt also noted that competitors will see some additional changes this November, which will include updates to the traffic pattern for awards ceremonies, the addition of a second photo backdrop, and regular prayers to the weather gods for warmer weather than last year. “Contrary to last time, I’ve already got my down jacket all washed and ready to go, so since I’ll actually be prepared for cold weather this year, I’m hoping that means that I won’t need it!” she laughed.
No matter what this year brings, Reinhardt is ready to embrace yet another fabulous Finals. “The Finals is such a special event – it’s literally one of a kind,” she said. “I can’t speak for the competitors but I know the entire management team is always thrilled to be there and be a part of it. And it really does take an incredible team of people to put this event together every year, all of whom I consider myself lucky to be able to work with and I’d like to thank each and every one of them. The fact that not only do we have such great personnel, but the scoring technology we utilize and the incredible venue that we have available with the Kentucky Horse Park – I think it all makes it one of the best shows in the world.”
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.