All that I can say is WOW….this is the most jaw dropping experience I have ever had. The passion, energy, commitment, and love for the sport that is seen here is unparalleled to anything I have witnessed. To start off, we had a delicious breakfast in our hotel, where we saw George Morris (don’t mind our group of girls fan-girling…how cool is that?!) The morning was filled with moments like this!
We started off by having the chance to meet with an important role model of mine, Debbie McDonald. She is the current coach for the United States Dressage Team. I would also like to point out we are the same height….short girls can ride dressage too! She shared some valuable insight about the focus, organization, and politics involved in competing at such an event.
The learning opportunities came pouring along as we spoke with an important sponsor of some of the USA riders. She reminded us how important our reputation is even though we are so young in our careers. Image really is everything and it can make or break you, so guard it carefully.
To wrap up this post since it’s quite late here…. the following are the major points I took from today:
2) An unpleasant walk sticks out like a soar thumb and can poorly affect the overall impression of your test.
3) Test accuracy leaves a lasting impression of disorganization versus laser focus.
4) Your image is everything. Hold it close and guard it carefully. You never know who is watching.
I already feel so inspired going forward the rest of the week and for my future riding career. I am motivated and ready!
The 5* Grand Prix left me in awe. The talent of both horses and riders was unfathomable. We even witnessed a 10 in the final fault with was received by none other than the queen of dressage herself, Isabel Werth!
We had the chance to meet with two 5* FEI judges, Elke Ebert and Magnus Ringmark, in the morning which gave us important insight on the pressure as well as the thrills that the judges experience. They both told us about their favorite rides they have ever judged, in which they said they both witnessed intensely harmonious rides to the point of getting goosebumps. I have always wondered how a judge can sit and watch people ride all day long, without getting bored, and what makes a particular ride stand out.
After our discussion, we continued to watch the GP and I have to say I experienced what they described. Harmony is what makes the crowd get engaged, what makes you sit on the edge of your seat, and what makes the judges notice your performance enough to give those exceptional scores in the 8s,9s, and end even 10s.
Our next meeting was with Juan Matute Junior….if you don’t know who that is, go look him up. You’ll thank me, I promise. All jokes aside, he had valuable insight on what it’s like to compete and train at the top of the level at the young age of 21. As a group, we have similar goals to Juan, which is why we are on this trip. Something he said that I especially appreciated was, “Oh you are so young! You have so much time! But that doesn’t change how badly I want it. I want to succeed just as badly as the next guy.” I get it. People tell me to be patient all the time. I also understand that. In this sport, as younger aspiring professionals, it is known that we should prove ourselves through hard work, determination, and perseverance. However, anyone that knows me can tell you….I am not the type of person to sit on the sidelines and watch the world pass me by. I want to be there. I want to be involved. I want to compete, to learn, to ride, to push myself to be alongside the best of the best. I know that I have a tremendously long way to go but I also know that no one is going to make my dreams and goals come true unless I do it for myself. I want to prove myself, and show that I am willing to put in the hard work and passion to make it to the top.
I could really go on for hours about everything I learned from today. This experience is incredible and so much better than I could have ever hoped for. Stay tuned for another post tomorrow on more information from Thursday’s rides! But I want to leave everyone with a dew points from today so here you are:
1) Your horse MUST move forward on its own….no kicking along the way
2) Perfect posture makes your whole seat improve
3) Harmony conquers all
4) Show your passion for the sport
First of all, I would like to say that we kicked the day off by grabbing a quick selfie with the king of horsemanship himself- George Morris! He was very kind to take the time to take a photo with us and was all smiles. Here’s an inside scoop….he’s coming out with a book this year that has an emphasis on dressage!
We were full of energy and ready to take on the day after our first celebrity sighting of the day!
Reese and Bill have been amazing at setting up appointments with some of our biggest role models and heroes, so we started the day off by speaking with Bo Jena, the Swedish coach and chef d’equipe.
He offered a lot of insightful knowledge about what to look for in a potential upper level prospect. Once again we found ourselves on the importance of the walk. Bo suggested that we do not look for the most incredible walk we can find, but rather to look for a horse with an 8 walk. He explained that it is very rare for a horse to be able to control anything over an 8 walk, let alone for a rider to be able to collect and control anything over an 8 walk. Bo also discussed a little bit of what the horse industry is like in Sweden. They have a clear system of placing riders on different teams according to their consistent scores. He went on to describe how they acquire the quality of horses they have and how it differs from some of the other countries. Bo said everyone always thinks the grass is greener on the other side so they tend to look outside of Sweden for their horses and they end up doing a lot of importing. The last point he talked about was the importance of having a solid system of connections in the horse industry; do not cut your competitive trainers out of things when you are trying to buy and sell horses.
Our next celebrity sighting was Carl Hester and Katherine Batesman. Katherine made the excellent point of believing in your horse. She said that so many people told her that her horse would never make it at the top of the sport. Nevertheless she believed in him every step of the way and now he’s competing in Aachen! She told us to treat our horses like a genius rather than to think, “Oh gosh this horse will never do it.” We asked Katherine how she thought the United States could try to get more of the public involved in dressage in a way that the people of Aachen care so deeply for the sport. She suggested that what people want to hear is a story, that is how you get Americans to connect and to be emotionally involved.
Carl Hester was another prime token of wisdom. His positivity and love for the sport radiated as he spoke with us about the different aspects of professionalism and education. Carl emphasized the importance of riding what you have, meaning you don’t have to have an insane amount of money to have a nice horse to ride. You take the money you have and buy the best you can with that amount; so maybe that means you purchase a quality yearling instead of a third level horse. Then you put in the time and training and later you have a super horse. He also noted that as riders, we have to find the niche of horse that we enjoy and that we can ride to the best of our abilities.
In the afternoon, Christoph Hess shared his thoughts on a few different aspects of dressage. He has dedicated the past 40 plus years of his life to the education of dressage. He is incredibly passionate about the sport and discussed a quick overall impression that he had on each of the riders going into tonight’s 4* Grand Prix Special. This lead me to think about what we want our specific style to be as riders. When a brilliant judge watches you compete and perform against the top riders in the world, what will make you memorable to him? Christoph said his current favorite thing is to judge at the World Young Horse Championships. He said it is good to set a clear and defined line of what is good dressage and what is bad dressage before horses are too far into their training.
This evening we watched the 4* Grand Prix Special which consisted of ten riders, one of which was our own Adrienne Lyle! It was exhilarating to cheer on a rider from our own country who was also in our shoes not too many years ago.
One thing we noticed aside from all of the incredible riding….were the mistakes. I don’t remember a single clean test. This does not mean these riders are not exceptional! It just goes to show that even the best of the best are still human and still make mistakes! Horses are animals and the have their off days, but as professionals and partners with our horses, we have to be willing to accept those off days because there is always another competition.
I want to close with my takeaways from an absolutely packed day:
1) Believe in your horse, just as you need someone to believe in you
2) The grass is not always greener on the other side, do the best with what you have
3) Have your own style and niche- what makes you special?
4) We all have our off days….even Isabel Werth
Goodnight from Aachen!