What an amazing week it has been for U.S. dressage! Our trip started early on the morning of Aug. 21, when we loaded the horses and left our base-camp farm in Belgium.
After a scenic five-hour drive through the French countryside, we arrived in Caen with the sun shinning and great excitement in the air. Although the excitement remained throughout the week, the sunshine did not.
Competition began on Monday in the pouring rain. I know Wizard is not a fan of getting wet or getting splashed, so I made a point not to warm up in the covered arena, but rather, to spend the time in warm-up making sure we were thoroughly soaked. That way, he wouldn't be surprised when we went into the wet show ring.
From the warm-up rings, the horses and riders walked down a ramp and through a tunnel to get to the main stadium. The crowd's cheers are so loud they reverberate throughout the tunnel, and it was truly an amazing atmosphere to ride into.
I knew I needed to put in a really strong test to give our U.S. team a good score to build off on. I was worried about how Wizard would handle the sloppy conditions and pouring rain, but he stepped up to the plate when we needed him the most and was absolutely incredible for me.
We finished on 72 percent, which was my goal for the WEG and a strong score for the team. I couldn't have been happier. We went into the first night of competition with our squad in fourth place. The next day, great rides from Laura Graves and Steffen Peters were able to keep us there.
I think there were many people who doubted the U.S. could finish higher than seventh or eighth. As Laura said to me one day, "I love it when people tell us we can't do something. It just makes us want to say, 'Oh yeah? Well watch us prove you wrong!'"
That was the fighting spirit that all our U.S. riders showed throughout the whole games. It is very exciting for our team to finish fourth in the world. I think it proves to everyone that U.S. dressage is really on its way back up, and we will be in contention for a medal very soon. There is a great feeling of excitement for our sport now, I believe.
For whatever reason (I have a few theories but I'm not going to dwell on it) Wizard just didn't feel like himself on the day of the Grand Prix Special. He was a little too tense and nervous in the warm-up and then in the show ring, which led to some unfortunate mistakes. But I could hardly be anything but thrilled with him for all he has done for me this season.
He put in one of his best tests ever on the team Grand Prix day, and for that I am so thankful. He is fit, sound, happy and still quite spunky, even after this long season of competition. What more could a rider ask for?
Although I would have loved to qualify for the freestyle, being able to cheer on my teammates was almost equally exciting.
Steffen put in a signature accurate and well-executed ride, to finish 10th. And Laura Graves blew everyone out of the water by making her presence known as one of the big players on the international dressage stage, finishing fifth in the world. I was nearly in tears when they announced her 82.036 percent score. I am so overjoyed for her. We have had the chance to spend the whole summer together, and she has became a great friend. It is so wonderful to watch such a kind and hard working person rise to such heights.
Laura and I are both so thankful for the time and effort that Debbie McDonald has put in to help us. Debbie celebrated her birthday during the games, and we made her a special "Thank You" video presentation, which of course ended up making all of us cry. It is pretty amazing to stop and look back over the year and see everything we have accomplished, and how far everyone has come. It was great end to a wonderful journey.
Now we are busy packing up everything here at the WEG venue so we can be ready to load the horses at 6 a.m. tomorrow to go back to Belgium. I will rest Wizard there for a few days before flying to California, then hauling him home to Idaho. I think he can smell the fresh mountain air and green pastures already.
Here are a couple more photos from our time in France: