Bridget Hay: Reflections on the Festival of Champions at Lamplight

Just last month, Faolan and I were going down centerline for our final ride at the Festival of Champions at Lamplight Equestrian center, in Wayne, Illinois. It was truly an honor to be there at this level, but now we’re looking ahead to the regionals and Dressage at Devon as the summer shows give way to the autumn competitions.

Bridget Hay and Faolan at the Dressage Festival of Champions. (Photo by Susan J. Stickle)

Faolan had competed at Lamplight as both a 5-year old and 6-year old in the U.S. Young Horse Championships. Now, at age 9, he finished a very respectable fourth place on the first day, and eighth overall in the Developing Grand Prix National Championships.

This was my fourth year at Lamplight, and being there always reminds me of the first time I rode at this facility. Four years ago, when Faolan was in the 5-year-old championships, he was going through a phase that was the equivalent of being a teenage boy. While he only had a very brief period of testing the boundaries, unfortunately, it happened while we were at Lamplight. I had to ride him twice on one day because he decided he wasn’t even going to walk up to the show rings, which was a problem. Luckily, we did manage to get through both of our tests.

The other reason I will never forget that show is because we were there during the time that I was losing Faolan’s older brother, Fitz. He was in the clinic back at home, fighting for his life as he suffered from laminitis. I spent most of the Lamplight show that year walking around crying, and trying to get Faolan to the arena. After we got home, Fitz ultimately lost his fight. It was a rough time.

This year was quite a contrast. Faolan would never set a foot wrong now. He tries his heart out and gives me all he can. Not only has he picked up where his brother left off, he has come far beyond my dreams. It’s amazing how quickly horses can grow up. Showing him now is like riding a seasoned and trusty friend. I know he’s never going to give me any surprises. We might make a few honest mistakes, which unfortunately is what happened on our final day at the show, complicated by the sudden onset of unbelievable heat and humidity. Those mistakes are never because he’s not trying. Having had Faolan since the day he was born has really made for a solid partnership.

This year at Lamplight was also the first time they combined all the divisions into the Festival of Champions. Last year, we competed in the Intermediaire National Championships in Gladstone, New Jersey. Lucky for us, that was right in our backyard. We also did quite a few CDIs at small tour in 2017, and I got to know a lot of the other CDI riders because we were stabled near each other.

At Lamplight, I was able to catch up with some of them, which was so much fun, and we made sure to watch each other’s rides. I was stabled with my friend Alice Tarjan, who had great results at Lamplight with her five horses this year. A junior rider that I coach, Allison Nemeth, also was part of our group. She stabled with us and finished seventh and eighth on her two horses.

It was incredibly helpful to get trainer Adrienne Lyle’s help from a distance, as she watched our rides on the live stream and gave me feedback. I was very fortunate to have two lessons on Faolan with coach Debbie McDonald earlier in the week before we started competing, thanks to the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s fantastic development program. I’m so thankful for that support. Her lessons were invaluable, and I was able to bring home what we worked on, as we look to improve our training.






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