Now that I’m back in New Jersey and thinking about my time in Florida, I can say the weeks I spent there felt like our biggest jump yet, both in our improvements in the training and in the show ring.
It’s only during the winters in Florida that we have all the best riders and trainers in the country together within minutes of each other. There’s no doubt that it’s the place to be to train with the best and show against the toughest competition.
This was my first season doing CDIs (international level dressage)–playing in the “big kids’” sand box. We did one national show at Intermediaire I in early February, just to get back in the ring and get our feet wet. Faolan won that class, which had quite a competitive lineup.
After that, we did three CDIs at small tour. It was a huge step up, I will tell you the truth. We had our highs and lows, as all showing goes, but we learned a lot. I was so incredibly fortunate to have Olympic veteran Adrienne Lyle, one of our country’s best riders, helping to coach me this season.
I also was lucky to be stabled with some awesome people, including a number of our country’s top riders, who taught me so much while in the CDI barn. One of them even suggested that there should be a CDI handbook. Now that would have been helpful!
I watched the rides of the top competitors and what they do for the horses in the barn to manage their mounts to keep them as sharp as possible while showing. It helped a lot, especially when my own horse was feeling the fatigue of showing for so many days in a row.
They advised me on what to give him to help his muscles recover and other therapies such as magnetic and massage blankets that they use for their horses to keep them comfortable. I was so grateful to have their support and guidance. Faolan and I were learning as we went and improving with each show. Not only did our training get better, but I also was figuring out how to best manage him during the long show weeks.
Overall, I was pretty pleased with our first season in CDIs. I was, no doubt, the underdog out there, competing on my own young homebred who was just coming eight years old. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was the ONLY one out there on a homebred.
Faolan held his own though, and placed pretty consistently in the middle of the pack. He qualified for the freestyle in every show, which was a major achievement. (One show had more than 30 horses competing in the Small Tour.) It was a very competitive season, as it always is in Wellington. We placed a couple of times in the top eight, which put us in our very first CDI awards ceremony which includes a victory lap with the top eight horses in the class. I have to say, it felt pretty good!
Until this season, I had never ridden a freestyle, not even at First Level in a schooling show. So my freestyle debut was in the CDI ring at I-1. Talk about trial by fire! Fortunately, it went pretty well and improved each time. They’re actually a lot more fun than I expected.
A side note about the music I chose for the trot work in my freestyle is that it is a tribute to Faolan’s late full brother, Fitzhessen. The song “Who Knew,” by Pink, makes me think of him and the incredible bond we shared. The lyrics talk about losing a friend and the pain of such an unexpected loss. I miss Fitz every day, but he is with me always, and it feels good to have that music playing for my first-ever freestyle.
I came home from Florida hungry for more; especially more of the training and help that we were getting down there. I could feel the changes in my horse and in my riding, which I’m anxious to continue and take into the show ring.
That’s one of the great things about this sport–you can always do it better. We never stop learning and improving.
Recently I learned that all of our hard work in Florida (and our last minute trip to compete in Tryon, N.C.) paid off because we achieved our goal of an invitation to compete in the Dutta Corp. USEF Dressage Festival of Champions in Gladstone, N.J. I was extra thrilled to accept the invitation since Gladstone is a short drive from my home, so it will be easy for friends and family to see us compete at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation headquarters May 17-20. Competing in this show has been a dream of mine for a long time, and I am so happy to be going there with my handsome stallion.
I haven’t decided what shows I’ll do after the Festival. I’ll spend most of the summer working on our training, while showing some of my younger horses. One thing is for certain, though: I can’t wait until next season in Florida.