Today was the start of team Grand Prix dressage competition. The forecast last night for today indicated it was going to be wet going. So Jay and I packed it off to Target last night and rustled up some cheap rain slickers to put over our Field Day jackets, which are good in the rain for a limit of 4 hours when their nylon shells morph into skin-clinging, heat-sinking deadweight. We needed plastic. Our mission accomplished, we slept the sleep of the deserving.
Up early this morning and off to the park. I’d like to note here that Lexington, KY has the longest stoplights in the world. Combine that with the fact that we had just gotten on the highway when I sheepishly announced to the fabulous Jay that I forgot my headset and wanted to go back and get it. Stoplights become even longer the third time around, having now gone through them on the way out, the way back and then the way out again. With rain tapping metronomically on the windshield and my heavy burden of making us late, I comforted my self with the lovely fact that I was married to a man who actually was annoyed he was going to miss sitting in the rain and watching dressage. As a horse-riding woman, that’s a very good problem to have.
Not only is he a horseguy, we’re also both pretty much engineering-type geeks, (with the caveat that he’s a real engineer, I’m a just Physics-Obsessed Girl (POG)) and we like infrastructure stuff. This is what makes him a really good xc jump builder and me, um, I don’t know what it makes me other than someone who can understand what he is talking about, usually. So we had a big conversation about this:
Why, it’s a roll up temporary sidewalk. Even in this picture it looks slippery, doesn’t it? But it isn’t. It is made of interlocking plastic tiles that made it possible for them to create this people highway that makes it a lot easier to walk and keeps people from making huge mud and getting it on themselves, if it rains. This showed some nice foresight on the part of the WEG planners, since it hadn’t rained there for many weeks before the Games. It would occasionally slightly bridge over a pothole underneath. The bridge over the gap would be springy like any self-respecting suspension bridge, and add its energy to the walker’s next step, sort of an involuntary human passage step, which was a very appropriate way to start Dressage Day. I’d have never thought of this clever device to get people in the mood for the day. These WEG planners thought of everything!
I promise there is lots of horse stuff coming up, but there was even more fun before the horses set foot in the ring:
Yes, tractors! Every horse husband’s fantasy is to at least have a really cool tractor that he can drive around the property while doing all the work while the princess rides about in perfect ignorance of what it takes to run the farm. (Yes, I’ve been paid handsomely to write that.) But seriously, these tractors were really fabulous — not too big, not too small and waxed to within an inch of their dear little spark plugs. John Deere is a major sponsor of the games and, as an aside, in the John Deere pavilion, you can sign up to “Ride a Reiner.” There was always a line or I’d have been all over that. The only sliding stop I’ve ever ridden was a special surprise gift to me and had a 3’3″ oxer at the immediate end of it. But I digress. And for even more digression, back to the John Deere thing, my dad was a John Deere salesman and he loved his work and they were good to him. So John Deere rocks and the picture above of those dandy little workhorse tractors just makes me smile.
So, the riding today was incredible. For sticklers for the details, the percentages, the horse’s breeding, rider’s middle name, yadda, yadda, yadda, the scoreboard is here. I’m one of those people who goes to baseball games to enjoy the sunshine and the popcorn and the game, but I can’t tell you Babe Ruth’s rookie year ERA. I don’t memorize minutiae. I watch dressage to watch riders and horses and enjoy their harmony and connection to each other. We can always look up the scores later online.
We watched the first set of riders. The two things that struck me about the riders were their forward-moving hands and the relaxation in their backs and hips. The horses are talented, beautiful and nearly unflappable. The stands were much less than half full, but the stadium was loud in greeting horses and riders and there was not one even moderate blowup in reaction to it.
But there were some “Moments”. (Blog definition: “Moment” is short for “Marital Moment” — those occasional extemporaneous conversations that happen in a relationship. These conversations usually end with a word like “Fine”.) The dressage Moments today included an honest to beginner novice Wrong Lead. Transition from passage no less. I was so stunned I couldn’t even think to look at how that would score in a GP test. The lead was fixed in one stride of course, with a perfect flying lead change. Let’s be clear then, I am not negatively critiquing anyone who has the technical skill and cahonies to ride GP dressage at WEG. But what I am saying is that people who are struggling to learn to ride a dressage test in public can take heart, your suffering will never end because you’ll always make mistakes, that’s just how it is. Ha ha. While that is true, that’s not my main point, I’m kidding. What I am saying is take heart, everybody has Moments and there’s no need to have a canary about it by punishing yourself for a week for a wrong lead or whatever. Just get out there and see how quickly you can fix it. Everybody makes mistakes. A GP rider fixes it in one stride. If you fix it in 5 strides or 5 months, it is still fixed.
So, then in The Scheduling Oddity of All Time, the dressage rounds were interrupted by the Endurance Medal Ceremony. It was in the schedule, but What? I kid you not. These impressive endurance people were up trotting and cantering around until all hours last night, and apparently they compared their calendars at the end, and all could make it at 11:00 (or whatever it was) this morning to receive their medals, so the dressage people said, “Sure, come on in, we’ll just piaffe in the corner over here.”
Seriously, I’m all about celebrating somebody who rode 100 miles yesterday and was here walking upright today, but really, right in the middle of GP team dressage? Apparently, yes. The dressage spectators could not leave the arena, because once your ticket is scanned you are in and if you leave you are out, never to return. No inky handstamps allowed. So we hung out and cheered the Spanish woman who won it and the two UAE father and son people who got silver and bronze. The silver medalist literally could not be bothered to show up so his chef d’Equipe (coach) stood in for him. No explanation was given, so we’re going with our theory that a middle eastern guy couldn’t deal with a Spanish woman on a horse named “Nobby” showing him how it’s done. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. She was a way good rider and I will leave my comments about the quality of the other two medalist’s riding unsaid.
So back to the dressage. The first U.S. dressage rider, Todd Flettrich, produced a very nice test. He ended up 16th of the 31 horses who competed today, and not an obvious drop score among them.
The second U.S. rider, the last rider of the day, was Katherine Bateson-Chandler who has partnered with this horse only since this March. I shot this video with my really lame $100 digital camera that I bought like 5 years ago. I used it because I did not bring my video camera because at Rolex you can’t video tape your own shoes standing in the park for fear of copyright infringement, so I was thinking the same would hold here, but videocams were rampant and nary a word was said. D’oh! I was wrong. So this video is a little low in quality, but you’ll get the idea of the lovely ride Katherine shared with us today.
Tomorrow, Day IV WEG: Dressage, second half of our XC course walk (which would be the first half of the course) and whatever else shows up on our Big WEG 2010 Adventure.