This is Tuesday of Dressage at Devon week, and this year I am riding in the Performance Division. I get to make this journey on Secret, who I totally love showing, and I am stupid excited.
I’m not a stranger to Dressage at Devon, but for those who are not familiar with this show, it is actually 3 shows in one- a Dressage Sport Horse Breed Show, a USEF/USDF Dressage show at 4th level, and a CDI.
Tuesday through Thursday is a Dressage Sport Horse Breed Show, my normal stomping ground at DAD. Tuesday through Thursday is full of babies, youngsters, broodmares, and stallions shown in hand on the triangle. There are also some mounted group classes. In addition to Mares under Saddle and Stallions under Saddle, the youngsters get a spin around in groups divided by age or gender, depending, in Matriale and Suitability to be a Dressage horse. Suitability is ranked by gaits, where Materiale conformation is also considered.
In order to get into the Breed Show, all you have to do is send in your money and have the guts to canter in a group on a young horse. I’ve done this on many, many horses. I have had horses and students in the Breed show for the last 10 years, and had the opportunity to play coach to students in the CDI a couple of times. But I haven’t had a trip down the DAD centerline.
Going down the centerline, well, that takes a little bit more. First you have to send your money along with a score you earned at the level. Then, once the closing date has passed, the show management ranks all of the scores and decides how much time they want to allow for each class--PSG, GP, Young Riders, 4th level, etc. Then they start from the top of each class rank list and when they run out of ride slots, everyone below that line gets their entry money refunded.
As a trainer and coach, I try very hard to keep goals appropriate to the horse and rider pair. This helps keep excitement up and disappointment low. For example, when a student asked about moving from the schooling shows to the USDF/USEF shows on her 23-year-old Mr. Reliable, I advised her to go for a Schooling Show year-end award, as at his age, his gaits won’t compete with the fancy, young Hilltop horses out there.
With this in mind, let’s be clear, taking Secret, a half-Arabian half-Friesian, to the most competitive show in our area, wasn’t what I would consider “appropriate competition.” This is no slight on Secret. She is, hands down, the best competition horse I have ever had. She may not be the fanciest mover I have taken down the centerline, but she is the most rideable by far. She gives 100% every minute in the show ring. Because of this, I can show the judges a really balanced, accurate interpretation of the tests. Yes, they can ding her on elasticity, particularly in the medium and extended gaits, but the non-brilliance moves, the ones that show submission and trainability, she’s a pretty consistent 7 or higher. But as she is not a warmblood, what most people will be riding this week, she is a bit of an apple in a pile of oranges.
Sport Horse Nationals is all Arabians and Half-Arabians, so that is appropriate competition for Secret, i.e. a whole bushel of apples. She did extremely well there last year. Sport Horse Nationals rotates coasts, so this year the original plan was for Linda to take up the reins at recognized shows and start earning scores to her bronze medal. But then she and her husband decided to sell their house and build a new one. To me, as trainer and friend, watching the stress this was putting on Linda, I didn’t think it was a good idea for her to make her hobby into additional stress. So, to prevent that, I asked if I could try for DAD on Secret. Mind you, we hadn’t even been down the centerline recognized at 4th level.
So then we did our first 4th level ride, and it scored surprisingly well. We had a submit-able score for Dressage at Devon. Then Secret continued to earn good marks at 4th level in the next 4 shows. I began to wonder if maybe, just maybe, this little powerhouse of try-to-hard could actually get into the big show.
So I sent in the entry. Once the closing date passed, I started furiously checking my e-mail box. This year it was 10 excruciating days between the closing date and when the welcome e-mail came out. I almost wore out the e-mail button on my phone.
Then it came.
Holy cow, I’m headed down the centerline.
People keep asking me if I’m nervous. The answer is no, I’m really not. I’m really, really excited. I didn’t really expect Secret to get in, so I do not expect this wonderful, all-heart Half-Arab to pull a ribbon against the fancy horses. To me, getting in was winning. My goal is to help Secret stay calm under the lights and excitement, since, let’s face it, Dressage at Devon is a zoo of a horse show. I was much more nervous last year at Sport Horse Nationals, as apples-to-apples, I knew I was riding one of the best in the country, and it would all come down to how well the test was presented. But at Dressage at Devon, against the oranges, I want to show them the apple of my eye, and I get to do that regardless of the placings.