2021 US Dressage Final Diary – Ruth Shirkey – 10/6/2021

About 3 weeks ago I started thinking about the Finals and whether my husband Eric, Wyleigh and I might be up for taking that on. It is a big decision to be made. Having already had two very long road trips with Wyleigh, 2019 US Dressage Finals and 2020 Festival of Champions, we have some idea of what is involved, how to prepare and how Wyleigh would travel. That doesn’t make the decision any easier. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I decided to Declare Wyleigh and I for both the I-2 and GP on the US Dressage Finals website.

There is a lot of work involved in planning a trip to the Finals, no matter how you get there. The better the plan, the more likely the trip will go well, or at least you are prepared for the possibility of challenges.

There were definite thoughts prior to the Regional Championships (RC) about whether Wyleigh and I might have enough going for us in the I-2 and GP, since this is only our first year at both levels and we had only done 6 GP tests prior to the RC. Our first I-2 test really let me know that Wyleigh and I had our work cut out for us. I took what I learned from that ride and on each subsequent ride worked to improve the balance and communications during the tests. We have a long way to go before we really show our best, but what we have right now is not too terrible (that is my opinion of course).

I think Eric was convinced by the performances and each improvement, to agree that maybe it might be a good opportunity for us to go to the Finals and represent our region. There are no other Level 5 (Highest level of competition under USEF rules) opportunities like this for Adult Amateurs. Even though you don’t get every Region represented and the Regional Champion and Reserve are not always the pairs that show up at the Finals, there is still a very strong competitive environment.

At the RC, we talked about whether Wyleigh and I could qualify and get invited to the Finals. A lot depended upon how the placing and scoring turned out in each class. If I could get at least 64% in each class, I could get a Wild Card and not have to worry about placing in the top two to assure an invitation to the Finals. Well, 64% at RC is a real challenge and we definitely did not hit that mark. But, as long as we were in the top two of those who had declared and had above a minimum 57%, we could get an invitation. I would not want to qualify based upon a minimum score and so together Eric and I agreed that we had to see better scores and if I couldn’t get Wild Card scores, I needed to be competitive and not far from them. As it turns out, there were only two riders in the I-2 and GP that had declared and gotten the proper scores, Hunter Chancellor and me.

I did not need to wait for my invitation, which came the day of the Nominations deadline cut-off. The Monday after RC I went ahead and completed Nominations for I-2 and GP and paying the $150 per class (the actual class entry fee).

The very next thing was to complete the Finals entry on the Horse Show Office website so that I could sign up for the Heated Stabling. At the 2019 Finals, it was very clear why it was so essential to have heated stabling. It is pretty difficult to spend much time at the barn if the outside temperature is 30 degrees. The heated stabling is available by region (the stalls are allocated equally among the regions) and then on a first-come, first-served basis as long as you send in a complete entry which includes the proper USEF Waivers and USER Entry Agreement forms AND your horses Negative Coggins test.

Knowing that I planned on going to the Finals, I had my vet take blood for the Coggins test when they came to give Wyleigh her Flu/Rhino vaccinations before we went the RC.

After taking care of the horse show accommodations, it was my turn to set up where I would be staying while in Kentucky. In 2019 we stayed at the Kentucky Horse Park Campgrounds which is right next to the Kentucky Horse Park (KHP). This is huge campground with 260 RV spaces. Eric and I have a wonderful Lance camper that sits on our Ford F-350 that we call Max. With a slide-in camper, we can easily haul our bumper pull trailer and still have a separate vehicle for other camping adventures. I figured that getting a spot in November should be easy since most campers come out during the warmer seasons. I can just imagine what this campground must look like with the Land Rover Eventing competition is in full swing.

As it turns out, getting a place for us to stay was more complicated. The KHP Campground uses the Reserve America website to make reservations. I had used this website in the past and found it very easy. When I looked at the available sites, there were none on our arrival date of Saturday, November 6th. In addition, there were no sites available for that would cover a stay from Sunday through Saturday (departing on Sunday, November 14 th ). What was I going to do? I had made my entries, paid my money and now had no place to actually stay during the event.

I called the Campground phone number to see why there were so few spaces available. It turns out that beginning in November the campground closes the outer loops (about 175 of the available spaces become unavailable) for a holiday lighting display. Apparently when we went in 2019 the event was just a few days earlier in November and we were unknowingly allowed to stay in the outer loop as an exception since we weren’t staying long. In addition, another inner loop of sites was closed this year due to upgrades to the water system so that the sites would have water even during freezing temperatures.

What did all of this mean? Basically, in the beginning of November only about 50 of the 260 sites would possibly be available and that there were already folks with reservations on the Friday and Saturday dates for both the first and second weekends. So, what were my options. The person on the phone quickly understood our dilemma. She found a site for Sunday through Friday night. Then she found another site a few spaces over for Saturday night. We would have to move our camper first thing on Saturday morning, but at least we had a place to stay for our last night in Kentucky. Whew. That was a close one.

Well, actually, we still needed a place to stay on Saturday night, but it turns out that the place we were going to keep Wyleigh from Saturday the 6th through Tuesday morning, Spy Coast Farms, has a small area for RVs with hook-ups and we could stay there for Saturday night. Spy Coast Farms is right next to KHP and is a lovely facility. It is also huge. The stall we reserved for Wyleigh is a Quarantine barn that typically houses horses coming in from other countries. The stalls are big and filled with shavings. They look out on open fields and even have turn out paddocks for those brave enough to try their horse in them. The area also has a nice covered round pen to lunge Wyleigh the next day (Sunday) and a riding arena with great footing for hand walking and riding on the second day (Monday) after arrival.

Arranging our layover stays turns out to be the easiest part of the plan. We will depart around 5am on Wednesday, November 3rd and plan to arrive in Fairfield, Utah at Jan and Gary Lawrence’ Millbrook Farms. Jan and Gary have a wonderful place with fully covered arena and stalls. It is luxury from a horse’s perspective after a long 11 hour day of driving. They also let us park our rig next to their barn and plug for the night’s stay.

Our second day will consist of another 10 hour drive and arrival at Jump Rope Stables in Ogallala, Nebraska. Steve & Jackie Bishop have a great barn with large stalls for the horse to rest in. They also welcome us to park our rig at their barn overnight.

The third day will be another marathon drive of about 12 hours to St. Peter’s, Missouri where we will be staying at the Pearl Drive Stables and again, camping out in the rig overnight next to the barn. The fourth day will be shorter, only about 800 miles to Lexington and arrival at Spy Coast Farms and no more driving long distances for at least the next week.

It is a stressful process to get everything in order so that you have places for the horse and yourselves, but getting this taken care of now hopefully means peaceful sleep between now and the departure date of November 3rd .

In addition to taking care of the trip details, I must also go over the horse trailer to make sure it will be safe and sound during the drive. I have already had the tires replaced and the bearings addressed. I am working on getting one extra spare tire for the trailer. It is always good to have two spares, as given the distances we will be driving, if anything happens out in the middle of nowhere, and there is a lot of middle of nowhere on a three-and-a-half-day drive, you want to be sure you have enough tires to get to the next town.

There is also the arranging of the items that are truly necessary for this specific trip. The temperatures are a lot colder in the places we will be driving through and it is important to makes sure I have several different weights of blankets to make sure I am not overheating Wyleigh, but am keeping her from freezing. Oh yes, did I mention there will be another clipping in order, that will happen at least a week before departure to make sure she isn’t too naked but isn’t going to be hairy either.

I will go through everything in my trailer, including the emergency stuff, to make sure I have what we need. I also need to make sure we have space for the hay and alfalfa we will be bringing. In 2019 we brought 4 bales of grass hay and 2 bales of alfalfa. That worked well and we ended up having almost a full bale of hay leftover. Since our trailer has a hay rack on top, we will be storing 4 of the bales above for the drive out and two bales in the dressing room for easy access while traveling. I keep water available during the entire ride for Wyleigh. We hook a 5-gallon bucket in the trailer and place a neoprene cover over the top of the bucket to reduce spilling during travel. We regularly refill the bucket whenever we stop.

We will be spending the upcoming weekend getting the trailer in travel condition so that if there are any areas that need addressing, we have enough time to get them taken care of. At this point, my short list is addressed and I just need to keep on track for the unfinished items over the next 4 weeks.

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  • Judy Serie NagyOctober 13, 2021 at 11:17 pm

    Delighted you three will make the trip to KHP again! More hair-raising travel tales to tell when you return, I suspect. We are all SO PROUD of you, Ruth and I am glad you and Eric can get there again. The three of you together can accomplish ANYTHING! And there’s always a CHANCE of decent weather. I look forward to your next chapter and wish I could meet you there.

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