Thursday is I-2 AA Championship ride day. My ride time was at 2:29 so braiding was a somewhat relaxed priority. When we arrived at the barn, Wyleigh was laying down and quite relaxed. I tried to stay quiet so that she could continue to rest. Since our tack room was directly across the aisle from Wyleigh’s stall, she quickly realized I was there and got up to say hi.
I like to keep hay in front of Wyleigh whenever we are away from home, so that she can freely eat. Since she paces herself, this approach works well. She had eaten all of her breakfast of grain and a flake of hay, so I gave her another flake to work on. I then pulled my braid kit out of the tack room and with a bit of water in a bucket, went to work making the pigtails for her braids. I like to use a waxed tread to sew up the pigtails into a ball shape that I then secure by weaving the thread back and forth in the mane at the crest and through the ball made with the rolled pigtail. Wyleigh’s mane is quite thick, even with regular pulling, and this braiding approach keeps the braids in place even over night.
Once I finished braiding, I still had quite a bit of time on my hands. Cheryl and I decided to wander back through the Vendors just to make sure we had not missed anything. I had also promised Barbi Breen-Gurley that I would pick up a US Dressage Finals Jacket for her, so I needed to stop by the USDF shop to pick that up. Right next to the USDF shop was the Awards tables and results monitors. At the US Dressage Finals, there is a dedicated area that contains the live performance monitors and scoring screens. You can watch the activity in any of the rings, outdoor or indoor and see the running scores by movement on the screens. This is quite nice if the weather is inclement, which unfortunately seems to be a regular situation during this time of year in Kentucky.
The weather predicted for after noon was an increasing chance of rain and 20+ mile per hour winds. I was prepared for this change in weather and knew that Wyleigh would not be affected by it. We had been poured on during our first class 2 years before without losing any measurable performance.
I went back to the stall and began preparing Wyleigh. The grooming process is not her favorite thing and I don’t spend a lot of time brushing her, but I did want to have her looking her best. I finished saddling her and putting her boots on, then went about getting myself dressed. I didn’t want to be ready too early for my ride time, since overworking her at this stage of the competition would not leave me with much to work with for the next test. I-2 and Grand Prix are very demanding tests, so having as much extra energy as possible during the tests is a good strategy.
It is a 10-minute walk to the arena where the test was to be ridden and I used that walk time to loosen her up using leg yields and stretches. She was quite relaxed and seemed ready for the ride. When I arrived at the warm-up arena, I found that Akiko Yamazaki was there with Chopin. She was the ride directly ahead of me. I always like to know who is directly ahead of me so that when they depart the warm-up I have a good idea of when I need to be ready. My warm-up was structured to keep this looseness and relaxation present while we increased our collection and reaction time. I didn’t focus on actual movements overly, but touched on a half-pass here and a transition there to make sure Wyleigh was responsive. The time went quickly by and our ride time arrived.
We went around the outside of the court in a canter, focusing on collection and transitions within the gait. Wyleigh always starts to get strong at this point, knowing the test is going to start. I focus on keeping her with me and as much on my seat as I can. I am not always successful, but this process is getting easier as we get stronger in this level. As we went down the centerline, I thought to myself, “Here we go”.
I was happy with Wyleigh’s trot work and felt she really gave me good extensions, allowing me to lightly half-halt a few times during the extension to keep her balanced. She came back to me nicely in the first Passage transition and I felt the Piaffe also stayed in the rhythm. The second Piaffe transition brought a small loss of activity and rhythm and I needed to really work to get her back in the Passage. The extended walk is something that Wyleigh is fairly good at and we try to maximize the movement to get the best score.
The medium canter across the diagonal can be a challenge since there is flying change at X. Unfortunately as so often happens, I was thinking about this issue during the walk to canter transition and ended up with a trot step which cost us. We have problems with the flying change part of the movement, sometimes ending up with a cross canter instead of a fully engaged change. With this in mind, I made sure to have her quite collected before I started the medium canter and doing a mental stride count, I asked for the change while half halting just a bit, to make sure I had her hind quarter coordinated in the change. Fortunately, everything came together nicely and we had a clear change.
The next canter movements were the half-passes to pirouettes each direction. I had been working to refine our pirouettes and keep better control of Wyleigh’s haunches. The improvements were there in the moment when I needed them and I was quite satisfied with the results. The tempis have been a bit of an issue with Wyleigh recently, as she is going through the phases where every tempi needs to be a one-tempi, even the twos. We had struggled with this at Regionals and I had purposely been practicing since then to make sure she understood the differences. I am happy to say that together, we conquered the confusion and had nice 1s and 2s during the test.
The final centerline went well and Wyleigh gave a good effort in the Passage to the halt. I was quite happy with Wyleigh’s efforts and let her know how proud I was of her. She certainly seemed to know that we had put in a good effort.
I had been concentrating so much during the test that I did not realize that the rains had started and we walked back to the barn with showers starting to increase. I was certainly happy I was not riding any later in the day.
We now waited to see how our score of 65.098% would stand up. I was in fourth place behind Alice Tarjan, Akiko, Ashley Maul (riding Adiah HP, the mare that had won the Grand Prix and GP Freestyle Open competition in 2019). I felt pretty good about the situation. In the end, another horse, Luke Skywalker (Luke was previously owned and ridden by Gundi Younger of the East Bay Chapter) tied with Wyleigh. In the end, we won the tie, but were in fifth place.
The honor rounds for the US Dressage Finals are all held in the Alltech arena and ours was schedule at 6:40pm. When I showed up for the honor rounds, I found Akiko there, as well as one other from our class, the rider in third was Alexandra Krossen on Damani, another very nice mare. Akiko and I rode around waiting for our turn to go out to the Alltech arena and chatted. Akiko had qualified Chopin in 2020 for the Finals and decided this year to come. It was great that she did and so wonderful that she did so well with Chopin.
Out of ten placings, only 4 riders were there for the honor rounds. Of the top 3 riders, only Akiko was there as Reserve Champion. It is my own opinion, but I think if you are in the top 3, you should show up for the honor rounds. You don’t have to go around, you can just get your picture taken and leave. In any event, all of us had a great time. Wyleigh loves honor rounds and always amazes me with her enthusiasm. She gave me a wonderful extended trot for the photos!