2021 US Dressage Final Diary – Ruth Shirkey – 11/12/2021

My second and final ride, the Grand Prix AA Championship ride is scheduled for 10:44 on Friday. That is a pretty perfect ride time for Wyleigh and I. She and I could both sleep in, since she was getting her breakfast at 5:30 and I am sleep in until 6:30. When I went into the barn at 7:30, there she was, laying down and enjoying a nap. I just love that she is so comfortable where ever we go. No pre-ride jitters for her!

I spent the rest of the morning I had left, getting Wyleigh nice and shiny and her tail thoroughly brushed out. It is always a bit of a challenge to keep relaxed prior to a test of any magnitude. I had found a level of enjoyment in 2019 when I rode into the Alltech arena and was hoping to enjoy that same experience this time.

The warm-up area for the Alltech is quite small and only really accommodates 3 horses comfortably. When I arrived in the warm-up area there were 3 horses already there. Being the very last ride for the class, I suppose I could have already checked the scores to see how the judges were scoring, but really, with Alice Tarjan having 2 horses in the Grand Prix AA championship class, it didn’t really make much sense to even think about how the scoring was going. There was no way we were going to score in the same neighborhood.

Alice was in the arena with Serenade, her beautiful black mare, that won the class with a score of 74.9%. Their start time was 10:17. I figured I needed to find my place in there somewhere to get Wyleigh started on our warm up. There are fine lines in warm up that I find myself addressing, regardless of where we are. The activity level needs to be developed and built as Wyleigh gets more loose in her body. I like to make sure right from the start though that she is responsive and bending to my aids. At this point in our development, she tends to pull a bit and so I am always rebalancing her on her hindquarters and encouraging her to carry herself.

We worked in and around the other riders as best as possible, due to the limited space, I thought everyone did a good job of not impeding the other riders. The more boldly the horses are ridden, the tighter the space seems to be, right? In no time it was our turn to go, and this time we walked through the entry hall into the Alltech, as opposed my previous two rides where I had trotted in. I wanted to keep Wyleigh in a specific frame and activity level that was more easily achieved in the collected walk. As we went around the court, stopping at each judge’s booth to confirm our number, I felt that Wyleigh was with me and ready for the ride. Going up centerline in the big arena is a lot of fun, especially when you horse is so comfortable and wanting to go. We had a nice start with the trot work and I was enjoying the connection that Wyleigh and I had.

Then it happened! The dreaded error. Ugh! I had already made this same mistake in a previous Grand Prix ride and had been visualizing the test line over and over again to keep it clear in my mind. The second trot extension, which occurs after the halt at C, is from M to V. At V, the first Passage occurs. Of course, after all the years of Prix St. Georges and I-1, where the trot extensions happen on the full diagonal, having a short diagonal movement apparently is a lot harder from me than it looks. So, I realized my mistake as I passed X and it was already too late to make any sort of correction that the judge at C would not notice.

Ah, the fateful whistle, at the Dressage Finals. Ok, now what? I came around to re-establish the extended trot on the line, starting at X. Uh oh, second whistle. What do I need to do to get the test back on track? I moved closer to Agnes Billington, the judge at C, so I could hear her directions. She wanted me to start the entire extended trot movement from M. Ok, Wyleigh, let’s get this done so we can get to the next movement of the test.

Off we went from M, to V this time. The passage tour went pretty well and Wyleigh put a nice effort into the rather demanding movement. Being so green, she is still working out the balance of effort with keeping the rhythm and tempo for both the passage and piaffe. I was really happy with her efforts on the first tour.

I wanted to maximize every movement after the error in order to contain the damage as much as possible. Wyleigh’s walk is a true strength for her and we have been striving to get 8’s, which I know she is capable of. We achieved 8’s from two of the judges and I am so happy with that.

The second tour of the passage and piaffe was not as strong as the first and there were some issues with maintaining lift throughout. Fine, let’s get to the canter and see what we can do there. We started off strongly with 7’s for the passage to canter transition and the 2-tempis. Boy was I relieved that the 2’s came off without Wyleigh thinking there needed to be a few 1’s thrown in.

The canter zig-zag came of nicely as well, though no 7’s were awarded. I was just happy to get the proper count of strides and balance to left and right of centerline. Maybe I need to set my sights higher, but with the Grand Prix test, I think attacking it in segments and strengthening the movements a bit at a time is going to work best for both Wyleigh and I. We are truly both green at this level.

The next big challenge was the 1-tempis. Again, between the 2 and 1-tempis, we had been having a bit of tempi-salad from time to time. With the test as it had gone so far, I wasn’t taking anything for granted. We rode into it very carefully so as to have any short count of the 1s. Wyleigh was staying nice in the connection, though just a bit pulling. I kept my balance as much as possible under the circumstances so that Wyleigh could keep hers. It worked out great, we got our count with no mistakes and two judges scored us with 7s.

The canter pirouettes have not developed as much as I had hoped between the small tour and the big tour. Going from Prix St. Georges to Grand Prix, I have been attempting to improve the canter pirouettes and improvement was coming so slowly. Our pirouette to the left was ok, but as usual, my right leg just didn’t keep her haunches in place enough. But, the flying change for 7s and the right pirouette which got an 8 from one judge and 7s from the other two was pretty terrific!

We had a lovely trot transition at M which received one 8 and two 7s and felt really full of lift. I have hoped this lift would carry us into the full diagonal extended trot, but sadly, we lost a bit in the time between M and R. Wyleigh came back at the end of the diagonal and when we got to the centerline, her passage transition felt the best of the entire test. I could feel her carrying more and taking her time on the centerline (I did not push, but let her figure it out as we went). At X, I got the feeling that Wyleigh was thinking about stopping, but with a bit of good timing, we kept the rhythm and activity well enough for 2 sixes. It was a relief to get to G and salute. I had wanted so much in this test, but was so happy for everything that Wyleigh and I did together during it.

The end result for the class was that I had given up a sixth-place finish for a final eight place due to that error. I am still so happy to make the top ten in this class. We have only been competing at Grand Prix since June of this year. We’re competing against riders who have ridden in the Olympic trials or have purchased horses that were fully trained to Grand Prix and have been competing at this level for many years. The fact that Wyleigh and I have traveled this road together from the very beginning makes this year a very special one for us both.

Comments 2

Comments 2

  • Eric DrewNovember 30, 2021 at 4:39 am

    The journey home was much like the journey east. Until we left Ogallala NE for Fairfield UT and entered into Wyoming. Crossing the boarder we were greeted by signs warning of 40+ mph wind gusts. Not fun but doable I just had so slow down a bit and pay more attention. As we neared Cheyenne the signs changed: All light weight high profile vehicles prohibited on I80 west of Cheyenne due to 65+ mph cross winds. Our truck and camper is 12 feet tall but it weighs 13,000 pounds and is a dually with wheel spacers for a wider track. The winds were coming from the left which is also the side of the trailer Wyleigh rides in. I am trained to drive emergency vehicles in all sorts of conditions including high winds, so we pressed on at the dizzying speeds of between 40-45 mph with the semis. We got buffeted in the Canyons but nothing too bad until we popped up onto the plateau of the plains some 20 miles west of Cheyenne. There the winds hit will full force. We passed a truck and travel trailer flipped on its side. I was feeling the stress then Ruth mentioned that looking at the stall camera in the trailer showed that Wyleigh was not being rocked around in the trailer so I relaxed a bit and pressed on. Going slow was the right choice. The winds continued until rock springs where they let up and we never had any lane issues although our fuel consumption showed us only getting 7 mpg. for that 256 mile stretch. what was normally a 11 hour day became over 13 hours of drive time. Not the most fun of days

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