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My Journey to the US Dressage Finals

After my Fourth Level ride. Thank you FITS for making wonderful clothes.  My jacket is breathable and allows me to actually move around and all of my FITS breeches are so comfortable and they actually fit my body type.

As I stare out the window of the plane looking over Kentucky’s beautiful rolling hills it’s at this moment when I let everything that has happened these past few days sink in.  I have been on the journey to the US Dressage Finals now for about two weeks and I would not trade any of the experiences I have had for anything in the world, even if it was a little stressful at times.

It has been my dream forever to be able to compete at such a prestigious show and have a horse that was capable of such a thing.  Over the years I have been presented with many challenges in my riding career and nothing ever seemed to come together, until these last few months.  I was able to pull everything together at the ODS championships and Regional championships and receive placing’s high enough to be invited to the US Dressage Finals.  Never in a million years did I think I could accomplish even this.  I am the type where my nerves get in the way and when I am put into high level of competitions like this they tend to get the best of me, but at Regionals I really learned to trust more in my horse and let go of things. 

After learning that I had received the invitation to go to the finals I was overcome with a feeling of excitement yet worry.  I had to take into consideration the time and cost it was going to take to get me and my horse to Kentucky, and this proved to be a small feat in itself.   My mom and I started working out logistics of the trip and it was very daunting.  My family knew this was a dream of mine to be able to go to such a prestigious show, so we set out to try and make my dreams a reality.    With the help of my grandmother, family, and friends my dreams were made a reality.  They say it takes a village and this is what it took.  You don’t realize just how wonderful the horse community is until you are in a situation like this.  I have had so many supporters along the way that have made my dream possible.  Parker Stables has been there for me through the ups and downs and supported me in all that I do.  Another great example of this is when Kimberlee Barker, out of the kindness of her heart, approached me at regionals and offered a stall for me down in Corvallis for the month so I could be closer to my trainer Leslie Chapman.  This was a crucial piece of my journey and my horse and I would have not been up to par for the level of competition that is at the Dressage Finals if it was not for Kim allowing me to come into her barn so I could be closer to my trainer and have crucial training time with her.

At Airport with Luggage The past month has been a roller coaster of a month.  My horse and I have been in boot camp and have made some drastic changes.  At times I didn’t think I was making any progress and would get down on myself and let my anxiety get the best of me, but somehow at the end of each week my horse felt better and better.  I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel!  As it got closer and closer to Finals all my ducks started to line up and then the day finally came than the real journey began.  My mom, grandma and myself packed all my tack into the trailer and lugged my 75-pound suitcase (oops sorry mom) into the truck and we were off to Washington, where my horse got on the transport.  When I loaded my horse onto the transport it was the worst feeling the only thing I could think of was the fact that I was basically leaving my child by himself for three days!  After he was off my grandma, mom and I flew out of Seattle and arrived in Kentucky.  Then after three days of waiting my horse finally arrived in Kentucky and I was so ecstatic to finally see him again and just be at an amazing facility like the Kentucky Horse Park.

 

At the airport on the way to Kentucky with all my luggage ( oops )

 

The infamous arenaWarm-up day came and I was afraid that my horse was going to be stiff and or have way too much energy, considering just being at the horse park created an electric feel.  He surprised me though and was a super star he was not stiff or sore, at 17 years of age mind you, and he did not once spook at anything!  When I stepped foot in the outdoor arenas and looked around at the score boards and all the judges boxes and all the bushes and flowers it finally set in that I was at the US Dressage Finals.  The next day I had another warm-up ride with Leslie and this brought even more of an exciting feeling, I got to go into the ALLTECH arena!!!!! It was like a dream come true I was actually riding my horse in the middle of this famous arena it was such an unreal feeling and something I cannot describe.  To top it off when I looked over to my right George Williams was standing there coaching one of his students and at this moment in time it all came together and this is when I realized I am here competing with some of the best riders in the nation. 

At Right: The view of the infamous Alltech arena.  I can’t even describe the feeling you get when you are down in the middle of it riding. 

 

 

Photo left: Warm-up day, with trainer Leslie Chapman, in the Alltech arena right after I saw George Williams and his student.

 

First day of competition came and I rode an open fourth level test just to get my jitters out, which I guess I really did not need because I was just so honored to be there I was not even a little bit nervous, which is huge for me.  We ended up with a 67+% in our fourth level open class finishing third place.  Friday championships came and I had my fourth level ride later that day.  For some reason this day my nerves came back and the test didn’t go exactly how I wanted it to go.  Though, we did end up fifth in the nation for our fourth level adult amateur class, which was an amazing feeling to be right in the mix with some of the top horse in the nation.  Saturday came and later that night I got to ride my fourth level freestyle in the infamous Alltech arena.  A couple minutes before I remember my trainer telling me to just breathe and relax and for some reason, even though I have heard this same thing over and over again, I did I just let everything kind of go. My horse right before show time felt so good and I knew we were ready.  As I trotted down the shoot into the Alltech arena I took it all in and just said to myself,”I just came down that famous shoot into the Alltech arena and am now in this incredible atmosphere just go dance and have fun with it because this is a once in a lifetime feeling.”  When my music started playing I fell into my routine and trusted, more then ever, in my horse and all the training I had gone through in the past month.  We truly danced that night and as I came down to salute at the end of my test I knew I had just had a good ride, even if the judges didn’t like it.  After my ride was over my trainer took my phone, so I couldn’t look at placing’s, and I went on a long walk with just my horse and I.  This was when once again it hit me that I am at this gorgeous facility at a high level caliber show and my horse was healthy and how lucky I actually am to be here, I also might have even teared up a little.  When I finally got back to the barn my trainer and I nervously awaited the results. Finally about 20 minutes later I get a text saying I was reserve champion in my Fourth Level freestyle class for adult amateurs (thank you Karen Robinson of applause dressage for such a beautiful freestyle).  When I found this out I could not believe it, never in a thousand years did I think I would be able to go to such a show and place top two in the nation for anything.  To me this meant that all the hard work and years of dedication paid off and finally everything was falling into place.  I went to the award ceremony and was just over joyed and the feeling continued as I went onto the press conference that night for champion and reserve champion.  That night we all celebrated and had a great time watching the rest of the freestyles and it was amazing getting to watch Jessica Wisdom’s Grand Prix Freestyle in person in that type of atmosphere.  I think that night Region 6 was on cloud nine!

Photo right:  Region 6 celebrating Saturday night from left to right Lauren Thornlow, Morgan Barrows, Jackie McMaster, Leslie Chapman.  We got to meet Mary Phelps, of Dressage Daily, and she snapped this picture of all of us and just added to the excitement as well!

 

 Sunday morning came very fast and I had my Prix St George ride at 8am.  The warm up was interesting, I started freaking out a little and getting really nervous and did not have the best warm up.  Right before I went into my test my trainer told me I needed to be there for my horse this time and that he needed me.  This really stuck out to me because my horse had been there for me all weekend and this is when I needed to get myself composed and step up.  The second I entered the arena I took a deep breathe and let most of my frustration go, which is a huge accomplishment in itself for me because as I said before in the past things like this would carry over into my test and it would not go well.  I actually think I am most proud of myself for this ride because I had a decent ride despite everything and ended up fifth in the Prix St George for Adult Amateur out of 22 horses!  This right here again was a huge validation to myself that I am right up there with the best of them and once again I felt like I was on cloud nine.  To top off the whole show we won high scoring KWPN for all of the FEI adult amateurs.

I really cannot describe the feelings I had and still have.  It was an incredible experience and it was an absolute honor to be at the US Dressage Finals.  Never in a million years did I actually think I could accomplish my dreams.  Through the support of all my friends, who you all have been so encouraging, the support of my family especially my grandmother, and the support of my trainer Leslie Chapman and others throughout the horse community, who have helped shape me into the horse women I am today, my dreams came true and I will never forget my experiences that I have had at the finals.  It has truly bettered me as a rider and I have learned so much from this incredible journey!

 

Photo left:  Paviano my 17 year old Dutch Warmblood with all of our winnings.  Fifth place for Fourth Level AA, Fifth place for Prix St George AA, Reserve Champion Fourth Level Freestyle AA, and Overall high scoring KWPN for AA FEI levels.