Friday, April 29, 2005

Sloshing Toward Greatness

Unlike the previous few days, today was consistent: grey, rainy, chilly. But like the previous day, I felt like I got an extended lesson in dressage by the end of the day--well worth my standing next to the fence for most of the day.

I arrived a wee bit late (I forgot my cell phone and had to run back to get it...although no one called! still, I have little boys at home, one of whom was sick, so I didn't want to miss a call), so I missed the first few rides, arriving as Eddy Stibbe and Dusky Moon were finishing. Here are some highlights of what I saw:

Leslie Law and Coup De Coeur had a lovely, smooth test, with the best walk I'd seen till then, and really nice transitions. Smooth and straight. However, the first few lead changes happened front to back, which made it look less fluid.

Amy Tryon and Poggio II also had a lovely walk--that horse is fit!--but they weren't straight in the second trot half pass, and had to correct themselves. They changed leads on cue, but Poggio II jumped and swished his tail, obviously not please (but very obedient).

Darren Chiacchia and Windfall 2 were amazing--this pair exuded the most presence of anyone else in the entire dressage field. Big, bold, springy, and uphill, this horse would be welcome on any dressage field. Excellent half-pass--straight, rhythmic, nicely crossed over, and his walk, too was swingy and free--he really stepped under himself. During the second serpentine, though, suddenly Windfall 2 changed leads (he was supposed to counter-canter), and when Darren asked for a correction, the horse kicked out in annoyance. Other than that, however, it was an incredible test, and the pair were leading the pack until Kim Severson showed up. After the test was done, Winfall looked from side to side and nodded his head to all of his adoring fans, saying without words "I KNOW I'm good--and now YOU know it, too!" That's one self-assured horse. I'm not sure the "look of eagles" applies to dressage, but he certainly knows that he's good--and he expects YOU to know it, too!

After the lunch break, it was interesting that two horses in a row were rattled by the camera--both Hawley Bennet on Livingstone and Lesley Grant on Eight Saint James Place had disobediences which were caused by trotting towards or by the camera at A. Both of these horses and riders are Canadian. Could there be a link?

Bad Boy Billy, ridden by Ralph Hill, did an impersonation of a reining horse at each stop--probably the most distinct, underneath himself stops I've seen any dressage horse do. He had a good, solid test, including a strong, swingy walk, until the reinback, where he braced and threw his head. Note to self: don't just practice the "sexy" stuff like counter-canter and lead changes!

Better I do it, ridden by Adrienne Iorio-Borden, had a good first part of the test (she may have been the one who did the lightening salute, afraid her horse wouldn't stand). This pair had another "hoppy" lead change--and I have to wonder: is it conformation? communication? timing? the electric atmostphere? or something else entirely?

It was obvious that the crowd was pulling for last year's victors, Kim Severson and Winsome Adante. They had perhaps the smoothest, most consistent test I witnessed during the two days of dressage. One thing I noticed: before they even entered the arena, Kim took "Dan" past--then around--the cameraman to the side, as well as close to some children who were running scores and other camera operators. She prepared him well, both before and during the test. While her horse's extended trot wasn't as big or impressive as Windfall 2's, he was smooth, obedient, and fluid, using his hind end really well. They had the cleanest lead changes of anyone, making it look easy and fluid. When they were done, the crowd roared--everyone knew it was a solid test.

I'm sorry to have missed Australian Andrew Hoy's ride yesterday, because what I saw today was quite impressive. While he wasn't completely square on his halt, this horse had a wonderful, light, bouncy gait, and he and Andrew were "on". Smooth, obedient, and with some real energy, their only real fault other than the start was at the end, when the horse gave a tiny buck at the last lead change.

Poor Let It Rain (such an appropriate name for today!) and "Buck" Davidson didn't have a particularly strong ride--and I use that term purposefully. They simply weren't "on", and I got the impression that the horse was holding back. They had a fair test (obedient, but not impressive) until the reinback, at which point the horse reared, and it was downhill from there. This was right in front of the camera at A--do you suppose the horse is Canadian?

Phillip Dutton had three rides in the last two days, and this was the only one I got to see--which was a pity, for this ride, the last one today, was quite impressive. Nova Top started out a little "jiggy" at the halt, but got down to business with some really nice trot work. His walk, too, was swingy and ground-covering, but he, too, changes leads first in front, then behind a step later. His second serpentine was better, though.

I know that, as a relative newcomer, I can only see what I can see--that is, what my untrained eyes can see--it makes me feel pretty good to know that, based on my sketchy notes, I would have placed the pack fairly similarly to where they are now, so I feel good about my gut instincts. You can see the leaderboard at the main Rolex link to the right.

What I learned today:

*Being straight cannot be over-rated.
*A good walk is really hard to achieve.
*ALL horses need preperation for any change if it is to look smooth--even if that preparation is getting straight!
*A good downward transition is beautiful.
*Dressage riders need to practice everything, nut just the hard stuff.
*A forward going, obedient horse can beat a big-moving, showboat who isn't consistent

Since we had such a long lunch break, and since there were so many of the riders who were signing books, etc., I couldn't resist joining the crowd. Feeling like a groupie, I got my Life in the Galloping Lane signed by Karen and David O'Conner, and while they signed I asked if it was hard for them to work so closely together as a married couple. Karen insisted they really didn't work that closely, since David was now doing so much with USEF and administration now. David just emphatically said "No!". :-) They had to be efficient, because there were hundreds of people in line, but they were so incredibly kind and gracious.

Jim Wofford signed his recently re-published Training the Three-Day Event Horse and Rider, and I mentioned to him that I thoroughly enjoyed his "blog" coverage of the olympics (and I told him about my own feeble attempt). He said that he was collecting all his weblogs from various equestrian events, and he was going to publish them. Something to look forward to. Someone in front of me brought a book for her daughter, who was taking LSATs, I think. Jimmy smiled at him and said, "We have a name for people like you: Paypal!" He was witty, fun, and asked ever single person for his/her name and the horse's name, too--then he personalized his book with the information. Having skimmed the book, I'm thrilled; so much to learn, and from such an amazing, kind, and intelligent author!

Bruce Davidson, who was somewhat instrumental in my desire to jump over large, solid obstacles, as he was featured in a lovely book in the late 70's, was on hand as well. I just remember how in this book he made jumping cross country look like SO much fun! I didn't have anything for him to sign other than a fleece ear warmer, but he obliged. The woman in front of me asked him what he thought about the shortened version of the three day, and his answer seemed to be, at first, a bit surprising: he said he wanted the powers that be to research it, and to come to an informed, pragmatic conclusion--and that whatever was best for the sport was good for him. He wasn't afraid of change. Bravo to Bruce!

I also had my ear-warmer signed by Darren Chiacchia, who was so busy with his younger adoring fans he had no time for questions. Ah, the young turks. I can only hope that one day he'll be as gracious and kind as Bruce Davidson, Jimmy Wofford, and the O'Conners, who obviously love their sport, their horses, and, by association, the fans who allow the sport to continue.

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