June 21, 2009 -- Here's a bit of irony for you: After we spent most of the weekend in the rain at the national dressage championships, the show was cancelled before the last classes in the Grand Prix and Intermediaire divisions--just as the weather cleared.
The ground jury and officials of the Collecting Gaits Farm/U.S. Equestrian Federation Dressage Festival of Champions met during a break in this morning's Young Rider championships to consider the situation. In light of the sloppy footing, they decided to finish Young Riders and then award the other championships on the basis of two legs of competition, rather than three.
Janet Foy, president of the ground jury, said riders were not consulted, noting that depending on their standing in the rankings, some might benefit if they rode, while others might benefit if the show was called off. Management and the judges were concerned because weather radar showed a storm system that looked as if it would keep advancing. (So much for the accuracy of radar; it didn't rain another drop for the rest of the morning and afternoon.)
There were some deep spots and puddles that were evident in the arena as the Young Riders competed, and the fear was that more rain would make things worse.
"Our first priority is for the welfare and safety of the horse," Janet said, noting the footing had "already deteriorated." The USET Foundation's Gladstone facility is slated to host the selection trials for the World Equestrian Games team next year, but if the footing situation can't be changed, Janet said other venues are being considered. Everyone praised the hardworking maintenance staff, though some felt drainage was the issue; others criticized the surface in the indoor arena, where many riders warmed up. There were lots of opinions floating around, believe me!
I spoke with Dr. Rick Mitchell, the FEI veterinarian, who agreed with the decision to cancel. He noted the situation could pose a danger as some horses would try to jump the puddles, and that the ground had gotten more undulating with additional rain. He also cited other issues, such as chafing of horses from equipment rubbing in the rain.
I felt badly for the people who had traveled great distances to come here. But Shannon Peters, the wife of World Cup champion Steffen Peters (who skipped this to go to Aachen), was just as happy to sit out the last segment of the Intermediaire championship, even though she and Flor de Selva had come from California for the occasion.
On the other hand, Jessica Ransehousen, the interim chef d'equipe, was in the camp of those who thought the show should go on. Always outspoken, she has some succinct thoughts on the subject.
I really wanted everyone's input, so I also spoke with Robert Dover, who was very much in evidence offering advice to riders at the show. Robert, a six-time Olympian, is likely to get the U.S. dressage coaching job that has been open since Klaus Balkenhol's contract ended last year.
I felt badly for the folks in the VIP tent, who had a nice Father's Day brunch but nothing to watch except the footing drying in the sun. Talk about anti-climactic....
Now let me catch you up on the competition side of things. Yesterday's highlight was, of course, the Grand Prix freestyle. Leslie Morse, who had won the Grand Prix, the championship's first leg on Tip Top, was favored to continue her run. But it was just the debut of her rockin' freestyle to Annie Lennox and Stevie Wonder, which she hopes to refine as she heads for Great Britain and after that, Europe, to ride with Kyra Kyrklund and then compete.
While Tip Top and Leslie were the most experienced combo in the division, it was neophyte Adrienne Lyle in her first national open championship who won the freestyle. And the victor was not the flashy Felix, but his younger "brother," Wizard, better known as Eddie.
He was the horse on which Adrienne had won the 2008 Brentina Cup (for riders transitioning to Grand Prix), but this was a whole new level. Eddie had been having some water issues in the Grand Prix, so Adrienne cleverly went to work on him before the freestyle.
Her ride to a medley of country western music, most notably, "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" was perfect for someone from Idaho. It looked flashy and lively, even though it was only Eddie's second appearance in a freestyle.
"He was a lot more confident than the first time I took him out (in a freestyle)," said Adrienne, who had double pirouettes and piaffe pirouettes as highlights. As she noted, "it wasn't too over the top," given her level of experience and that of Edde.
I really got a kick out of seeing Adrienne take the blue ribbon. I had asked her coach and mentor, Debbie McDonald, whether she thought Adrienne could win here. This was before the competition, and Debbie brushed off the idea, noting it was Adrienne's first time in the Grand Prix national title meet. Since I had met Adrienne in Idaho when she first came with Debbie as a working student, this was a thrill for me, just seeing how beautifully she has developed. Her score of 74.950 percent was only 0.700 ahead of Leslie, whose effort made her the national champion when today's Special was dropped from the equation. It was the fifth time Leslie had won this title, and the second time with Tip Top. Adrienne got a break in the weather, as the rain got heavier when Leslie went in the class.
"By the time I was going, it got sloggy; the centerline was very tricky," said Leslie, who was surprised the footing held up as well as it did.
"Tip Top did absolutely phenomenal. He was so submissive and so on my aids. Everything I asked for, he did, and he did it with a smile on his face."
Lauren Sammis, on Sagacious HF, also had to deal with heavier rain and was leery of that centerline as she performed to the same Billy Joel medley she used when she won the individual silver at the 2007 Pan American Games.
But she coped beautifully. "The strength of Sagacious is that he can collect anywhere. There's an ease about the way he goes," said Lauren, who finished third in the freestyle.
The most inspiring freestyle ride came from James Dwyer, an Irish working student for Jessica, who is trying to make the World Equestrian Games para equestrian team representing his nation.
I was busy with something else when he started his performance, so I didn't pay attention to who he was. James was having a lovely trip on Orlando to the Riverdance music and I thought he was just another competitor until I saw that he was missing most of his right leg. He lost it to bone cancer, but that hasn't stopped him. This is one impressive guy, who is trying to raise the money to get himself and his horse to Norway this summer for the European championships in his discipline.
Pierre St. Jacques, second in the Grand Prix, was the reserve champ in the division, which he considered a real honor. Leslie's total was 50.963, to 48.281 for Pierre. Sure, the numbers are low, but don't forget the Special was to have been 30 percent of the total.
Was Katherine Bateson-Chandler on a sweep of the Intermediaire championship with Dea II? We'll never know. She won the first two legs over Jan Brons and Teutobod, making a big effort in the Intermediaire I.
While she took the title over Jan, Katherine was disappointed not to ride her freestyle today on Jane Clark's agile mare.
"I hope she would have been as great today as she's been all weekend," said Katherine.
"I believe she would have, but Jan was in fighting form, I could feel him on my heels."
Jan teasingly told her he was waiting for her to make "just one mistake" that might have enabled him to leap the razor-thin margin between them.
Kassandra Barteau, the queen of the Young Riders, sparkled--literally--when she took the title for the third and last time, as she has aged out of the division. Kassie logged an impressive score of 72.368 percent on GP Raymeister, whom she now will move up to the open PSG/I-1 ranks.
She had glitter lightly spread on her face that I thought might have been left over from a party last night but no; she likes it and always wears it. She deserves it.
Kassie lavished praise on Ray, noting, "He was super steady with me, I felt like the whole test flowed together nicely...he was just a little timid about a few of the puddles. I was crying during the anthem. I was so happy." Kassie expressed her gratitude to those who had helped her, including the stallion's owner, Ginna Frantz; her mother, Yvonne Barteau, and Grand Prix rider Cathy Morelli (whose horse, you'll remember, abscessed right before the championships and couldn't compete).
The reserve champ was Meagan Davis on Bentley, one of Kassie's former mounts. Meagan worked with Lendon Gray and Courtney King here; you can't ask for much better training than that.
So much for today's action, and inaction. Let's backtrack to yesterday again for the Brentina Cup, which went to Jocelyn Wiese on Lamborghini, who was fourth in the final class, where the top four all had percentage scores of 64 and change...
"There were a couple of mistakes I wish I hadn't had, but I was still able to recover and come out on top," said Jocelyn, who feels her victory is a signpost for her career.
"It's showing me I'm going in the right direction toward the Grand Prix," said the former employee of Hilltop Stable in Maryland, who is taking a break to finish her studies in government and politics at the University of Maryland, perhaps as a prelude to law school. The reserve champ from that division was the consistent Alyssa Eidbo and Johnny Cash, who is not black, as one might expect from his name (Johnny was "The man in black") but rather a white-faced chestnut.
Junior champion Rianna Porter got the worst of the rain aboard Romax Foldager. She was so drenched she looked as if she had been for a swim, but noted, "It didn't really affect anything. I think I actually benefitted from the downpour, because it kind of drowned everything out and we had to focus more...to make sure he's not stepping in a huge puddle and be more aware of where he was going." Lauren Knopp was the reserve champ with Rho Dance.
Now, about the fish picture. The big wooden fish was on the cross-country course at the Olympics in Hong Kong and came to the USET headquarters as a gift for USEF Executive Director of Sport Programs Jim Wolf, an avid fisherman. The USET's Patrick Lynch, who did yeoman work aboard the tractor during this taxing weekend, forklifted the fish to the ring, just outside the arena, where it presided for the final day of the show. It must have felt right at home, with announcer Brian O'Connor playing all kinds of rain songs. Since I was living "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," I was right in time with the music on the SS USET, as Brian called it.
That's it for me from here. The gallery from the event will be up this week; I'll try keeping the rain photos to a minimum. I'm taking a break for awhile, but will be back with you later this summer.