This year has been packed with show after show, with a sprinkle of well-timed clinics with Joanie Bolton and Leslie Reid. XO had his competition debut in the spring and very handily proved his reliability at 4th level and PSG again and again throughout the year. We were Reserve Champions in the USDF Region 6 Fourth Level Championship in Auburn, WA, which earned an invitation to the US Dressage Finals in Lexington, KY.
XO's owner, Delight Willing, very generously sponsored the trip for us to go to the finals. What an experience! This was my first trip to the finals, but also my first trip to the Kentucky Horse Park. Though XO loves pretty much everything about showing, one of his favorite parts is going for walks...long, many-mile, multiple-hour-a-day walks. This usually means seeing the same scenery over and over, but not so much at the KHP. The portion of the park which the show was taking place was massive, but was really still just a small bit of the entire facility. To walk at a Lusitano's pace from one end of the dressage show to the other was just under 15 minutes. XO was in heaven.
The USDF staff and every single volunteer I met were like cheerleaders scattered around the show to make sure everyone was having a good day. Sure, they had their tasks to fulfill, but more than anything, they wanted everyone to have a great time and do well. A coffee cart zipped around the stabling area not just with coffee, but buckets of carrots and dog treats. One of the ring stewards, John, made a goal of memorizing all of the rider's names. By the end of day 1, he had spotted XO a handful of times and by then, he knew us from arenas away.
The logistics of getting a horse, all of his equipment, hay, and his rider from Seattle to Lexington (and back!) was monstrous. It would have been impossible to do without the unwavering support and trust of Team XO.
Another logistical challenge...how does one get a horse to perform as he's done all year after being on a trailer for 3 days...?? "XO" and "travel" went together quite well all season, but he'd never travelled across the country then been expected to be at his peak. I'd strategized his work at home to keep him fit and "show-ready," but then gave him a light couple of days before he left. It seemed to work out and he arrived to the show all-business and ready to go!
XO arrived to the KHP on Tuesday morning and was one of the first horses to arrive. In true XO fashion, he doesn't mind much of anything, so long as there are good snacks! We went for a ride in the evening just to walk and get the layout of the arenas. Wednesday, we had a bit more of a structured ride to see how his fared in travel. Remarkably, he felt AWESOME. Not at all tired, loose, happy, and ready for the show to start!
The open show (Dressage in the Blue Grass) ran at the same time as the finals, serving as warm up classes and, if you're riding a Lusitano, "keep busy" classes. We had our best ever feeling test in Friday's PSG. XO has felt green at PSG all season, but this was the test that he felt absolutely ready for FEI. It was an amazing feeling to be at such a competitive, national show and be able to ride a test nearly just by telling him the pattern. Usually this happens for parts of each test, but what a wonderful feeling to be able to rely 100% on the training we've done together and have nearly the whole test feel effortless.
Our Fourth Level Championship was the following day and we drew the first spot in the class. It's always tough to go first in a big championship class, but we went and did our best and had a solid, consistent test. Friday's effortlessness was for Friday and Saturday required me to help him a bit more to get through the trickiness of 4-3. We scored a 65.593% to open the class. We rode for Lilo Fore, Gary Rockwell, and Adrienne Pot, all of which I respect highly and all of whom commented that our tests were well presented and showed proper training. Score-shmore, all of our hard work paid off right then to have those comments!
2016 Results and Highlights
NWDC/USDF Region 6 Championship, Auburn, WA
Reserve Champion USDF Fourth Level Open
Reserve Champion NWDC Fourth Level Open
6th place USDF PSG Open
6th place NWDC PSG Open
US Dressage Final, Lexington, KY
US Dressage Final Championship Fourth Level Open, 12th place, 65.593%
USDF Dressage Horse of the Year
Fourth Level, 15th in the United States, median 68.612%
Piles and piles of Thank Yous to Team XO and congratulations all around on a very successful 2016!