Thank you to The Dressage Foundation's Debbie McDonald Fund for Pacific Northwest FEI Riders for making this adventure possible for me and my wonderful Harrold S!
Festival of Champions 2022 with Harrold S is the absolute highlight of my competition career thus far. After months of hard work at home, we traveled to Lamplight as the number one ranked combination in the Developing Grand Prix division. We had an amazing week of training with Jan Ebeling prior to and during the competition, adding just a bit of polish to our work, and finished the week as National Champions. None of this would have been possible without the incredible support of The Dressage Foundation’s Debbie McDonald Fund for Pacific Northwest FEI Riders.
Organizing shipping was a huge headache, and the group I traveled with joked that getting the horses there would be the most stressful part of the whole thing. Luckily, that was true! One week before the horses needed to arrive at Lamplight, we finally got a driver and trailer organized, and Harrold was able to travel in comfort on an air ride trailer with a box stall. I kept an AirTag on his shipping halter to keep track of his journey; he traveled remarkably well, and I flew in to Chicago and met him on August 21st. I had enough time for a light ride in the snaffle that evening, and he was full of energy – a total wild man! I hacked and stretched him on Monday and Tuesday before my mom and Jan arrived Tuesday afternoon.
On Wednesday, we got to work! Jan had us do a lot of transitions to work on throughness before getting to pirouettes and piaffe/passage. The biggest weakness we have in the Grand Prix work is the piaffe/passage, particularly the transitions in and out, so we did a lot of work on shortening the passage. A shorter, quicker passage makes it easier to get into the piaffe, and a piaffe that travels a little more keeps Harrold from sitting so much that he has to ‘climb’ to get back into the passage. This will still be our homework going forward, but the little improvements in the training at Lamplight made significant progress in our tests during the week. After our training with Jan, we had a little break before the jog; Harrold was accepted!
Thursday was another training day. We kept the session fairly short to save Harrold’s energy for the show day on Friday. The training was amazing; we had some super pirouette work, focusing on Harrold not taking over and making the turns too tight, as well as some very good work on the piaffe and passage transitions.
Friday was competition day. We went for a gallop in the morning to keep him loose and fresh, and then I spent the day mentally preparing for the Inter 2. A solid test with no mistakes and only a few bobbles landed us in second place on a 70.980%! I was so happy with my perfect boy!
We did a light school on Saturday, and I spent the rest of the day watching the rest of the competition. With Jan, we worked again just lightly on the piaffe and passage, ending on a positive and playful note.
Sunday, our final competition day, we went for an early morning hack. Harrold was super fresh and excited, plenty of energy for the Developing Grand Prix in the afternoon. We put in another solid test with only one bobble in the first piaffe transition, again finishing second on a 69.250%. Going second to last in the class put us in a great position, and the scores were tight until the very end of the last test. When the final score was posted, my group went wild as we realized Harrold and I had just won the national title. It felt totally unreal and is a moment I will never forget.
I was so fortunate to have an amazing support group with me at Lamplight. My mom flew in to help with grooming and care, and my business partner and primary home coach, Amanda Olson, flew in with one of our lovely clients to help on the ground and provide additional support. Another home coach, Sven Smienk, was also there to help on the ground and head up our cheerleading squad, and a few other friends in the area were able to come visit and support us as well. Harrold and I have a fantastic team behind us.
Winning a National Champion title is of course the best way possible to have ended our week at Lamplight, but there were two other highlights that made the week better than I ever could have imagined:
Watching all levels of horses and riders, from the Children and Pony divisions and Four-Year-Olds all the way to the Senior Grand Prix, was so inspiring. The depth of talent in horses and riders in US dressage is spectacular!
All of the competitors were so supportive of one another; it made for such an incredible competition atmosphere. I have never before been at a competition with such genuine camaraderie among the riders.
Our barn family planned a very warm welcome for our return to High Hill Farm in Mount Vernon, Washington: there were banners and glittery unicorns on the fence, a giant unicorn balloon, and a congratulations ice cream cake in the fridge. Harrold and I have met with the Skagit Herald reporters for an article about our success, multi-Emmy winning reporter, Chris Cashman, for KING 5 TV for a spot on the 5:00 news, and I’ve been invited to speak at the Rotary Club of Sedro Woolley about our training and success in October.
Winning this championship is a major turning point in my career; I am fortunate to have a horse with such talent who is also so reliable and steady in competition. I am looking forward to making our CDI large tour debut in just a few months! I am forever grateful to The Dressage Foundation for their support; this was an experience of a lifetime and just the beginning of what promises to be an exciting career with my wonderful Harrold!