One of the very positive things that I was privileged to experience in April of this year was a trip to Vegas with two incredibly good friends to a) celebrate my making it through four decades on this planet and b) see the FEI World Cup of Dressage.
The trip had been planned last November when all three of us were in happy, solid places professionally and personally, but by the time April rolled around, we were all in very different places to be sure. Undeterred, we all met up and trundled off to Vegas, arriving late in the evening before Thursday’s Grand Prix.
Lauren and Sara were old pros at the whole international competition scene. As an FEI rider, and someone who spends the winters in Florida, Lauren treated the trade show as a reunion with riders, trainers, and other professionals from across the country. We could hardly turn around without her running into another friend – usually someone she blissfully shared the winter with in Florida. Sara, on the other hand, as the Managing Editor for The Chronicle of the Horse, has covered every major equestrian competition you can think of. WEG? Yep, she’s been there. Olympics? Sure, old hat. World Cup? She’s probably lost track of how many she’s attended.
On the other hand, I was a little star struck, although I really did try to hide it. The only time I slipped was when Sara caught me surreptitiously taking a picture of Carl Hester while we were waiting for our lunch at the food trucks.
Once the afternoon of Grand Prix started, we were all equally captivated. There were the expected (but nonetheless breathtaking) rides of people like Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro and Edward Gal on Glock’s Undercover. But there were the unexpectedly lovely rides of Inessa Merkulova on Mister X.
I think I’ve often wondered what I – a lowly mid-level rider – can gain from watching these greats. After all, they’re all so strong, so subtle, and so accomplished that its hard to even see how they’re achieving such amazing feats of piaffe, passage, temps and pirouettes.
We were lucky to have seats low enough to the arena to be very close to the action, and because of the steep angle of the stadium seating, we had an almost birds eye view of the rider’s hands for much of their ride. I found myself staring at hands. Hands which I always assumed stayed perfectly positioned, just above the withers, 4 inches apart form each other, the whole ride. What I saw was the subtle give of an outside rein in the corners and through the half-pass. I saw the even more subtle hold of a half-halt. And I saw the all-important give at the right times. It was more beneficial than I would have expected to just watch hands.
Obviously, the trip was about more than just watching hands. There were amazing highlights (Valegro! Gunter Seidel dressed as Elvis!) and moments that reminded you that even the best riders in the world have bobbles (like Verdades spooking at the World Cup itself, as it glittered at the corner of the ring).
Most importantly, this trip came at the right time to lift my spirits, help me realize that friends are the most important thing we can cultivate in this world, and to keep the fire lit in my belly to continue to pick away, little by little at my dressage goals. After all, even Carl Hester didn’t emerge into this world the perfect rider…