On what had to be one of the most incredible April mornings in history, I made my way to the Kentucky Horse Park to see the second day of dressage. I was able to situate myself on the corner of the volunteer area (which, btw, was WAAAAY too small for all the volunteers), and by zooming to the max, I got some good pictures (which I will post when I get home, I hope).
My first observation: Kim Severson is an incredible, consistet rider, and she gets incredible, consistent rides out of her horses. This time, she wasn't paired with "Dan" but with a relatively new mount, Royal Venture. Kim sits tall in the saddle, but she didn't hold her hands as wide as she did w/ "Dan". Just as with Winsome Adante, though, Kim and Royal Venture were workmanlike and consistent--which, in eventing dressage, means a whole lot. Many of the low scores today were because of loss of concentration (on the part of the horse or the rider), not preparing, missed cues, anticipation, or simple, tiny disobediences.
Kim must have concentration that I can't even begin to fathom--she never lost her focus, never got flustered, and she and her horse were "together" the whole time. Good transitions (esp. downward), very consistent, rhythmic gaits, nice bend in the corners (which she USED to get her horse "together")...the worse fault I could see was a bit of tail swishing at the second counter-canter lead change. Apparently, the judges agreed, for they led most of the day.
I'll describe some of the other tests I witnessed soon, but I want to talk about the ride that unseated the champions: Darren Chiachia and Windfall 2.
I was supposed to go on the coursewalk with Corinne Ashton at 2, but that's also when Windfall was scheduled to go--and so I figured I could catch up with the course walkers; after all, a dressage test is only about 4 minutes long (and I DID catch up, and I was one of the few who completed the coursewalk; the attrition was mighty).
Just like last year, Windfall trotted into the warm up area with more presence than any other horse I saw. The woman next to me gasped on multiple occasions, and I know she wasn't the only one (uh, a few of those gasps might have been mine). Lofty precision, controlled energy....this pair was "on" like they started to be last year, but they lost concentration in the counter canter and Windfall switched leads early.
Not this year, though. The pair was big, professional, and powerful--more than consistent, they were smooth, fluid. BIG airy gaits, really nice transitions, and an obedient partner...these two were incredible. What had been an imposing lead was crushed as Windfall and Darren scored more than five penalty points lower than Kim and Royal Venture.
Other observations: Gina Miles and McKinlaigh were also lofty and big, though they had some hiccups (a hesitant walk/stretch, changing in front during the first counter-canter change). Nonetheless, I really liked this pair, too.
Several horses--Edward 16, Mahogany Chief, and others--"jumped" into the lead change. I know it's a really hard thing for some horses to do. How do you teach a smooth lead change? A couple of the horses--not many--had trouble with counter-canter, too, and I think that more people work on counter-canter than on smooth lead changes--yet I'll wager that judges put a lot of store in a good, obedient, smooth change.
Several of the horses broke stride, either trotting in the walk, or cantering in the trot. It has to be hard to communicate "slow down" or "speed up" but don't change gaits. But almost all of the horses have a really nice control of their gaits in terms of speeding up or slowing down in the trot or canter. I guess that's something that the riders do both in and out of the ring--thus it's reinforced. In a recent Practical Horseman, there's an article about doing dressage in the field/on the trail. Perhaps that's what eventers should do!
A side note: I met two of the people from Matt's Mindless group: Deb, who was working the Trakhener booth (go Traks!), and Matt himself. It was a real pleasure to meet two of the folks who seem to be as nuts for this event/sport as I am.
A second side note: there were some really, really good deals in the trade fair. Honey, don't worry about Christmas this year; I've already taken care of my gifts.....