I was terribly excited for this year’s Festival of Champions, the USEF National Dressage Championships. I was excited mostly because they’re inherently exciting, but also because my team qualified four horses, with their three riders, for the various Youth championships, not to mention Michael’s qualifying Ella for the WEG Selection Trials. I was also excited because I was taking advantage of being 20 minutes from Michael’s to bring Fiero along for training, to get some lessons and have something to do.
But mostly, I was excited because I wouldn’t actually have all that much to do. Michael’s wondergroom, Jenn, takes impeccable care of Ella. My girls, at this point, are all quite self-sufficient. All I have to do is show up and coach them and then hang out at Gladstone, one of my absolute favorite places, right?
Yeah. That was dumb.
First, let’s get real. This is the NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS. There is nothing relaxing about this. The stakes are high. The nerves are up. And it’s a Team year, which means everything is BIG.
Next, while my girls are AWESOME, and I really mean that, they’re also all first-timers. They all needed to see where everything is, get the lay of the land, and then keep it together when things happen, like, hypothetically speaking, for example, their moron coach were to misread the schooling schedule and then have the Technical Delegates come flying in with their hair on fire to chew us out for schooling in the show rings before we were allowed to do so. Hypothetically.
Then there’s just trying to get it all done. Michael’s awesome staff is minding Fiero’s feeding and turnout schedule, but I’ve still got to find the time to ride him, plus school everyone, plus braid for the jog, plus be clean periodically in case I run into someone of Actual Importance, in front of whom I should not be stinky/mud-splattered/etc. We go to these things to network and catch up with our friends, too, and I’m worried about fitting it all in.
And mostly, it’s being solid for my wonderful, brilliant, and ultimately very green teenage girls to lean on. They all handle stress a little differently—and all quite well—but knowing how to support each of them. Not only have they never done this before, but I’ve never done it with them, and being a coach is not just about teaching riding lessons—it’s knowing whose butt to kick and whose hand to hold, and when.
I need not have worried about them today. Even when I tried to get them eliminated, all three kept their cool, rode well, and were totally on top of their game for the trot up, passing with flying colors, but also looking totally polished. We had dinner at a diner, a New Jersey tradition, with laughter and joking around galore, but I know there will be some nervous energy to burn tomorrow, and the girls don’t even show until Friday.
I had a few quiet moments to myself this morning, dropping off shavings in the main barn at Gladstone for Michael’s two horses. It was dark and silent, horses who’d moved in the day before munching and breathing, a cool mist in the air. I realized that, even with all the stress and chaos, I was still excited to be here. Gladstone has always been sacred for me, and this year is no exception. Steffen Peters’ crew is stabled next to Michael’s, and Ella is in a stall that, unlike most of the stalls in Hamilton Farm’s hallowed halls, is not named for some famous equine. The morning quiet didn’t feel like the calm before the storm—it felt like the moment in between the dimming of the house lights and the first notes of the symphony, when the musicians inhale and put bow to strings. It felt like the beginning of something big.
Here we go!