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June 20, 2014

The Hunter/ Jumper Intern Takes A Trip To Dressage Land

Intern Ann Glavan didn't know much about dressage beyond foam fingers, but she enjoyed a speedy education at the U.S. Dressage Festival Of Champions. Photo by Sara Lieser.

There were a few things I expected when I signed on to intern at The Chronicle of the Horse. I figured I would be covering and writing about a whole lot of shows, and since I had experience both competing in and covering hunter/jumper shows, I assumed those would be the shows I wrote about.

So when Sara Lieser, managing editor at the Chronicle, asked if I wanted to go with her to cover the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions, I figured she either A. had me confused with someone who knew more about dressage than what they’d learned off the “Colbert Report” in 2012, or B. was losing it and should seek medical attention immediately.

After assuring me of her mental competency, Sara informed me the other person scheduled to cover the show with her wasn't able to go, so she needed someone to fill in. I felt a need at this point to send her my dressage résumé, which along with the video tutelage of Stephen Colbert included a walk-trot dressage test at a summer camp when I was little, and watching one night of freestyles at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival while I was there covering the hunters and jumpers at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla., this past winter.

Basically, I was trying to convey that I may be a hair shy of veritable-dressage writing expert.  

Sara assured me that it would fine, she would coach me through it, and I would get to see the U.S. Equestrian Team headquarters in Gladstone, N.J., which has all kinds of wonderful jumper history I could appreciate. So I went home, packed my bags and set out for dressage land!

Devon Media
Before going to the U.S. Dressage Festival Of Champions, intern Ann Glavan (center with the hat) was much more comfortable with her hunter/jumper media peers (from left: Harry Wendt and Vicci Valenti of The Book LLC, Mollie Bailey of the Chronicle, Emily Riden of Phelps Sports, and photographer Amy Dragoo) at hunter/jumper shows such as Devon.

This dressage land I speak of is a magical little place for more reasons than one. Having never experienced anything but hunter/jumper shows, the fact that every rider at the Festival knew exactly when they were going in the ring down to the minute was a bit mind blowing. I remember when my parents would ask me what time they should come to watch me show my hunter, and they were lucky if I was able to give them an estimate within three hours! It was usually more like “Ummm, morning I think? But maybe afternoon…”

Not only were there scheduled ride times, there were scheduled BREAKS. To my fellow hunter/jumper readers, let me explain: Breaks are these wondrous 15- or 20-minute periods where nobody is in the ring, and not because there’s a hack or test going on somewhere that has everything held up—it’s a PLANNED break! Oh the joys of sitting in a chair for lunch instead of stuffing fries in my mouth between the 47th and 48th horses in the B section of the Medal—that was a dressage perk I very much appreciated.    

Another discovery I made in dressage land is that these people are probably single-handedly keeping companies who make elevator music in business. This is the land of soft jazz and easy listening, my friends—sometimes punctuated by the odd violin cover of Katy Perry or instrumental Michael Buble—but for the most part the music coming out of the loudspeakers made it sound like the whole Festival was waiting on hold at somebody’s office. 

There was one horse’s music tastes I could appreciate (and knew a little history on thanks to a certain comedian). During their freestyle, Rafalca and Jan Ebeling piaffed to the beat of OMG by Usher featuring will.i.am. We have established that I know next to nothing about this sport, but I had heard of Rafalca and seen the foam fingers she made famous. I just didn’t know she was such a hip and happening mare when it came to her music preferences!

Rafalca Space Suit
Intern Ann got to meet Rafalca, the only dressage horse she knew before heading to the U.S. Dressage Festival Of Champions.

I ended up getting to go back to the barns at Gladstone and meet Rafalca and Jan for a piece we wrote about Rafalca’s super stylish compression suit. That was a lot of fun, and I got to chat with Jan and his wife, Amy, about the only thing I knew about dressage, which was their horse!

All in all, I was blown away by the things I saw horses and riders do at the Festival, and not just by the big movements like the pirouette and piaffe. I know for a fact I did not have the patience to master FEI pony tests when I was that age—I much preferred running my pony around disorderly short stirrup courses, a seat-of-the-pants riding mentality that really didn’t impress hunter judges and certainly wouldn’t have won any ribbons in dressage.

I also really admire the perfectionism the riders had for their tests, with all winners, amateur and professional alike, listing movement after movement they thought they could have done better. It’s a level of discipline in expectations I have assuredly not reached in my riding career. There are no discussions with trainers where I say, “I wish we had been a touch more collected in the corner before our two-tempis.” It’s more like, “We made it around a whole course with only one spectacular chip—that deserves cake!”

Looking ahead to the rest of my internship with the Chronicle, I can easily say I wouldn’t mind another weekend dressage expedition—that’s some fancy-prancing even a hunter bum can appreciate!  

Ann Glavan is an editorial intern for The Chronicle of the Horse. Originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Ann grew up competing at A circuit shows in the hunter and equitation divisions, first on her pony Is A Belle and more recently on her horse Happy Go Lucky. Ann interned for Phelps Media Group during the 2014 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival before joining the Chronicle team for the summer. She currently attends the University of Missouri and is studying journalism and economics.            

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