Lexington, Ky.—Nov. 10
Akiko Yamazaki’s been to the Olympic Games, the World Equestrian Games, the Aachen CHIO (Germany), and the U.S. Dressage Festival Of Champions. But when she’s attended those events, her name’s been listed as owner on the entry form.
Here, at the U.S. Dressage Finals, Yamazaki earned her own riding accolade when she won the adult amateur Prix St. Georges title (67.89%) aboard Matrix. She also won the Janine Westmoreland Malone Perpetual Trophy in the process.
“I was really happy with my ride today,” said Yamazaki. “I have my great coach, Francis Verbeek, who came all the way from Holland to help myself and a few fellow Californians. She really made me ride.”
Yamazaki’s Four Winds Farm owns horses for Steffen Peters, including Ravel and Legolas 92.
“With Steffen and the horses that he rides for me, it’s a completely different ballgame, needless to say,” said Yamazaki with a laugh. “I think with him, having done so well, the pressure is so high that he needs to stay up there. I do get a little nervous. For me here, I was all smiles—just to be able to compete here and try to do your best is amazing. It’s a different kind of joy.”
Matrix, a now-15-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding, and Yamazaki have been a team for three years. But the horse started having physical problems a year into his partnership with Yamazaki and required nearly two years off.
“The thought of coming to Kentucky wasn’t really materialized in my mind until later in the season,” said Yamazaki. “I didn’t imagine it until May this year. When he came back from his injury and started coming to the show arena, by the third show I thought, ‘Maybe I could try,’ and then it became a goal. This horse I thought I might have to retire just rose up to the occasion. He seemed really proud of himself, and he seemed to enjoy the experience.”
As part of helping Matrix recover from his issues, Yamazaki pulled his shoes. He now goes barefoot when he’s not being ridden, wears removable hoof boots for daily riding and then gets EasyCare glue-on boots for competitions.
“This was one of the avenues I had to explore for his health to come back,” said Yamazaki. “He had poor feet when I purchased him, and no shoeing could help him. It was like peeling a layer of onions trying to get him fit and sound. I have many people to thank. As I got gone with my ride, I had about 15 texts, including from my vet, saying they all were watching and totally rooting for me.”
Though Ravel is retired now, he lives at Yamazaki’s Woodside, Calif., farm, and she rides him three or four days a week.
“He’s doing fantastic,” said Yamazaki of the horse who won 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games individual and freestyle bronze at this same facility. “I think he’s very much enjoying being the king of my barn. He’s so gentle and kind. If there is a schoolmaster, he’s the ultimate one. Steffen is also my coach, and when you ride a product of his training, it really clicks. Now that I’ve ridden Ravel, I understand why Steffen had such a special bond with him. Not only is he athletically incredibly gifted, but I think his mind is something I’ve never experienced in a horse. I think his IQ is higher than the normal, and he has so much pride in his work.”
Adult amateur Prix St. Georges reserve champion Krista Nordgren (66.22%) also endured her own long haul to Kentucky from Maine with Schando.
“There’s a certain magic to this place,” said Nordgren. “There’s such a thrill to competing in the Alltech Arena. It exceeded my wildest reams to even qualify. Cantering down the centerline for the first time, I actually had tears in my eyes. By the time I finished my ride, I was pretty much bawling from happiness.”
Full results available online. Want more from the U.S. Dressage Finals? Read about Fynn, a PMU rescue competing at Grand Prix with his amateur owner, Pedro, a naughty Appaloosa pony thriving in dressage, and Jim Koford, who came back from a near career-ending injury to win the open Grand Prix.