I successfully completed my first WCHR Professional Finals  and man did I have a great time! We were done showing pretty early in the day on Friday so I was able to go back to the hotel for a few hours and regroup and get myself changed for the big class.
When I returned to the barn around 6:00 p.m., it was obvious that my clients Lisa Arena and Charlene Graham had been hard at work—they tore apart Party City and came back with Ashmeadow Farm-colored pom poms (blue and yellow), some fabulous signs they made to cheer me on, and some blue-ribbon pins that they added my name too and passed out to about 50 of our closest friends that wore them in the stands as part of “Team Amanda.” My friend Tom Brennan and his wife also made me an amazing sign that they held up in the stands!
After a few good laughs it was time for me to head up to the arena to walk our courses. Scott Stewart, Peter Pletcher, John French, Kelley Farmer, Liza Boyd, and I all walked our courses together and went over our plans for the handy round. It was so much fun to be out there together going over our plans—it really felt more like we were a team working together to put on a good show for everyone than it did like we were competitors vying for the title!
After the course walk we went out to climb into the carriage that would be pulled by two draft horses around the ring with the six of us in it. Liza Boyd referred to it as “the princess carriage” because last year that was the favorite part for her daughter Elle, ”watching Mommy drive around the ring in the princess carriage.”
Before I knew it, the time was here to get a quick rundown from Jenny Karazissis about my first horse of the night, Corduroy, and then it was time to climb on and get to know him myself. We drew horses and I think I got lucky in my draw because my horses were fabulous. We were able to school the first horse up in the schooling area for about 10 minutes. I took a few minutes to do some flat work and get to know my horse and then jumped about 10 or 12 jumps and practiced a few lead changes. Then off we went to the ramp down to the arena.
I think I must have been looking slightly intense because minutes before it was time for me to go Brigid Colvin, Tori Colvin’s mother, says to me, “Amanda are you OK? Please smile!” It was perfect that she said that to me because it did help me smile and breathe and relax a little. There was a much more electric energy in the arena than I am used to and it was much louder than I am used to as well. Corduroy seemed totally unfazed and I had a nice smooth round to get me started. Next I had another quick run-down with Carl Weeden about her horse Crack On, my second draw of the night. This ride was a little more nerve-wracking because you are not allowed to school your second horse at all. You get on in the chute and your first trot step is the one into ring.
I ended up loving Crack On! He got better and better with each jump that we did and by the end we felt really comfortable together. I don’t remember my scores exactly but it went well and I was in fourth place after Round 2 but we were all very close together. I really wasn’t thinking at all about points or placings though at this point. I was only thinking of trying to do a good job and mostly trying not to embarrass myself or my team out there in my first pro finals.
Now it was time to go back up the ramp to the schooling area; all six of us went up together, and had a brief moment to school our own horses for the final round, which was a handy round. I chose to ride my customer Susan Darragh’s horse Zidane. I show Zidane in the high performance division and in the USHJA International Hunter Derbies. He and I did our first Derby Finals this August in Kentucky and I knew I could count on him to walk in to the arena even with all the noise and atmosphere and not let me down. He totally delivered!
He was perfect. If I could have changed one thing I would have hand-galloped a little bit more to the last jump but all in all I was really happy with my performance. When I came out of the ring I was in the lead but Liza Boyd, John French, and Scott Stewart still had to go. Liza had an amazing round on Quatrain and went into the lead. Scott and John both had a few little bobbles so I ended up in second to Liza ! Liza and I were so thrilled for each other—girl power!
All the riders had warned me that before the class I would be so tired—it’s a long week at Capital Challenge—but that after the class I would be so pumped up that I wouldn’t be able to sleep Friday night. They were SOOOOO right! I had so many calls, texts, Facebook messages. It was so much fun to talk to everyone that watched from home and fill them all in. The whole experience was just so fabulous—I felt so much love and support.
I’m left feeling totally addicted! I just can’t wait to have another chance to do that class. I have been coming to Capital Challenge for 14 years and it took that long for me to qualify for this class for the first time and I just really hope that I can do it again much sooner than that!
A trainer specializing in hunters, jumpers and equitation, Amanda Steege operates Ashmeadow Farm  out of Far Hills, N.J.