While my broken hand changed my plans regarding the U.S. Dressage Finals, it did not cancel them, because I had two students qualified in the amateur and open Grand Prix divisions. And when you have students at that level, you go, broken or not!
In addition to being exceptionally good riders on wonderful horses, Abe Pugh and Jenn Drescher are also some of my favorite humans, and getting to spend time with them is always a pleasure. And my favorite thing about big shows like national championships is that everyone from all over the country gets together in one place, so it’s an efficient way to see friends from everywhere and catch up.
The finals are just a splendid horse show. They get to pull from all of the A teams from show management and volunteer crews around the country: the best show secretaries, the best ring stewards, the best technical delegates, the best press corps and media coverage, the best of everything. It means the show runs like a well oiled machine, and that is always a joy.
And while I’ve been to big CDIs and shows in Europe, there is something magical about this one. The venue is phenomenal and dressed to the nines between the previous week’s National Horse Show and the impending winter holidays. Lexington, Kentucky, itself is a real city, with lovely restaurants, great hotels and plenty for the non-horsey to do. The best vendors in the country are there, so the shopping is fantastic. And it combines everything we love about the big shows with the little magic stories—folks riding non-traditional breeds, amateurs with real jobs and miracle stories—all in one big, high pressure, thrilling place. It’s a combination of inspirational good riding and reminders of why we, out of all the horse sports, picked dressage—because it’s a sport with so many different levels at which to play. There’s something for everyone.
I was grateful for those stories because it helped keep my head out of my own butt. Idleness does not become me under the best of circumstances, and this thing with my hand has been pretty freaking miserable. Pain management has been a real challenge, and though I seem to be on the other side of it now, it’s meant a lot of time fuzzy on painkillers, unable to move, fearful of getting my heart rate up because of swelling, and just generally really, really mad. My competitive hackles couldn’t help but be raised watching the classes in which I would’ve competed, knowing how special Elvis is, and knowing how well we could have placed were we there.
But seeing folks who scrimped and saved to get to the training level championships, or hearing the cheers for the folks who came from far away, helped me keep it all in perspective. This is a two-month inconvenience, not a permanent challenge. How lucky I am to have my amazing group of employees at home, who are so competent and so capable, to keep both my business and my horses going while I’m out.
It was a healthy dose of perspective and a nice little getaway. I got to see some of my favorite people on the planet, and my riders did a terrific job. I enjoyed some bourbon, froze my butt off, answered 3 trillion questions about my hand, coveted a Kentucky Hot Brown (SO not keto!), had my cast decorated with sparkly things (when in DQ Rome…) and generally had a great time. And now it’s back home for four more weeks of thumb twiddling, as I can move my thumb without hurting the rest of my hand, waiting for the pins to come out and life to start getting back to normal.
Lauren Sprieser is a USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing The Elvis Syndicate’s Guernsey Elvis, Beverley Thomas and her Ellington, and her own Gretzky RV and Ojalá with hopes of one day representing the United States in team competition. Read more about her at SprieserSporthorse.com, or follow Lauren Sprieser on Facebook and Instagram.