It’s an absolute honor to be here at the 2020 U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions. I’m also flattered that The Chronicle of the Horse asked me to blog about my experience here this week since they aren’t able to send a press team due to restrictions caused by COVID-19.
This is my second visit to the Festival of Champions. I competed here last year in the 4-year-old championship with my horse Knockout SSF. The Lamplight Equestrian Center is a gorgeous venue with a unique layout that makes the experience feel special.
The vibe this year is a little quieter—certainly there are fewer people since there are no spectators—but the sense of pride is high. Everyone is respectful of each other, everyone is wearing a mask, and every single person here came to do their very best during an exceptionally difficult year. You see top riders from all over the country—there is no doubt that this a national championship and that the classes are filled with exceptional horses and riders.
U.S. Dressage Federation President Lisa Gorretta is serving as TD and has been keeping a watchful eye on everyone to make sure we have the best show experience possible. Teresa, Monica, Kathy and Debbie are running an efficient show office like a well-oiled machine. Walter is able to make things fun and crack jokes like he usually does.
The jog went smoothly with many riders opting to have fun with their mask selection—you saw a variety of color and sparkle. We will hear the familiar voice of Nicho Meredith over the sound system when the competition commences at 9 a.m. (CST) when Dawn White-O’Connor enters the ring to kick off the Intermediaire I Championship.
I follow her at 9:09 a.m. with Audi. I am looking forward to the week ahead and am grateful to be here with my husband, Mark Donaldson, my student Megan Peterson who is competing in the Young Rider championship, and Megan’s mother, Regina Peterson. We are surrounded by our friends from Region 1 and are excited to cheer each other on.
Thank you to Kristen Brett and Hallye Griffin from the U.S. Equestrian Federation for making sure that the show goes on. Let’s all do our part to make sure it’s a success!
Chronicle blogger Emily Donaldson is a professional dressage rider and trainer based in Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. She grew up in Pittsburgh and started riding when she was 5. She garnered a well-rounded equestrian education through foxhunting, hunter/jumpers and eventing. At 13, Emily decided to focus on dressage. She received her USDF bronze medal and trained her off-the-track Thoroughbred gelding Thanks A Bunch from first level to Prix St. Georges. After earning a bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of Pittsburgh in 2005, Emily spent the summer as a working student for Courtney King-Dye and then in 2006 with Jennifer Baumert.
In 2007 Emily returned to her hometown of Pittsburgh to pursue a career in fundraising and marketing. She spent eight years working for several influential non-profit organizations while continuing to compete and train. In 2014, Emily married equine veterinarian Mark Donaldson, and she relocated to eastern Pennsylvania to live with Mark and her stepdaughter, Lucy.
She officially launched Emily Donaldson Dressage LLC at that time, and now she starts young horses and trains an enthusiastic group of dressage and event riders, in addition to competing at the FEI levels herself.