Thursday, Jul. 25, 2024

Riding The Emotional Roller Coaster At Festival Of Champions



I recently shared a meme on Facebook that said, “The more you do, the more you fail. The more you fail, the more you learn. The more you learn, the better you get.” My client, Barb Ward, kindly sent it back to me on Wednesday as a way of reminding me that even with the ups and downs, there is always growth.

So far my U.S. Dressage Festival Of Champions has been exactly that—a bit of an emotional roller coaster! I had a challenging warm-up on Tuesday for the Prix St. Georges but went into the show ring and had a really nice test. It was a little bit shocking to be honest because I didn’t think I was going to do so well. I placed sixth in the class with a 67.73 percent. On Wednesday my warm-up for the Intermediaire I was much improved, but Audi got behind my leg after the first half of the test, and it was downhill from there, well actually uphill since he reared, and we had to retire.


Audi and I finished sixth in the Prix St. Georges. Mark Donaldson Photos

I am not one to shy away from a challenge, but it’s really hard to talk yourself up when something goes so epically wrong in the context of a national championship. I am also not naïve—I know that I am riding a quirky and tricky horse in an intense environment that tests both of our nerves. It’s why I’m here, to learn, to grow, to become better. I’ve tweaked my approach to Audi the past two days, so I’m interested to see how the freestyle goes today.

In an effort to get out of my own head I took some time to watch the entire jog for the young horse classes, which I find fascinating. I am always working to develop my eye and understanding for breeding. I don’t aspire to breed horses, but I do aspire to continue to ride nice ones, and I think there is nothing better than looking at horses when they are young, and if you can, continue to follow their progress as they mature.

DavidZeiglerSaladine STC_MarkDonaldson

Watching the jog is a good way to evaluate young horses and develop your eye. David Ziegler and Saladine STC pictured.

In my opinion, the strongest class at the show is the 4-year-old class. The quality of horseflesh, riding and training is top. You can easily see that there are many horses in that group who should, for all intents and purposes, mature into FEI horses. The even connection, throughness, rideability and uphill way of going is remarkable for such youngsters, some of whom were backed this year.

You also see the products of a well thought out breeding and training program shining through with horses being ridden, owned and bred by the same person. I can’t begin to emphasize how difficult that is. I don’t want people to read this and think that it’s easy; it’s absolutely not. However, it is possible—you just have to educate yourself so you know what you’re doing and also get a little lucky.



Amateur rider Lucy Tidd is competing with her lovely 5-year-old Kayla.

It will be fun to see how things come together on Saturday for the second leg of competition. Until then, I’m going to enjoy the cool, dry air we are having, watching the youth ride their ponies in the warm-up ring alongside the senior riders and horses, and I’m going to remember that at the end of the day we are all in this to try our best and accept that sometimes that has to be just as important as winning.


I’m coaching Megan Peterson for the young riders championship.

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.




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