February 22, 2019
My 2018 WEG Experience
While some will focus their memories of WEG 2018 on challenges resulting from Hurricane Florence and the not yet completed facilities at the event center, I will remember the brilliant performances, the rider emotions, and my own reflections on past and future equestrian efforts. My friend Kathy and I planned our trip a year ago, making the drive from Washington D.C. and staying at a lovely little rental house in Hendersonville, NC. Both of us now focus on dressage, but with eventing in our past, we eagerly looked forward to seeing both disciplines.
The hurricane had little impact on the first four days of dressage and eventing competitions. It’s unfortunate the dressage freestyles were postponed and eventually cancelled. But, we had no complaints. Weather is a factor beyond control, and in a week of hurricane gloom, the slow-moving system afforded us the opportunity to see three days of elite dressage in mostly sunny and dry conditions, and one great day of cross country in cloudy, sometimes drizzle that created good conditions for the horses.
A Silver medal in U.S. Team Dressage; Laura Graves and Verdades achieving Individual Silver in the Grand Prix Special; all four U.S. riders placing in the top 30 and getting to ride in the Grand Prix Special – that was special in itself to see the growth in U.S. dressage over the last decade. But as a dressage enthusiast, when you get to see so many quality rides back to back, you gain an appreciation for the brilliance that separates the great rides from the greatest rides. The brilliance was in the suppleness, the riding between the movements, and the transitions; and it translated into the overall flow and supple power demonstrated by the top five pairs. I found myself watching not only the horses, but also the rider’s hands, their half halts, and their ability to bend in the corner.
There were no bad seats in the well-groomed arena, but we really did have excellent seats. Beyond an excellent view from ‘S’, we were also by the arena entrance and exit. Nowhere were the rider’s emotions more evident! From those new to the WEG arena to the experienced competitors, tears of joy and exaltations of triumph were on display.
Local favorite Julio Mendoza rode his first time in the WEG arena, and he became the first rider to represent Ecuador in Dressage at the WEG. Julio now gets to represent Ecuador in the Pan Am Games for a chance to ride in Tokyo at the 2020 Olympics. He was able to contain the adrenaline and emotions for himself and Chardonnay with a good test (that finished in 35 out of 70 riders), but all that spilled over as he finished. Clearly proud of his horse, with tears of joy and pride, the crowd was jubilant and supportive of what they knew he had accomplished! In a recent article in the Asheville Citizen Times (article link), Julio notes he grew up poor in Ecuador learning to ride on $200 horses and earning money by polishing boots and saddles at the local military academy. Pursuing a higher level of sport, he came to the US. What about that is not inspiring?!
German rider Isabel Werth qualified three horses for the WEG team competition, but she had to select one. Her choice was Bella Rosa, a mare she last competed internationally at the WEG in 2014, where the mare had to be withdrawn after the team competition. She calls Bella Rosa her favorite horse of all time, and for a rider who’s been competing successfully for 25 years, she has a lot to choose from. After her final center line, with impeccable transitions from passage to piaffe to passage leading, she too opened a door of emotions that moved many watching who knew the pair’s story.
The team medal ceremony was worth the wait, and the next day’s Grand Prix Special offered more excellence in the sport. Charlotte Dujardin’s new 9-yr old mare Freestyle showed us all her potential, and Sonke Rothenberger and Cosmo, rising stars for Germany, demonstrated the quality of gaits and work the country is known for. I, and likely many others, left the WEG Dressage arena inspired to reach for our own successes in the sport.
The Eventing dressage was underway concurrent with the Dressage competition, and on the fourth day of WEG competition, Kathy and I were glad to be on the cross-country course. Captain Mark Phillips laid out a compact, technical, and beautiful course that impacted the team and individual standings. The fences were imaginative and beautifully decorated, with horses negotiating sail boats, squirrels, honey bees and turtles.
It’s hard not to be awed by the speed, agility, and power of the top horse and rider combinations on cross country. My riding is rooted in eventing, and while, today, I thrive on the training and process of bringing a young horse through to the upper levels of competition, I once galloped Intermediate courses. At WEG, I was lucky to cross paths with a friend I had spent many hours in the saddle and on the road with in the 90’s, crisscrossing the southeast to compete and train. In a matter of minutes, we were recollecting times past and maybe times to come, as she just purchased a horse after 15 years away from horses.
I don’t know the top names in the sport anymore, but I appreciated the good riding of these top riders. Ingrid Klimke was flawless; her father would be so proud! In her, you could see the true harmony with her special horse Hale Bob. As on any course, there were thrills and spills, but all riders and horses walked away in good health. I think I will stick with Dressage for now, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit to at least thinking about how fun it would be to be back in the jump saddle again on a good horse who knows the thrill of the course and has the desire to gallop and jump in his blood!
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