I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun at a horse show! Good times with good people and a bit of success as frosting on the cake!
Winyamaro was wunderbar in the Grand Prix. I was able to ride him with a much better frame and more self-carriage throughout the test this weekend even though I know we still have a long way to go. Be patient, W fans, he is only 10 years old!
This horse has some serious strong points—the walk being one of them with five scores of “8” on the extended walk and a mix of “7’s and 8’s” on the collected walk. The marks for walk are doubled in every test, so it is not something a rider can scoot past if he/she hopes to be competitive in the long run. W also nails a decent line of flying changes and makes the zigzag look like child’s play when we are rockin’ it, not to mention his proclivity for piaffe and passage. So while I still have lots of little stuff to clean up and make better, this horse is telling me: GET TO WORK. I HAVE WORLDS TO CONQUER, WITH OR WITHOUT YOU.
W does not shirk a daunting task. Lipica was the first World Cup qualifier I rode in this season. Even though this show is outside of my league, Western European League riders can earn points in the Central European League at one show. So a few bold travellers—not excluding yours truly—made the exhausting trip across the continent to cash in on some early season WC points.
Here is the major problem with the WC tour in Europe, Rita: The starts for Grand Prix are always drawn by groups of ranking points, and horses without ranking points have to start first. Now we all know how unbiased and completely objective our dressage judges are, but they do still belong to the human race, so most of them logically have relatively low expectations of horses that start at the beginning of the Grand Prix in a World Cup qualifier.
An unranked horse and rider have to fight like wet, hungry hyenas to create a bit of space for themselves in the top 15 that qualify for the freestyle.
W and I, being totally unranked, started first out of 21 competitors in the Grand Prix at Lipica. Normally I would not take an unranked horse to a WC qualifier. But nobody told W about our handicap, and he blew right through it with a really solid performance in the GP and 66.4 percent. We held first place well into the second half of the starting list and ended up seventh overall. I was pleased as punch!
(W, by the way, does not do wet or hungry. He does cool and sexy, and failure does not press on his world. He leaves the hunger to me because he is too busy perfecting his hairstyle to get concerned about mundane competitive stuff.)
After the GP, the starting list for the freestyle is then drawn in groups of five with the lowest placed horses going first in the freestyle. Another handicap system, Rita. Fortunately, W and I got into the second group of five with our seventh place, and we managed by pure luck to draw a starting place after the midway pause. Everybody wants a start in the last half of the program.
This should all be completely irrelevant in a perfect world where dressage is judged like a sport and the best performance can win on any given day. But even in the year 2010, we still sit on our horses and ride our reputations to the final result. So every tiny advantage helps. Every rider hopes for the latest possible start in the lineup for the freestyle with one exception: NOBODY WANTS TO FOLLOW TOTILAS! Hah.
(Totilas was not in Lipica, so W tried to fill in for him, especially with the Ladies. I could tell W that he will never compare, but he wouldn’t believe me anyway, so let’s not burst his bubble.)
W pulled off a decent score with his incredible P!NK music despite the fact that his jockey made some serious mistakes. WITH OR WITHOUT YOU. It’s nice to have a horse who steps up to the plate on a day when you wish you would have ridden better. W placed fourth in his first ever World Cup qualifier and brought home some valuable points to start the season.
To put this amazing “victory” into perspective for people unfamiliar with the European WC leagues, the highest I have ever placed in a qualifier is third, and that was with Maximus in 2006 when he was ranked 40th in the world at the time. So W is knocking on some serious doors without the advantage of being ranked. Hello.
To put W’s complete levity about our task into perspective, he spent his entire freestyle warm-up conversing with a herd of Lipizzaner Ladies and their foals. The warm-up arena was right next to the broodmare pasture, and let it be known that W took a lot of pride in flexing various muscles for the amusement of the youngsters and their moms. He was WAY too sexy for his shirt.
Fortunately, he centered himself and concentrated on his performance in the show arena despite the fact that I was exhausted by the time we got there. If he could speak, “What?!?” with a shrug of the shoulders would be his response to my threat of a second castration.
I’d like to give you a video record of a young GP horse’s progress in W’s first year of competition. This is a good place to start. Here is a video of the Grand Prix. It’s definitely not perfect, but I’m not afraid to show my mistakes. They are all correctable (like the disaster I produced for the last centerline) with a little time and training. So be forgiving and know that by my standards, this kind of test shows a lot of promise for such a young horse.