The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games are now part of history—they certainly were an eye opener for me, in so many ways.
Having competed at the Kentucky Horse Park for years, I was simply dumbfounded by the scale of transformation which took place in preparation for this huge event. I also marveled at the huge improvement in the footing. I still remember having to compete on something that felt like concrete, and now the rings are full of spectacular high-tech footing. It's incredible!
In between taking care of Ralee and coaching Robin I was able to ride my ancient Radio Flyer bike to a number of venues. Here are a few things which I observed:
The Opening Ceremony was enjoyable, and the stands were packed. There was a young Native American in the first exhibition who was certainly "eye candy," but riding was not his strong suit, and let's just leave it at that. Next came the Saddlebreds and their LOOONNNG tails. My hands were itching for a pair of scissors (l like short, thick tails), followed by my favorites, the Thoroughbreds—love them racers!
I do not recall all of the exhibitions. Some were fun, some a little too long (too much opera). The Friesian quadrille was one of the highlights, especially since my friend Nicole Gluesenkamp was riding in it—great job, Nicole.
I was surprised by Totilas' rather diminutive size (or Edward Gal is taller then I expected), as well as the stallion's above average strength and stamina.
I was struck by Mistral; he is HUGE and Laura Berchtolsheimer is a tiny little thing, but she's doing a great job. I also liked how her parents were deeply involved during the warm-up.
I LOVE the relationship between Fuego and his rider. Juan Manual Muñoz Diaz was always quick with his aids, his correction AND his praise, even during his tests—way to go!
While watching Ravel, I enjoyed the logical warm-up and the camaraderie between Steffen Peters and his groom.
And about Sterntaler-UNICEF, I thought it was wonderful to watch that the entire family of his rider, Matthias Rath, was there to help groom, take off wraps and switch his helmet (yes, this young German rider was one of only a handful of riders wearing one during his warm-up) to his top hat.
I didn't get to watch the individual final, but was able to watch some of the warm-up jumps. Jeez! They were larger then some small cars! During the days prior to the actual competion, I noticed some very interesting bit combinations and no helmets.
I was able to watch some of the dressage (some really good and some, not so much) and the final jumping rounds and was deeply impressed by both of the German horse/rider combinations, especially Michael Jung. The overall condition of his horse and the way he rode were outstanding.
As luck would have it, I was able to observe Chester Weber's team just before they started their dressage test (as well as the dressage test itself), and my mouth just dropped. Holy cow, those are some incredible horses. Again, the overall conditioning, as well as their gaits and muscle tone impressed me. I was also able to watch some of the marathon (along with a huge number of spectators) and thought it was demanding, but fair.
Vaulting and Reining:
I know next to nothing about either one of these disciplines, but my luck held as I was able to watch all of the medal-winning rides. What impressed me the most was the fact that the audience was such a huge part of these disciplines. Every effort was rewarded with applause, the atmosphere in the new Alltech Indoor was electrifying and even a novice like myself knew, instantly, who won.
After spending three weeks with the riders, trainers and support teams for the U.S. para-dressage team, I have to say that the U.S. riders are right up there with the rest of the nations. What we desperately need is a larger pool of top quality FEI horses for these riders to win medals.