Three years ago, I rode Stromboli in his very first horse trials. He made his unfortunate debut at The Kentucky Horse Park, a show that certainly has a lot of atmosphere. We finished on a dressage score of 47.5. He was completely out of control, which was very much unexpected to me as he had been a pretty steady ride before that point. Luckily he was better for the jumping phases or else I think he would have had to find a new home and new job very quickly.
Last week I returned to the Kentucky Horse Park, the site of Rolex, North America's only 4* event, and the heart and soul of thoroughbred country.
I knew dressage was going to be an issue with Stromboli, it always is. I have been experimenting with everything: warm-up, no warm-up, day before warm-up/practice test, galloping, not galloping, jumping tack, hacking, wearing him out on the lunge line, coaching, not getting coaching, practicing the test at home a lot, not practicing dressage much at all. Nothing worked. He was horrible in warm up, and I almost scratched from the event. I even had emergency coaching from my sister's (who lives in Dallas) coach. She told me I was sitting a "chair seat." Seriously, it had gotten that bad. After hours of atrocious riding, 45 minutes of lunging, and generally dealing with a hateful and angry animal, my body was completely destroyed and I was feeling extremely defeated. But then something interesting happened....we went into the ring......AND things started to get a little better. For the first time, Stromboli was more rideable in the ring than he was in the warm up. I could think about my figures, my transitions, and I felt calm. We still got a 45.5, a few points worse than usual at the training level.
The next morning was show jumping. I forgot my medical arm band and had to make an emergency trip back to the trailer in the campground to get it. While I was driving there a golf cart hit my truck. I was frazzled. I only had a 15 min warm-up. Stromboli was back to normal, he was jumping well. We went in the ring after only jumping 5 jumps and the oxer twice. My round was smooth as butter....he was perfect, it felt easy. He was adjustable, we got our strides and lines. It was a double-clear!
The cross-country course looked tough. The water looked especially tough with a downhill approach to a large roll top, then a bending line to a real drop into the water. Stromboli left the start box and was right on the entire time. We blasted through the course with the second fastest time in our division! Although we didn't finish in the ribbons due to competitiveness of the division, I was more than thrilled with his performance and so happy to have another safe and confidence building event under our belts.