This blog post originally appeared on my daughter Breanne’s blog “All of the Pretty Things Here” in March 2016.
There are only two emotions that belong in the saddle: one is a sense of humor and the other is patience. John Lyons
The two riders I am following on the Road to Rio 2016 know that statement to be true. A sense of humor and endless patience are required for success with the horse. The show season at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival is now approaching a close; March 3-6 was the eighth CDI (Concours Dressage International) in the AGDF winter season which started in January. For one of the riders, Luis Reteguiz Denizard (Lou to his friends) March 6 was the final date for accumulating points to win an individual spot in his geographic region. For Lou the competition season has been quite a journey.
Lou’s horse Royal Affaire, known as Robbie at home in the barn, has only started to compete at the Grand Prix level last fall. He competed, representing Puerto Rico, very successfully at the Pan Am Games in Toronto last summer but that was at the Prix St. George level which is one step below Grand Prix. The step up to Grand Prix is a big one as it includes the piaffe (trot in place) and passage (trot that appears to be in slow motion) and the one tempis (changes of canter leg every stride). There are many horses who never reach the Grand Prix level as they cannot execute these very difficult movements. Robbie is now 14 years old and waiting for the Olympics in 2020 would be leaving it too late so Lou took up the challenge and moved Robbie up to try for an individual place to go to Rio. Lou and Robbie competed at all of the CDIs. “Robbie is going well with the exercises in the Grand Prix but he needs confidence in the show ring. Trying to get the scores for the Olympic qualification; to get those percentages and also get him confident in the show ring, we couldn’t get that soon enough.” Lou explains.
Horses are not just “horses”; they all have unique personalities and temperaments. There are Oscar winning actors who are terrified of having to get up, without a costume and a character and make a speech in public. It is the same for some horses. Some like nothing better than to be out in the show ring and the center of attention and others find it very intimidating. Robbie is one of the latter “He is visually sensitive and noise sensitive. If he suddenly sees or hears something that doesn’t make sense to him that triggers his flight instinct.” Lou told me. But with a lot of patience over time Lou has helped him overcome this flight response. Now Robbie is able to go into the big ring and not be startled into a leap into the air or an attempt to leave the arena. With each show this season he improved in his performance. When I saw the Grand Prix test on March 4 it was the most relaxed I have seen Robbie in the ring. The judges also awarded Lou and Robbie their best score of the season.
But was it enough to get the individual spot for Region E? Sadly it was not. The spot went to another competitor who has been accumulating points since last winter when the qualification period began. I have seen Robbie when he is at home and in the comfort of familiar surroundings. Here his Grand Prix movements are relaxed; the passage is beautiful and the one tempis are spectacular. But his nerves in the show ring still rob him of this quality of the movements. “Robbie and I are a year too soon for this task. “Lou said. “But watch out for us next year.” In the meantime he will continue to work and build strength for the Grand Prix. “His physical and mental health come first and with those considerations we will keep going. “ Lou then smiled and added: “Just doing the same old circles.” That is a dressage ‘insiders’ joke; no matter what level we ride we are always just going around and around and around in circles. Looking beyond the circles Lou and Robbie are aiming for the World Equestrian Games in Bromont, Canada, 2018.
My other rider on the road to Rio is Belinda Trussell. Belinda and her mount Anton have had a remarkable season. The started out with the AGDF 3 and won both the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix freestyle (set to music) so that got their season off to an excellent start. The work in the freestyle is truly world class especially the final centerline with the piaffe quarter pirouettes and passage zig zag. Anton’s is a remarkable comeback story with a potentially career ending injury keeping him out of the Olympics in London 2012 and putting him out to a pasture and out of competition for two years. But when equine massage therapist Paul Wood told Belinda that Anton was depressed without a job and asked her to put on a saddle and just walk him he was started on the road to recovery. What a recovery it has been! Belinda took Anton to the World Equestrian Games in France in 2014 and the Pan Am Games in 2015 where she set a Canadian record for her score in the Grand Prix Special..
Belinda and Anton competed in the CDI5* a few weeks after the AGDF 3 and at this show Anton suffered from some tension. They still were among the top scoring horse and rider combinations but as Belinda said: “These are animals; they are unpredictable and they have their own personalities. “So once back at their home barn Belinda set about helping Anton to overcome his sensitivity to noise that he encountered in the show ring. She played recordings of applause while she was riding and also got a hamster ball and filled it with stones and would shake it. Then she would give Anton a sugar cube treat! Now she tells me Anton looks for the sugar every time he sees the hamster ball.
With this de-sensitizing work under their belts they came back for the ADGF 8, on March 4 and the work paid off. “Anton was brilliant in the ring” Belinda said. They achieved a new personal best score of 73.7 to win the Grand Prix. Then on March 6 they won the Grand Prix Special with another personal best score and…… a Canadian record score for the Special, breaking their own record from the Pan Ams. Belinda was thrilled. “Hearing the Canadian national anthem twice in one week among such a competitive field was incredible.”
Belinda was particularly happy with the comments from the judges on the test sheets. Two judges commented on the “Great teamwork” and one said Belinda and Anton were “a great team with a heart of gold.” This teamwork is precisely what sets Belinda and Anton apart. To see a horse and rider working together in harmony is the ultimate goal of dressage.
With this tremendous success will Anton and Belinda be going to Rio? Dressage Canada has published a leaderboard and Belinda is at the top. There will be two spots for Canada in Rio. June 30 is the end of the Canadian qualifying period and after that date we will all know who will be going. Belinda has represented Canada at the Olympics in Athens, the world Equestrian Games in 2010, and 2014, as well as the Pan Ams in 2015. But she does not take anything for granted. “You want to set goals and you think about them but you always have to enjoy each moment and enjoy each ride.”