In baseball, when a player is promoted up from the minor leagues, to the majors, they say they are “going up to The Big Show”. For me ‘The Big Show’, in equestrian terms, is the winter show season in Wellington Florida. The Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) for the hunter- jumper riders and the Adequan Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) for the dressage riders. It really is the Big Leagues!
The AGDF is now in the final weekend of the winter season with the 12th CDI (Concours Dressage Internationale) taking place. Twelve CDIs are more than most entire countries mount in a single season. If you want to be taken seriously as a professional dressage competitor in North America you must come and compete at the AGDF and if you are trying to qualify for team selection for the World Equestrian Games(WEG) or the Olympics you must come to compete at the AGDF.
What I like about the shows at the AGDF is the chance to see some of the best riders competing. I like to see the Friday night freestyle competitions under the lights and also see the Grand Prix competitions during the daytime. This is a chance to see all of the top US and Canadian riders who, this year, are competing to get qualifying scores to go to WEG. I can watch the warm up and see what exercises they are doing to prepare for going into the arena to ride their test. It is a chance to see the best and how they answer the difficult questions of a crowded warm up or a big atmosphere in the stadium.
Then there are “little people” like me. I like to choose a weekend when the AGDF is holding just a National show and not a CDI for competing. It is not quite so busy and quite so electric as it is when there is a CDI. On the National show weekends there may be a jumper event taking place in the Derby field which is next to the dressage rings. There is still plenty of action going on in the two dressage warm ups and 3 competition rings.
This winter I competed at the AGDF in the Intermediare 1. The professional riders and the amateurs, like myself, compete together and our scores are divided up into Open (professional) and Amateur for the final standings. This means I may be going into the ring right after a well known professional. In this photo I am in the ring riding my test and the rider you can see behind me rode for the USA in the 2012 Olympics and the 2014 World Equestrian Games. She is warming up for her test. I do not recall seeing her in the warm up. I had to be in my own zone.
When warming up I cannot be concerned about how Biasini and I will look after a very good professional’s ride. I have to focus on getting my head together for my own ride. I have to ask myself: “What horse do I have today?” “What horse will I have when I go into the show ring if this is the horse I have in the warm up?” “What movements do I need to review in the warm up?” I usually have my coach Lou Denizard with me to help in the warm up and he will have good suggestions and directions. The last thing I think about is what another rider, who is an Olympian, may be doing.
In the warm up some professionals ride in a very determined and focused way and I cannot be intimidated by that. I have to ride in a determined and focused way myself. And when I go into the ring I ride as if I belonged there. I belong there, riding at that level, and riding alongside the professionals.
I am very fortunate, at my age and stage in life, that I have good health, a very talented horse, that works in partnership with me, and I am able to compete at a place like the AGDF. I can compete in my version of The Big Show.