Amanda Bailey's Journey to Dressage at Devon - In Her Own Words

DressageDaily is introducing a new feature this week, titled “In Their Own Words” the rest of the story behind events we cover, and the people in the news. While we are busy covering an event doing our best to bring reporting behind the scores, there is always much more to the story than the victory.

Amanda Bailey was featured in our coverage of the USEF/Markel Young Horse Championships, where she and her horse Faulkner (Hanoverian by Friendship x Wiesenbluete) placed third in the Four Year Old Division.Here she shares her journey to Dressage at Devon Pennsylvania from Jonesboro, Arkansas

After years of attending Dressage at Devon as a spectator, I was finally close to my dream of riding in the Dixon Oval. When I entered Devon months ago, it was the Four-Year-Old Test which was my goal. I decided to go ahead and enter Faulkner in the breed show classes he was eligible for (4 Year-Old Suitability and 4 and 5 yr old Materiale Colts and Geldings) as well as the Four-Year-Old Test, just because I was there and had a hard time justifying the trip for only one class. He is not eligible for the NA Breeder's Futurity class because he is an import. So, I signed up for the two breed show classes and the Four-Year-Old Test, even though the Four-Year-Old Test was really the only draw for me. I received entry confirmation of the breed show classes followed in a few days by the Four-Year-Old Test entry confirmation which said they needed a TIN (which is a SSN for prize money). So of course, I assumed everything is a go.

My husband Brian took a week off of work and bought plane tickets for him and our daughter Sophia to join us at Devon. My good friend Susan bought plane tickets, and my other really good friend Monica (from the Chicago area) made elaborate plans to join me at Devon as well. I planned on taking two days to make the trip, beginning last Saturday. On Friday afternoon, as I was running around like a maniac trying to get everything packed and ready for the trip, I happened to go through the mail. I had a letter from Devon. I opened it and to my absolute horror (that is really an understatement) it was notice that I was on the wait list for the Four-Year-Old Test. My heart sank!

I called the show secretary immediately and left a message. When she called me back, she informed me that I was second on the wait list because they were waiting for a second score. I had misread the prize list and only sent in one score. I could have, at anytime, given them any number of scores. I was not lacking in them. But because I was not notified of the error on the "entry confirmation" (which the show secretary informed me was just notification that they had received my entry form) I had no idea.

The show secretary was not very encouraging and went on to say there was no need to send another score now, because she was certain I wouldn't get in. There had been no scratches in that class thus far. My husband called her back and arranged to send a second score just in case. I was heartbroken. I cried, and cried and felt sorry for myself, and cried some more. I debated whether or not I should even make the trip for just the breed classes.

In the end, I got a grip on myself and decided that I would make the best out of the situation I was handed. I would still be riding in the Dixon Oval, a long time dream, and could hope that things would work out when I got there. So I started driving.

The Long and Rainy Road
I had made plans to overnight Saturday night in Ohio and Sunday night at Hilltop Farm in Maryland. It rained and rained and rained some more on Saturday. I felt like Charlie Brown with his little gray cloud following him around everywhere he went. What should have been an eight hour drive from home is Jonesboro, Arkansas, to my overnight destination, turned into over ten because of the unrelenting rain. I pulled into the farm at about 6 pm local time. As I pulled up I came upon what I thought was a booth where somebody was waiting to check health papers. Instead, it turned out to be a ticket stand for the music festival that was taking place there that whole weekend.

The guy at the ticket counter made the executive decision to put me in a stall that was as far away from the action as possible. I had to wait what seemed like forever for a stall assignment, and then they were surprised to hear that I might want shavings in the stall. After about 1/2 an hour sitting on the trailer, I finally unloaded Faulkner. I walked him around and let him eat grass for about another half hour before I was accosted by a group of obviously inebriated individuals who seemed innocent enough to begin with and wanted to "pet the horsey." In short order the petting turned into crude comments from them who had obviously never seen a male horse up close.

I immediately left the scene and put him in his stall, fed him and left. I felt horrible leaving him in such an unsettled environment. There was music blasting and people milling around. I did not sleep well that night and got up very early the next morning to get him on the road as early as possible. When I got there, he had obviously not rested well either. He trashed his stall pacing, had not eaten his dinner, and drank very little water. I left the farm before dawn.

Hilltop Heaven

The trip to Hilltop from Ohio should have taken about nine hours. Again, I was plagued by rain as well as one traffic back up from an accident. I pulled into Hilltop about 5:30 pm. I had never been to Hilltop Farm, and it was like driving into a dream. There were acres and acres of lush green hills dotted with horses. The main barn looks like something you would see in Europe. It was absolutely gorgeous. I was met by one of the barn workers who were friendly and helpful.

I was able to turn Faulkner out for a couple of hours in a huge pasture with a ton of grass. As I was getting the trailer cleaned out and scooping out his dinner, I looked up to check on him in the pasture. There he was, standing on the hillside underneath a beautiful rainbow. It was the first sign that things would work out. He got to strut around, stretch his legs, roll and eat grass before retiring for the night in a huge stall. I had made arrangements to stay on site at one of the guest houses where I had the pleasure of meeting Elizabeth Poulin and Melanie Pye the owner of Canaan Ranch in Texas. They were staying in the guest house as well. I ended up staying up much later than I should have, talking with the two of them.

Arriving at the Devon Show Grounds

The next day, I loaded up and made the short drive (1 1/2 hours) to Devon. When I arrived at the show grounds, located in the middle of an urban neighborhood, I discovered that there was a line of trailers which were waiting to enter and unload. Because of the cramped quarters, only a few trailers are allowed in at any given time. It was a full hour of sitting and waiting. Faulkner was going nuts in the trailer. Every minute felt like ten. I finally got to go in. Because of the "hurry up and unload so the next guy and get in" mentality, I went ahead and unloaded Faulkner into the bare 8x10 stall and threw all of my stuff into the tack stall, a much smaller space than I was expecting.

The trailers have to be parked off site at a turnpike lot about 5 miles away. When I finally got back to the show site to get shavings ordered. I got things organized and bedded Faulkner’s stall, then tacked up to ride. I was scheduled to be in the first class of the show the following day. It was the 4 Year-Old Suitability class, scheduled for 8 AM. Faulkner was excited for the first few minutes on the lunge, but then settled and I got on and had a good ride, but it was obvious that he was tired and somewhat stiff. I got him cooled out, cleaned him up and tucked him in for the night, then went to meet Brian and Sophia for dinner.

Riding the Materiale Classes

Tuesday morning came very early. My girlfriend from Chicago, Monica, flew in the night before with her husband and 3-Year-Old daughter. She went with me to the barn at 5AM. Not only have I never ridden in a Suitability class, but I have never even seen one. I don't really know how they are conducted or what exactly it is the judge is looking for. So I felt a little like I was going to take a test I had not studied for. Luckily for me, Scott Hassler (the trainer at Hilltop and the USEF Young Horse Coach) asked if I would like some help warming up for my classes. I most enthusiastically took him up on it.

He gave me some pointers in the warm up ring and then we went in. Faulkner felt pretty good going into the ring. There were five other horses in the ring. The class took place in the Dixon Oval (which, if you haven't been there is huge). About half way through the class, it became abundantly clear to me that it was a marathon, not a sprint. I had no idea that we would be expected to stay in one gait so long. We cantered for what felt to me like ten minutes. (It was probably no more than five in reality)

We had to do sitting trot five times around the ring. After about the third round, my abs were screaming! I had not eaten well in days and rarely do more than just a few strides of sitting trot on Faulkner anyway. Here I was doing the biggest gaits I can get out of him, around and around and around. I thought I might faint. Eventually, it was all over. Faulkner was an angel, he could not have been better. He had one tiny spook at the end on one of the canters, but it was minor. Overall, he was very willing and obedient. The class was split into three groups because of the size.

We were in the first group, but we were informed that there would be a call back for the top six. I optimistically stayed in the area. After what felt like an eternity, they started calling back numbers. My number was 115. I heard what I thought was my number, but was told no, I was not in, that they were looking for 116. So, somewhat disappointed, but not crushed, I dismounted and headed back to the stall. I did not see my support group anywhere (Brian, Sophia, Monica, Tim (her husband) and Emily her daughter) I thought that was kind of strange, but then I saw Monica across the show grounds yelling and waving at me, telling me I was in. I jumped back on and rushed to the arena. There was another round of brutal marathon trot and canter sessions, and in the end, we placed sixth.

Again I checked to see if there were any scratches in the Four-Year-Old Test. There was one scratch so I had hopes that maybe just maybe, I would get in.

The next day I rode in the afternoon in the 4 and 5 yr old colt and gelding Materiale. It was an equally big class. I honestly did not expect to place just because the 5yr olds were involved, and I figured the chance of me placing against horses older than us were less. The class was conducted in much of the same manner, keep cantering.......more.....more cantering.......are you sure we are supposed to keep cantering? In the end, we were sixth again and I was happy. Faulkner was really well behaved. Still there were no more scratches in the Four-Year-Old Test. I was the show secretary's office three times a day checking. It felt like torture and I was running out of hope.

Still Hoping For a Scratch

The next morning I got up bright and early and went to the barn with the hopes of finding a scratch. At eight o'clock the Show Secretary arrived and I was waiting for her. She shook her head no, and I left with tears in my eyes. Two and a half hours later, the announcer came on the loudspeaker and asked that I go to the show secretary's office. I rushed over and went in. She looked up and me and smiled and nodded. I predictably started to tear up. She looked at me and said "Gee, I didn't know it meant that much to you." I simply said, "I really does."

From that point on, I decided that I had nothing to lose. I was going to ride my guts out and go for it. I only gave Faulkner and myself twenty minutes of warm-up time. The rings were crowded and crazy. Scott Hassler helped to warm me up the last few minutes before my ride and I went in feeling completely relaxed and confident. Faulkner was a star. He was not in the least bit anxious or distracted. He was with me every step of the way. It felt effortless.

The Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow

The judges liked him and scored him well. He ended up with an 8.44 and won the class. When people started coming up saying that they thought we had won, I kept saying "No, don't say that unless you know it is true." It was Mary Phelps who confirmed it for me. You could have knocked me off of my horse with a feather.

I was in complete and utter shock (and yes, of course I cried). Sweet Ellie Schobel (who won the Materiale class I was in) came up and hugged me while we were both on horseback. I went in and got our picture taken with all the stuff we won and the sponsors, and I still couldn't believe it.

Then I got to lead the victory lap. I trotted the first lap (have I mentioned before how the victory gallops scare me?) and then felt to the pressure of people from the sidelines asking us to gallop and I bravely cantered the second half. I don't think it really sunk in until the next morning when I woke up.

It has so long been a dream of mine to just be good enough to compete at Devon. Not in my wildest dreams, did I think that I would go in and actually win. It honestly, feels like the culmination of the past 7 years of hard work and the desire to be the best rider that I can be. I am so grateful to have Faulkner. He has taken me where I didn't dare to hope I could be.

On the Scene
Dressage at Devon
USEF/Markel National Young Dressage Horse Championships