Competitors are now arriving on the hallowed grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park for this week’s US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, and these horses and riders represent a myriad of both physical and personal journeys in traveling from across the country to take part in this unique national head-to-head dressage competition. For one exhibitor, even financial constraints and the memory of an “exploding truck” can’t keep her from making her annual pilgrimage to Lexington.
When Cecilia Cox qualified for the inaugural Finals in 2013, she and friend Shelly Schoenfeld happily embarked on the 18-hour journey from Leon Springs, Texas with American Warmblood mare Donabella in tow for what they hoped would be the experience of a lifetime. It certainly was a memorable trip – but not for the reason they originally envisioned. “We were halfway there and our truck ‘exploded’,” said Cox. “We were stranded on the side of the road for three hours with Donabella, and had to find alternate transportation to finish the trip to Kentucky. It ended up taking three months to get that truck fixed.”
Despite the first year’s nightmarish journey, Cox would not be deterred. She happily came back to the Finals in 2014, and has once again returned to compete this week with Donabella as well as stablemate Winnie Too, her 12-year-old gray American Warmblood mare. “My experiences at the Finals have been wonderful,” she noted. “I love the venue, being able to see riders from all the other regions, and competing with others who have experienced the same things as you but come from different areas of the country. It pushes you that extra bit to be around them because it makes you want to be a better rider.”
Cox is one of almost 400 entries gathering in the heart of the Bluegrass for the US Dressage Finals and corresponding open show. Over four exciting days of competition, riders representing all nine United States Dressage Federation (USDF) regions will compete for championships in 30 divisions, offering exhibitors from a variety of backgrounds and experience levels (including adult amateurs, professionals, and High Performance riders) a chance to earn national honors, fantastic prizes, and more than $50,000 in prize money at all dressage levels from Training to Grand Prix as well as musical freestyles. For added excitement this year, the top-scoring riders in various divisions from each of the Great American/USDF Regional Championships will also compete on regional teams in the new US Dressage Finals “Regions Cup”, vying with competitors from across the country for additional awards and bragging rights for their home USDF Region.
With her two mounts, Cox will once again trot down the centerline with the staunch support of her family, including husband Mark and daughters Eirin and Amanda. “My husband is so supportive of me – he’s willing to stay home and take care of everything while I’m gone so that I can do this. It’s a team effort,” Cox said. She also explained how she goes to great lengths to be able to afford to make the annual trip to the Finals. “I don’t want to take money out of the household budget to do this, so we stay in the campground and eat meals in our RV to help keep costs down. At home, I critter-sit for friends and neighbors, braid at horse shows, and body clip horses so I save can every penny I can towards the horses. The Finals are my goal every year, and the sacrifices are absolutely worth it – I’m happy to get covered in horse hair in order to do this! It’s such an incredible opportunity.”
Traveling from the opposite side of the country to experience her first Finals is Lisa Schmidt of Hampton, N.J. She earned an invitation to compete thanks to a victory in the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 1 Open Training Level Championship with Debbie Gunset’s five-year-old Hanoverian gelding Qrown Prince. When not in the saddle, Schmidt is a USEF “S” judge and also serves as the USDF Region 1 Director, marking the first time a member of the USDF Executive Board will ride in the Finals. “Over the last two years I have always been somewhere judging so haven’t had the opportunity to come to Kentucky,” said Schmidt. “But this year I worked to balance the judging and showing and am lucky enough to get the chance to finally go. I am particularly excited because as an Executive Board member, I have been involved in the planning process for the Finals but never got to experience it for myself. I know so many people in my region who have competed in previous years and raved about it, so I feel like I can't miss this chance.”
The US Dressage Finals get started on Thursday, November 5 with USDF Dressage in the Bluegrass open classes, followed by a Competitor Welcome Party at the Alltech Arena. Championship classes kick off on Friday, with special evening performances and activities both Friday and Saturday to entertain competitors and spectators alike. For a truly unforgettable championship experience, limited VIP seating in the Alltech Arena is still available for purchase (to learn more, click here). For those dressage fans unable to attend the Finals in person, the popular USEF Network will feature live online streaming of select classes from the Alltech Arena on their website, www.usefnetwork.com.
To learn more about the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, download competition information, review entry lists, purchase tickets to special events, and sign up to receive news and updates, visit the official event website at www.usdressagefinals.com.