With her partner [#26583 override="Lars Petersen opting out of this year's Olympic Games " title="Lars Petersen opting out of this year's Olympic Games "]in Hong Kong, Melissa Taylor and Dacardo are packing up and heading to California. Taylor and the 10-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding (by D-Day out of Azisterne) had qualified to compete at this year's Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Festival of Champions but had planned to skip the championships.
"Up until the Wednesday after the Raleigh CDI, Lars was planning to go to Europe and I was going to stay behind and run the business with a trip to Europe to support him," Taylor said. Petersen, a three-time Olympian, had already been a bit concerned about leaving his business at Legacy Farms for the time it would take to compete in this year's Olympics. In addition, his partner Succes, a 14-year-old Danish Warmblood, is a bit spooky, which caused him some concern that the tight schedule leading up to the Olympics might also be too much for the horse. The final decision was made after a trainer hired to help run the business in his absence, broke his leg.
"That was the deciding factor," Taylor said. "And then I thought, 'Well, if you're not going, then I'm going to see if I can still go to California.' So, I started putting my plans together." It's also been a tight squeeze for Taylor because she and Dacardo head to California on June 18 and the weekend before, she had to travel to Texas to support her young rider,[#26583 override=" Jillian Costello. " title=" Jillian Costello. "]
"She is competing in Texas hoping to get the last score she needs to qualify for the Young Rider Championships in Colorado," Taylor said. "She's a great girl and tries really hard and I had promised her that I would help her. She competed at Raleigh and won the Young Rider Team Test and the Prix St. Georges and I made plans to go to Texas and coach her."
Dacardo and Taylor had been out of the show circuit for two months after the gelding fell in January and they both went down. He had a month of stall rest and then went back into fitness work with walking and the treadmill. Hence, by the time they re-entered the show ring at the Raleigh CDI, he was fit, but both rider and horse were a bit rusty.
"Raleigh was our first outing and it didn't go that well. He was hot and I was rusty. He's a super sensitive horse and I wasn't in tune to him and overrode him," Taylor said. "He's plenty fit. It was just his lack of being in the show ring and he's spooky as it is. Lars and I seem to collect those horses."
Like a number of other riders with not-so-calm horses, Taylor also is trying out the new Mushroom Matrix nutritional supplement on Dacardo. "I just started him on it. I had read about it and thought, why not give myself the benefit if it works? Mary Phelps had told me about it and I respect what she has to say so I thought, if it gives him more focus, great. I'm willing to try anything with this horse."
Her strategy for helping Dacardo settle in once they reach California is to take him right to the show grounds so he can get used to the environment. She also plans to walk him about quite a bit. "I'll hand walk him all over. I don't know the ring schedule yet, but I'll hand walk him in that arena as often as they allow. If it's 4 a.m., I'll have him walking around that main arena," Taylor said with a laugh.
This is Taylor's fourth consecutive trip to the Festival of Champions, but this one, she said is extra special because she's made it with Dacardo. He's long been a rather difficult horse because he's hot, spooky and girthy. In the course of training, Petersen himself was tossed a few times, one of which landed him in the hospital. Taylor said she expects the first few days in California to be rather difficult and said, "I'll wear my seatbelt and my hard hat." She has a special routine for getting on Dacardo that includes hand-walking first and helpers to hold the horse.
"For me, this is not just another national championship," Taylor said. "What thrills me is that it's with a different horse and it's with this horse. A lot of people, even some of my own friends, never thought I'd be able to ride him. So, for me, it's a personal accomplishment. Even if Dacardo is spooky and I override him and mess up, I'm proud to be there on a special horse like him."
Although California is a bit of a hike for the East Coast crowd, Taylor said it will give her a chance to get to know the Californians, especially considering that some of them have had to forfeit trips east for the Festival of Champions because of costs. One other thing Taylor is looking forward to is a bit of down time.
"I actually see this as a bit of a vacation. I'll only have one horse that I have to worry about for 10 days. That will be a big change," she said. Will she hit the beach? Yes, but said, "I won't go in the water because I'm terrified of sharks, but I will go play on the beach a bit."