With the goal of winning medals, the United States dressage riders, train and fight hard this summer, competing in the most difficult dressage competitions with the best in the world. The strategy is to take on, compete with, and battle the highest ranked horse and rider combinations for exposure, team moral, and experience. For the US Team to win medals against a fiercely competitive group of nations, the plan must be to compete at the same international venues. We caught up with three of the five riders preparing to compete in the Hickstead Nations Cup CDIO next week for the United States: Shelly Francis, Kathleen Raine, and David Blake. They shared some of their journey as they train and compete in Europe, building confidence for next week’s team battle for the Nations Cup Hickstead CDIO.
Shelly Francis, 54, a long-time high performance rider for the US Dressage Team, rode Pikant in 1996, as second alternate for the Olympic team: in 1997 they won the USDF Grand Prix Champion Horse of the Year, and went on to compete at the 1998 World Equestrian Games in Rome. In 2005, she competed Dominion to the top six in the US team rankings. Francis of Loxahatchee, FL has spent the last four years quietly training Patricia Stempel's Doktor, a 2003 Oldenburg gelding, to once again have the opportunity to compete at the highest level in the world. With amazing skills and know-how she's built through ingenuity and invention, Shelly shines in Europe with two horses, Doktor and Danilo, both under the ages of 10 yrs.
Shelly shared her experience, “This tour has been a huge thing for me and my horses. I feel it has been a most effective way to put myself back in the international arena. The world can see that I'm training and competing with great success, still after all these years. The training in Germany with Johann Hinnemann has been awesome as always. So helpful. The competitions have been super exposure for my horses. They are learning to handle the higher energy atmosphere at these European shows.” She continued, “I cannot thank the USET and the USEF enough for the financial assistance to help make this tour happen. And all the people throughout the USA that support the USET and the USEF that help make these grants for international training and competition possible. Competing in Europe is essential for the USA to succeed. The US riders in Europe now are showing the world that we are great and getting better. We need to show head to head with the top riders in Europe and that is not possible to do in the US.”
Kathleen Raine, 47, of Murrieta, California, is also a long-time team member for the US Dressage Team. She was reserve on Avontuur for the 1996 Olympics. Kathleen and her talented mare Fidelia were named alternates for the 2000 Olympic Games held in Sydney Australia. With the mare, Breanna, Kathleen won the FEI Six-Year-Old Division Championship for the West Coast at the 2006 Markel/USEF Young Horse Dressage Trials. The pair also qualified to go to Verden in 2006.
With attentive training of Breanna over the past eight years, they placed third in the Grand Prix Special with 71.542% in Lingen CDI at the beginning of July. She trains with Johann Hinnemann this summer, working with him for the past 20 years. Kathleen said, “I've had a great trip. I've only done one show so far, but am getting ready for Hickstead next week.” Kathleen and her husband, David Wightman, own and operate Adventure Farms in Murrieta, California. She continued, “It's great to have so much time to focus on the training and competitions. The competitions have so much atmosphere. It's great for our horses to compete here.” She continued, “This trip wouldn't have been possible without the support of the USET and USEF and all the dressage supporters throughout the country. It's so important for our horses and riders to get mileage competing at these most impressive shows. This trip has been awesome and I can't thank everybody enough that have made it possible!”
David Blake, 34, an up-and-comer with a bright future for the US team. David, who works and trains out of Steffen and Shannon Peter’s farm (Arroyo Del Mar) when at home, said about his European tour, “First and foremost a huge thank you to USET and USEF for the grant and the support to enable a young professional like me to have the opportunity to show in Europe. Jenny Van Wieren and Courtney Barnett were instrumental in helping with planning and paper work. I am sincerely grateful to both USET and USEF, without the grant money they provided, I would never have been able to make it here. The next person I have to thank indefinitely is Guenter Seidel. He really has shown me the ropes in Europe. He has not only been helping me in the training while I'm here but also many others things I would have struggled with on my own. Going on my first trip with someone of his caliber has really been ideal for someone like me.
The first competition in Lingen, I was noticeably nervous, and a little in shock about my surroundings. I became a little more comfortable in Muenster and did a bit better in the Special. The Muenster show was an open show by invitation in front of the castle. It was a great venue and the CDI dressage show was combined with show jumping. This made for a very lively atmosphere. The arena was flanked on all sides by grandstands and a two story VIP area. Luckily Ikaros does not react to his surroundings and was fairly comfortable. The only thing he looked at was the tunnel we had to walk through to enter the arena. The warm up was a little chaotic because it was a 20x60 meter ring with twenty jumpers and twelve dressage horses warming up at the same time. This is the sort of experience that I really value. I did not expect to be in these sort of environments, and I am very thankful to have an idea of what to expect next time.
The biggest thing for riders showing abroad is the sense of urgency. We spend all this money and time planning out a relatively small tour. I have the feeling that every show is so important. The pressure to make every ride count can become overwhelming. There is pressure to show the people that supported you, that it was worth their investment in you, is also always looming in the back of your mind. Luckily for me Ikaros's owner has been doing this for a long time and knows about showing and taking the time for a horse and rider combination to become a partnership and mature together. Melanie is really great to talk to after my rides. She is very supportive. Everybody knows that it’s easy to call the owner after a great ride, but sometimes it is difficult to stay confident in yourself if you feel like you could have done better. Melanie understands, and I'm grateful we have such an open line of communication between us.
In closing, I'd like thank everyone who was financially supportive to me for this trip. You know who you are and I couldn't have survived here without your help. Last but certainly not least, being gone for so long and leaving a business behind would have been impossible if not for Rebecca Rigdon, my fiancé. She has been taking care of everything at home, our house, pets, and both businesses. To be able to accomplish a tour like this takes a lot more than a horse and funding, you also need a very strong support system at home.”
The Team for next week’s Hickstead CDIO August 1-4, 2013 include:
- Shelly Francis (Loxahatchee, FL) on Patricia Stempel's Doktor, a 2003 Oldenburg gelding
- Arlene "Tuny" Page (Wellington, FL) on her own Alina, a 1998 Danish Warmblood mare
- Kathleen Raine (Murrieta, CA) on Jennifer Mason, Kathleen Raine, and David Wightman's Breanna, a 2000 Hanoverian mare
- Guenter Seidel (Cardiff, CA) on Coral Reef Ranch's Coral Reef Wylea, a 2000 Westphalian mare
The following combination will compete as an individual and serve as an alternate for the team at the Hickstead CDIO3*:
- David Blake (Encinitas, CA) on Melanie Pai's Ikaros, a 2000 Danish Warmblood gelding