The U.S. Dressage Finals Californian Adult Amateur Sheryl Ross

Sheryl Ross at the inaugural US Dressage Finals with Lancaster Photo: SusanJStickle
Sheryl Ross at the inaugural US Dressage Finals with Lancaster Photo: SusanJStickle

The Adult Amateurs radiated spirit throughout the bright occasion of the inaugural US Dressage Finals, cheering one other on throughout the week and weekend. The atmosphere throughout the facility contained a strong positive vibe like no other dressage competition in the USA, or world. Traveling across the country, from Menlo Park, California to Kentucky with her horse, Lancaster (Lobster x Aleksander) 13 year old Danish Warmblood gelding, Sheryl Ross scored a 66.930% in the Intermediate I Championship class to place second behind fellow adult amateur champion Heather Madiburu. Sheryl traveled an inspiring distance to become one of our American Adult Amateur Champions.

Sheryl shared her journey, “California to Kentucky was a long haul. We were concerned for our horses on a trailer for 48 hours. Thankfully the horses arrived two days before most of the other competitors, giving us extra time to help our horses acclimate. That said, Brook Ledge did a fantastic job of hauling our horses. They kept us up to date on how they were doing, sent pictures and the end result was that all of our horses looked and felt great when they arrived. 

As for the Horse Park, I’ve only seen pictures and was blown away by how big and beautiful it is. What an amazing place to hold the first US Dressage Finals!

One thing I can’t stress enough is how well the entire show ran. We were treated like world-class riders, very professional, with a great deal of respect. The chance to compete in front of top quality judges and nation’s best technical delegates was outstanding. The grounds were beautiful and the footing perfect.  Every attention to detail added a whole new dimension to how an amateur competition feels.

Sheryl Ross at the inaugural US Dressage Finals with Lancaster Photo: SusanJStickle
Sheryl Ross at the inaugural US Dressage Finals with Lancaster Photo: SusanJStickle

The atmosphere among competitors was great. Almost 300 hundred riders from across the nation showed up to compete (only four from California but I’m working on that for next year!) 

Overall I have to say that all of the competitors were excited, a bit awed by the event, and proud to be there to support one other. I know I was. I met some really great people and watched some nice rides. 

So many people I talked with were so happy to be at the finals, to compete at the Kentucky Horse Park, to experience the event, to grow, and to learn.

For me, there were some exciting moments at the show. Before my warm up class a rider’s horse bolted in the warm up arena. Horses and riders went flying everywhere. At first, Lancaster stood there and quietly watched the chaos unfold around him. When it was all over and there were regular nerves in the arena, my calm boy became a snorting, leaping dragon. My goal changed in a second to keeping his four feet on the floor and my rear end in the saddle. It took most of my warm up to calm him down. And our test showed the ordeal we had gone through!

I learned a lot from this show – about myself, my horse, my friends, my fellow competitors – all of it positive and constructive.

I also learned a lot about how to compete at a higher level of competition where the pressure is even greater. I learned that it is critical to ride every step of the test and not to assume that once a movement is done that I can relax or take anything for granted. To ride a clean test, a good test  – you have to be present and aware every step of the way. The time to relax is after your final salute. 

It was such an amazing experience, I’m already saving for next year and my goal is to bring both of my horses. It’s a wonderful culmination of the year’s progress and achievements. I believe that next year there will be even more riders. And I believe that this event will help elevate the level and quality of amateur riders across the nation. And to my fellow Californian competitors: starting thinking about planning and going now. You won’t regret it!  

Sheryl’s Personal Journey

My personal journey to dressage strongly influences my feelings about the experience of competing at the U.S. Dressage Finals.

As a kid I barrel raced and participated in gymkhanas. In my teens I discovered jumping and after graduating from high school, started my own hunter/jumper training business, which I ran for 10 years. For a variety of reasons, in 1985 I left horses to get a college degree and entered the world of high-tech marketing. In the early 2000s, I decided to get back to my first love, horses. So in 2002, I bought a horse and decided to learn the discipline of dressage.

Just a few months later, I was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer. For the next five years, my health dominated time, as I battled the original occurrence and a recurrence in 2005. Treatment included three major abdominal surgeries and two rounds of chemotherapy. I feel very lucky to be alive, and to be healthy and free of cancer today.

Sheryl Ross at the inaugural US Dressage Finals with Lancaster Photo: SusanJStickle
Sheryl Ross at the inaugural US Dressage Finals with Lancaster Photo: SusanJStickle

Just making the decision to go to the dressage finals was a big deal. My goal for the year was to win the CDS and USDF Region 7 Championships. I hadn’t considered the U.S. Dressage Finals for this year, and I only declared because a friend was insistent that I do so. As she pointed out, with horses, you just never know and it’s best to take advantage of the present.

The idea of traveling to Kentucky was very exciting and a bit overwhelming. There were so many things that needed to be organized and arranged; entries to be filled out, trailer transportation for Lancaster; travel for me, including plane tickets, hotel and rental car; and the budget to do it all.

Once the travel arrangements were under control, I had to figure out what to pack for Lancaster. It’s one thing to go to a horseshow with your own trailer; you can pack anything you want. It’s quite another to pack a tack trunk that will be shipped for a competition across the country.

Amateur Rider

To be a successful amateur rider in the U.S. takes a great horse, lot of dedication, determination, support and not a little bit of luck! 

For example, my trainer Kathleen Raine is located in Southern California, while I live in Northern California. Getting to her place takes a 10-11 hour drive for me, so I usually go for a week of training and then on to a show. I do that several times a show season. That’s a lot of time away from home and it adds up financially. In addition to training with Kathleen, I arrange and attend clinics with some of the very best people in our sport, Francis Verbeek, Corine Dorrepaal and Steffen Peters. 

Then in 2012, I realized that I was getting in the way of my own success and that I needed to improve my mental skills before my riding and competing skills could advance much further. So, this past year I started working with a sports psychologist, Tonya Robertson. I’ve learned a lot of new skills and she has helped me focus on the right things. 

I also choose my shows carefully, generally trying to go to the bigger and better shows to compete against really good riders and to watch some of the best riders compete. It is important to keep pushing myself to get better and better.

Encouraging Amateurs and the U.S. Dressage Finals

I know that there are a lot of riders who qualified to come but did not. Maybe they didn’t because of the distance or they didn’t have the funds. Or perhaps it was because it was the first year and they wanted to wait and see. To these riders, I’d say go for it; you will not regret it. It is such a wonderful experience. And if you are into this sport than it simply doesn’t get better, more exciting or fulfilling.

For example, it was thrilling to ride in the Alltech Arena and to compete against riders from across the nation. It’s recognition that our sport recognizes the importance of amateur riders and it’s a way for us to see how we measure up within our own ranks. Not everyone is meant to be a professional rider. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be one of the best amateur riders in the U.S!  For me, it was a dream come true, and a dream I hope to repeat many times."




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