Dressage at Devon 2009 - An Adult Amateur’s Perspective

Thursday, October 8, 2009
Posted by bossmare

Dressage at Devon - The horse show of horse shows in America that many revere as the most prestigious America has to offer. For adult amateurs, it is something we dream of going to watch one day, but few of us dare to dream to actually compete at Devon. This year, this adult amateur got the wild hair to go to Devon with her 8 year old Oldenburg mare, Kontessa, and compete at Prix St. George. What might set us apart from others in our situation was the following: Kontessa is my first dressage horse whom I bought over the internet as a 4 year old from North Carolina with 3 weeks of backing. How I ended up at Devon, was a dream I never imagined would come true, but it did! I didn’t have a trainer to train my horse or to help me move up the levels.

How I ended up at Devon, was a dream I never imagined would come true, but it did!

I somehow managed to learn and move up by reading, practicing a lot, watching a lot, and at one point being able to afford about 10 lessons/month with Jason Canton for 2 months. I also managed to get the privilege of riding with Conrad Schumacher at Poplar Place.

Without a regular trainer or coach, Kontessa and I learned to do flying lead changes (from reading a “how to” article on the internet). We started practicing tempi changes, etc. Along the way, we won the Region 3 Championships at First Level in 2006. We went on to ride Second and Third level with scores in the upper 60s and low 70s. We were able to get occasional lessons with Jason and clinics with Conrad every once in a while when we could afford to ride with him when he was in the country.

We earned our USDF Bronze Medal and went on to work on our Silver. In the meantime, my husband lost his job, and he decided we needed to sell Tess. In order to do so, I told him we needed to show her some. So in June of this year, after riding with Conrad Schumacher in April in North Carolina and my last lesson with Jason being in January of this year, I decided to try to show Tess at FEI Prix St. George to increase her value and hopefully get our USDF Silver Medal. At our first show, we scored a 66.579% both days winning High Score Adult Amateur, and 2nd and 3rd Place High Score overall (after Jason Canton). We showed at Conyers the following weekend (PSG and Fourth Level) and earned our Silver Medal in 2 shows! And we did this without lessons or coaching since the April clinic with Conrad. (My friend, Lucile, did serve as an “eye on the ground” a couple of times before showing Tess and really helped us make sure we were on the right track.)

It was at this point that my mind started getting crazy notions like going to Devon. I won’t go into the details of how this came to be, but suffice it to say that we managed to qualify as well as get some people to sponsor us so that we could defray some of the costs associated with going. We needed a truck and trailer too, since we owned neither. A dear friend offered to let me use her trailer, and we were able to rent a truck very cheaply.

So, off we went. We were going to Devon to “represent” Alabama and Adult Amateurs everywhere!

It was a fantastic experience and one I’ll never forget. We packed up and pulled out of Birmingham heading north around 7:30 pm on Sunday, September 25th. After a very long night of driving through rain, rough traffic in D.C., expensive toll roads, and confusing roads in Pennsylvania, we finally pulled into the showgrounds at Devon at 12:30 PM, Monday. Needless to say, we were all very tired…Darren, Tess, and me.

We used Monday and Tuesday to recover from the long trip and to enjoy the beginning of the show which included seeing a lot of foals and weanlings in the “Breed Division” of Dressage at Devon. Wednesday and Thursday were spent settling in and schooling for our big Prix St. George class on Friday. The best part about those days was the fact that I did not get the feeling of being “out-classed” or “out of my league.” Tess and I were able to hold our heads up high amid the myriad of professionals on spectacular horses knowing that we too had earned the right to be there. (That was a special surprise and a huge answer to prayer.) If you are familiar to any kind of competition, you know that the mental part of competition is usually the biggest obstacle to overcome. Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, the FEI vet came around to each of our horse’s stalls to inspect the horses and confirm that the horse represented in their FEI Passport matched the horse that we were competing with. (Yes, horses have to have passports too. Go figure!)

Thursday afternoon was the soundness “Jog.” This is where each of the competitors has to show up with their horse “in-hand” before a “jury” who would inspect your horse for soundness in order to compete. It included the FEI vet and some of the judges for the show as well as the USDF Technical Delegate and several other important people.

This was the Judges’ first time to see our horses, so first impressions are very important. Not only did we need to make sure our horses were braided and groomed to perfection, but we too needed to be very nicely “turned-out.” After each horse does their jog before the jury, they pronounce whether your horse is “accepted,” needed to be “re-inspected,” or “not accepted.” After our jog, the judges quickly pronounced, “Horse #707 – ‘accepted!’” Yeah! We were clear to compete!

Later that Thursday, they did the “draw” for ride times on Friday. Our class started at 8:00 in the morning and wasn’t over until around 4:30 that afternoon. Out of a total of 44 entries, I was one of only two adult amateurs. Everyone else in our class were “professionals.” My ride time was later in the afternoon. My sister and her husband drove to town Thursday evening from New York City, and we enjoyed dinner with them at a local restaurant in Devon. It was so special to me that they would take time out of their busy schedules to come visit us and cheer us on as we competed.

Schooling your horse and warming up at Devon is an “experience” all in its self. There is very limited area for warming up, and so all of the horses and riders had to use that small area to get ready for their rides. What made it even more “tricky” is that all of us were in the FEI Level of competition, which meant that horses were not just going in straight lines like they do at “normal” horse shows. We were all working half-passes across the diagonal, working tempi changes across the diagonal, medium and extended gaits…also across the diagonal, and doing small circles, etc. It was impossible to predict what anyone was going to do before-hand, so trying to do your own movements amidst the chaos and avoid collisions was quite an experience. As I was told in advance by others who have been to Devon before, the atmosphere was “electric.” And so it was!
Photo credit: Susan J. Stickle

When we went into the ring, Tess and I were really excited. We rode our test and scored a very respectable overall 62% placing us in the middle of our class and beating a lot of the professionals. I learned a lot about what the judges are looking for when I got my score sheets back. (It is amazing how exact each movement has to be and what the judges expect.)

While I would have LOVED to have won the class or at least placed, I know that that was a very long shot. Thanks so much to my dear friend, Lucile White, for her encouragement and perspective on the entire experience.

Later that evening, I was encouraged by another friend to try to enter an extra class on Saturday and Sunday…to fill any scratch that was free. We did and ended up placing 2nd on Saturday at Fourth Level…also beating a lot of professionals.

Overall, we had such a great time at Devon. And we were very pleasantly surprised to find out that the majority of people that we met were very friendly. We were able to develop friendships with a group of people from Washington who drove 4 days to get there as well as a young rider from Michigan and many professionals like Dr. Cesar Parra, George Williams, Scott Hassler, and Chris Hickey…just to name a few.

Darren was especially instrumental in helping us meet people. I believe almost everyone in our stable area knew him by the time we left. He always found time to help others when they needed to borrow a wheel barrow, help clean a stall, walk or hold a horse, etc. And he was an amazing help to me as well. I certainly couldn’t have done any of this without him and his support.

Many people started packing up on Sunday and leaving the show. We along with others who had a long drive ahead of us packed up on Sunday but planned to leave early the next morning. And on Monday morning, around 4:00 am, we said goodbye to Devon. We didn’t pull into Windwood in Birmingham until 7:00 that night, and it took us until 9:00 before Darren and I got to our house. What a great feeling it was to sleep in our own beds!

I could go on for hours about our various experiences at Devon, but I won’t bore all of you with those details. Suffice it to say… The atmosphere was electric… The people were friendly and fun… The competition was world-class… And the memories and the things I learned…priceless. Thank you so much for everyone who played a part in making all this happen.
Photo credit: Susan J. Stickle

Tess is still for sale, and my husband still doesn’t have a job. But she proved that she is an amazing horse to be able to take this adult amateur from both of us being as ignorant as rocks to competing at Prix St. George. Take away from my experience: Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because of limitations. Dream big. Hope big. And live victorious.

Christy Scotch
5198 Weatherford Drive
Birmingham, AL 35242