The much-anticipated start of the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® became official today when the first horses trotted down arena centerlines at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY. As the inaugural national head-to-head competition for Adult Amateur and Open riders from Training Level to Grand Prix, hundreds of exhibitors from coast to coast have gathered to share in what for many will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Today 16 non-championship "USDF Dressage in the Bluegrass" classes were held in four arenas where members of an esteemed roster of FEI and USEF judges including Jayne Ayers, Charlotte Bredahl, Janet Foy, Sandra Hotz, Jeanne McDonald, Michael Osinski, Gary Rockwell, William Solyntjes, Jane Weatherwax, and Lois Yukins got their first look at competitors from all nine USDF regions who used the experience and feedback gained in today's tests as final preparation for their upcoming Finals performances.
Eva Oldenbroek Tabor of Region 9 was the very first exhibitor to enter the Alltech Arena this morning for her Intermediate II test aboard "Uberlinis". "When I first walked in I said, 'Oh my God look at all this!'", exclaimed Tabor. "It looks like a European World Cup venue. The footing is fantastic, and the whole set-up is just beautiful." Tabor was thrilled with how her flashy Dutch Warmblood gelding handled the impressive atmosphere, scoring a 65.000% to top the class. "I approached today's test as a warm-up for our championship Grand Prix tomorrow and to let my horse have a look around," she explained. "He can be spooky but he handled it all very well and he felt great in this ring. I'm so pleased." With her Finals week off to a winning start, Tabor's 22-hour drive from Medina, TX seems to be time and effort well spent. "From the moment we arrived on Tuesday, everything has been super-well organized, like a top-class event," she noted. "I have no complaints and am so happy to be here."
Looking fresh despite a four-day journey across the country from Region 6, Lisa Morton-Gramyk and her elegant 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare "Rubinesque" contested Fourth Level Test 3 in the outdoor Stonelea Arena surrounded by picturesque fall foliage and under sunny afternoon skies. "This is by far the biggest venue we've ever been in – we don't have anything like this at home. But even though it's such a big venue, it feels comfortable," said Morton-Gramyk, who noted that it was snowing in her home town of Sagle, ID. "Part of the reason I came here is to put myself in a new environment and to challenge myself. I've met some fantastic people and I've learned so much already. I hope that more people from my region will be tempted to come next year. Win or lose, I'm just so thankful to have this opportunity to compete here. I feel like this is my Olympics."
It's not just competitors who have traveled far from home to participate in the Finals experience. USDF Region 5 Director Heather Petersen of Falcon, CO is scribing for all four days of competition. "As a Regional Director, I thought it was important for me to be here for the Finals," said Petersen. "And what better way to show my support than to volunteer." Fellow volunteer Susan Moran of Cynthiana, KY (Region 2) is serving as the Steward Coordinator for the Finals. As a USEF Technical Delegate, she's officiated for her share of large competitions, but feels that these Finals are special. "I'm so happy to be here and be a part of this," said Moran. "It's neat to finally see this event happen and to see riders at all levels from all over the U.S. coming here to the Horse Capital of the World to compete together."
Wrapping up an exciting first day, exhibitors enjoyed a Competitor Welcome Party and Trade Fair Kick-Off on the concourse of the Alltech Arena. Competition resumes Friday at 8:00am ET as the first of the Finals championship classes get underway. Follow the action through updates on the USDF Facebook page and the US Dressage Finals website, as well as watch live online streaming of Friday and Saturday evening competition on the popular USEF Network (www.usefnetwork.com). To learn more about the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, download competition information, review day sheets and results, and read daily news releases, visit the official event website at www.usdressagefinals.com.