Ramblings from a “newbie” at NAJRYC

8 years ago ilse Comments Off on Ramblings from a “newbie” at NAJRYC

By ILSE SCHWARZ

I am currently attending NAJYRC at Lexington, Kentucky, as both a trainer and a photographer/reporter, foolishly believing that having only one student to train would leave me ample time to cover the rest of the event. I was so wrong!! Friday is an off day for the dressage events so I am finally going to get something on paper. Those that know my writing style know that I am not generally a “report results” type of writer. I like to report my impressions of an event, especially one that I have not previously attended.

So…

Jog…people have to realize that the majority of these horses are schoolmasters, generally on significant maintenance, presented drug-free for this competition. Why on earth are they expected to jog sound on hard ground coated with shifting gravel???

kids…fantastic

heat…hideous

my legs…getting browner

rules and regulations…guaranteed to steer most kids away from the sport of dressage

judging…lets not even go there!!

footing (except for jog)…amazing

facility (except for stabling)…amazing

stabling (except for location)…again, let’s not even go there

support and effort put in by parents to enable their kids to attend…totally unbelievable

and did I mention the heat??…how about a heat index of 112F on Thursday…so warm in the media tent that my computer totally ceased to function, I know others were on the blink.

I arrived on Monday, middayish, excited to attend my first NAJYRC. My student had shipped in with her horse on Saturday, so they were all ready for their first training session. It was wonderful to fly into the Bluegrass airport and actually see the “bluegrass” looking green and lush. My last visit was for the World Equestrian Games in 2010, where Kentucky was in the grips of a drought and everything was brown and tired looking. We pulled into the Kentucky Horse Park and I was immediately disoriented with everything all down-sized since WEG and three quarters of the Rolex stadium seating gone!!

Kentucky Bluegrass 2011, lush and green

It was a little disconcerting to see, in the midst of all the world class facilities, our tent stabling. It was close to the stadium and warm up arenas but that was the only good thing I can say about it. Let’s just say that adding circuit breakers to the multiple power-boards that came from the minimal electrical outlets was essential. It was already very hot and a “cool” front had just moved through. Turns out, this would be the coolest day of the week. The heat would become a major factor through the first days of competition and, despite the discomfort of the stabling, it probably was best for all that the rings were so close.

Day one finished with a lovely late lunch, getting to know some of the parents and kids, catching up with the trainers, many of whom I only see through the winter season in Wellington. There was a tangible feeling of anticipation and excitement in the air, with everyone eager to get the show on the road!

Day Two was the first official training day and the kids got to school in the stadium. It was so refreshing to see just how many of these kids can really ride and how resilient they were in the increasing heat and how attentive EVERYONE was to their horses needs. It was apparent just how many of these kids absolutely lived for their horses. The time for the veterinary jog started approaching and when I saw the preparation of the area where it was to be held I really felt apprehensive. I had watched the warmup arena being rolled in one area and had thought, “wow, how considerate. These horses will be able to present on their riding surface,”… then I saw them rolling a hard gravel road and my heart sank….a hard surface with shifting gravel on top, a surface I would never think of riding my horses on.

Young riders school in the Rolex stadium, which looks completely different with the removal of all temporary WEG seating!

Sure enough, the jog was on the miserable surface and the ground jury were tough. I didn’t count but there must have been at least 20 horses held for re-inspection and four asked to re-present at 6:30 a.m. the next day. No-one could ever remember this happening before. Now I TOTALLY understand that there is a responsibility to ensure that these horses are comfortable and safe but the bottom line is that NO ONE would ever trot their horses on this footing. The jumpers and eventers were able to present on a riding, if not the competition, surface. Why the dressage horses had to have something different is beyond me. It also needs to be understood that the majority of the horses at this event are older schoolmasters. They are with young riders who are benefiting from their experience and education BUT they also have issues. Most are going to be on some sort of management for soundness/inflammation when at home. This event is a FEI Championship, and the FEI drug rules apply, so theses horses are drug free and managed with ice and what little legal homeopathics are available. The riders/trainers/parents make this happen and in return these wonderful horses have to jog on hard surface. I know it is a championship, I understand there are certain rules that must be followed but THESE ARE KIDS, as young as 13 years old. Some having their first experience of a jog. Why must it be made so serious and so negative. Why are we trying to drive kids away from the sport of dressage????

It may look soft but this was a hard "shifting" surface, the "jog" footing ©SusanJStickle.com

At the end of the day, two horses were not fit to continue and all the other re-inspections were passed as fit. The stress level placed on some of the young riders was, in my opinion, too much and their riding on the first day of competition was affected. On the upside, when they are adults and competing in CDIs, they will be prepared for the worst possible scenarios in the veterinary jogs and be superstars with the use of ice to limit inflammation.

Something wonderful that did come out of the stress of the “jog” was the way that the other riders and trainers, from all regions, rallied together to help those that needed it. The bottom line was, all the riders/trainers/parents wanted everyone to have the opportunity to compete and if it meant staying up half the night to assist, they did it.

Competition Day One:

The first test started at 7 a.m., in the relative cool and, in many cases, the rider with the lowest qualifying score was the first to go for each region. Because it was so hot, some regions had put some of their higher scoring combinations in the early times, as some horses had heat stress issues. What upsets me about this, is that we were told the judges had been informed that this could happen and not to assume that the competition was running in reverse order of qualification. It disturbs me that the judges even had to know…aren’t they supposed to be judging on an even field, with no pre-conceived opinions?

It turns out that the judging for the Young Riders Team test was conservative but consistent over all five judges. The three highest scores, from Brandi Roenick (69.289%), Chase Hickok (68.316) and Isabelle Leibler (68.079) were in the last group and all three were beautiful tests with superior riding. They were a pleasure to watch.

Chase Hickok and her delightful Palermo. Second high score in the team test

The junior team test was another story altogether. Some of the best rides were produced earlier in the day, and judged accordingly, but the overwhelming disparities between the judges really left both riders and trainers confused and disappointed. Try explaining to your student why one judge perceives her test to be a 68% and another judge sees 58%, or a 71% and 59% on the same ride. The rankings by the judges varied as widely as the scores. On final analysis, over 25% of the tests had a judging range of more than 5% up to 12%. There was such confusion over these scores that, although team medals were awarded and award ceremonies held, the test sheets were held overnight and released to the riders around 8.30am the next day, one and one half hours after the start of the individual test competition.

Junior rider, Tanya Strasser Shostak embodies everything NAJYRC is about.

It is safe to say that after Day One of competition I was not a fan of this show at all. I am sure you have also read about the “helmet with bling” fiasco, which has been somewhat downplayed. That rider was in my team’s region and the rider was distraught after her test, and it is safe to say that the drama did affect her team test ride. (As an aside this rider has made it to the freestyle competition to be held tomorrow).

The overwhelming thought that was running through my exhausted, overheated and outraged body was “why would a teenager WANT to be involved in this sport?” In my opinion, the officials are truly treating the kids as if it was the Olympics, with not an ounce of fun and no discretion in their judging. The wearing of jackets was waived, this was mandatory, so at least there was some fun in the team polo shirts for each region, but each team was so respectful in the colors and patterns they chose, so why not allow a little “life”, in form of some sparkles, into the uniforms. Do I need to say again…THESE ARE KIDS

By now it is possible that everyone reading this (if you have made it this far) thinks I am a wingeing, whining trainer whose region did not win. I can only emphasize that my personality is so far from that. As a first time attendee I am startled by how miserable and disheartened some of these kids were at the end of the day, even ones with good test rides. I strongly believe that if nobody says anything about the above there is no chance it will ever change.

The parents and chefs work so hard to make this happen, they spend a fortune and travel immense distances. I wanted to find again that air of excitement that was so tangible on arrival. Instead there were riders and parents questioning why they had put so much into it for so little emotional reward. I know most riders will try to qualify for their teams again for 2012 and I am certain my rider also will. One parent said to me, “it is kind of like child birth…by the time the next one comes around, you have forgotten the pain of the previous!”

On a lighter note, Day 2 of competition dawned with a different feel to the air. A feeling of  “OK, today is another day, let’s get started.” It was also going to be hotter 🙁