Back in January when I was creating my show schedule the Devonwood show was not originally on the list of shows. The reason being was this year I preferred to keep the shows closer to home to keep the traveling stress minimal on the older horses and to avoid the hot conditions that occur at this show.
In early March I was looking through the show omnibus and saw the list of judges for the Devonwood show. One of the judges was my mentor Hilda Gurney. Since I left California in 1997 I had not shown in front of Hilda and had not seen Hilda in person since a clinic in Colorado in 1998. I felt this would be a great opportunity to show in front of Hilda with two FEI horses. I spoke with the owners of Neo and Claudius and both agreed to changing the show schedule to go down and show in front of Hilda.
I knew that there was a chance Hilda would not be assigned to any of my classes, but I figured at least Hilda would be assigned the Freestyles. When times were posted the only class I would be riding in front of Hilda would be the FEI Freestyle with Neo. While that was a disappointment not to ride in front of Hilda more, at least it was the most important ride of the show. Ironically, I rode in front of Joan McCartney and MacDonald for all four rides. Oh well.
On the Friday of the show I rode both Claudius and Neo in the Prix St Georges. In the weeks leading up to this show I had put all my preparation, both in practice and in mental in the rehearsals, into the freestyles and it showed when I rode the Prix St Georges. Both rides were a little sloppy and not as crisp as I could have ridden. While we placed Neo 9th and Claudius 10th with low 60's it was not the best we could do. But what was important was I had both horses in good places and primed for the freestyles on Saturday night.
On Saturday, temperatures pushed into the mid to high 90's. Claudius was the first horse to go at 4:30pm and Neo second at 7:15pm. I was excited to be riding the freestyles at Devonwood because of the great venue, good footing, super amenities, and of course the large crowd to watching. I'm always motivated to show in front of a large crowd and try to show the crowd a great ride to watch. Plus, the loud ovations at the end always feel good.
I managed Claudius' warm up well with the hot temperatures (hence not riding with a jacket in both rides). Claudius's freestyle went well, with just a couple of bobbles. By far this was our best ride in two years and we still aren't at our best. We placed 5th-at this show they combine all of the USDF freestyle together. We were actually the 2nd best 4th Level freestyle with a 68%.
For Neo, I knew that moment we started our warm up we would have a great ride. Going around the competition ring prior to being rung in, I felt cool and confident. Everything seemed slow and I knew we had the ride we wanted before even going in. Minus a mistake in the 3's and in the canter zig zag I couldn't have asked for a better ride. In each of Neo's extended trots I could hear/feel a buzz from the crowd. The final halt/salute brought a huge ovation from the crowd. As I started walking away I turned around to catch Hilda's eye and she looked up momentarily with a big grin on her face.
We ended up 4th with a 66.5%. Without the mistakes we would have easily been 3rd and maybe even 2nd. Regardless, being our first time out for the I1 freestyle I couldn't have been any happier.
After the conclusion of the freestyles and the placings were set, I sought out Hilda and had about a 5-10 minute conversation with her; giving us a chance to do a quick catching up. Numerous times Hilda repeated, "you are looking so good on the horse". Hearing that meant so much to me and will be something I won't forget.