“It is no longer about potential. It is about being kinetic.”
A national horse show has a way of drawing the best out of a rider. The stakes are well understood. A win can catapult a rider to greater heights. An unexpected finish can lead to new opportunities. Or, it can quash the loftiest of dreams.
Riding in their fourth, consecutive appearance at the Las Vegas Nationals, my daughters have caught the eye of a few professional riders along the way. They’ve watched them at work, and have come away impressed. Their horsemanship, work ethic, attention to detail, their intangibles. Most have been impressed with their ability to manage the anticipation and expectations of a national show, and the bright lights of an FEI World Cup tour event.
Compliments aside, it is about riding the ride. “It is giving their absolute best in the show ring,” says Trish. “They trust themselves. They trust their horses. They have a maturity that you rarely, if ever, find in a rider of their age. That is why they’re very, very good.”
With fewer wild card slots available, the World Cup Grand Prix field was expected to be smaller in size from the year before. A rider’s best chance to assure themselves a slot was a clean ride in the qualifier, the Welcome Speed Classic, held two nights earlier. No rails down, no time faults. Once the qualifier and wild card slots were filled, a field of 29 riders was set. Only Elizabeth qualified for the event; Deborah and Tara both failed to qualify with one rail down in their runs. Yet, these are the moments they have often practiced. Only one moving ahead to ride the headline event, the other two supporting in a second’s role.
Deborah and Tara walked the course build with Elizabeth, offering their insights on the Oscar Soberón designed course. Like his other courses – fair, challenging, exciting. After the walkthrough, Elizabeth worked through her notes and choosing her sightlines and riding line.
An hour before the event, it’s the quiet time for Elizabeth and Lilith. The routine is deliberate and methodical. When the first group of riders are called, Elizabeth and Lilith are ready. A final check of the rigging, they begin the walk from the stables to Priefert Arena, next door to the main arena, for warm-ups.
The pressure and anxiety of the moment wasn’t any greater than Elizabeth normally experiences. Thoughts of the ride and the course are far from her mind. Instead, the focus is keeping Lilith’s warm-up steady. When it’s time to move into the holding area, Lilith is ready, ready.
From the holding area, the riders were able to gain a sense of the arena. The atmosphere, the anticipation, was less electric than the year before. Perhaps, it was the arena being only three-quarters full. Or, the audience more subdued. A less excited atmosphere generally keeps a horse from becoming overexcited. A highly charged setting, like the year before, several horses, including Lilith, were overexcited.
tunnel walk: from the stables to Priefert Arena
warm-up: Priefert Arena, ring two (left)
While she prefers a later start position, Elizabeth drew ninth in the order. Riding later in the order gives a better sense of the course in terms of difficulty and footing. Riding early in the draw, there is little sense of the course. The ride becomes trusting yourself.
With Elizabeth and three other amateurs part of the field of 29 riders, the World Cup Grand Prix began. Per FEI rule, the amateurs would not be listed in the official results unless it is a top ten finish. Richard Spooner (USA) was the crowd favorite with Chatinus, a 10-year-old Hanoverian he acquired over the summer. He had top five finishes in the World Cup qualifiers at Sacramento and Del Mar.
The challenge of the Soberón course revealed itself quickly. The first eight riders had put down rails, at least one. Riding ninth, 1028 Elizabeth Ksenia Ramos/Lilith (USA), would she be the first to ride clear? Elizabeth was riding the course well, her split times good. They cleared the troublesome 1.60 m fence with ease. The three 1.50 m fences down the backstretch, clear. On the second to last fence, a slight brush on the top rail of the 1.50 m fence. Rail down. Time, a 1.5 second lead on the field. With 20 riders yet to come, an unknown rider with a penchant for detail is the leader for the moment.
The ride done, Elizabeth knew she missed her chance. It seemed, though, the event may not go to a jump-off. Rider after rider were pulling rails. Elizabeth’s lead was steadily being chipped away, then her time passed. The first clear ride finally came 12 riders later. Crowd favorite, Richard Spooner, rode clear at 24. Karrie Ruffer (USA), an amateur making her second World Cup start, also made the jump-off. Spooner won the jump-off by nearly three seconds over Alison Robitaille (USA), with Ruffer retiring after a pulled rail. She finished third, and a place in the official results. In the unofficial results, Elizabeth finished 11th, 0.18 seconds short of tenth place.
For some, Las Vegas was their season finale. After the holiday break, many would begin assembling their show schedule for 2018. A few were planning a trip to the Winter Equestrian Festival in Palm Beach, FL to watch the best ride. A pair of riders the girls know rather well have decided to call it a career in riding, but continue in the horse world.
And, a handful, including my girls, are riding at the World Cup tour event in Guadalajara, this week, to begin their 2018 calendar.