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The WoSJ guest blogger from the Zoetis $1 Million Dollar Grand Prix; Agatha D'Ambra

Tuesday, 01 October 2013

Hi everybody,

I was very excited about the Zoetis $1 Million Dollar Grand Prix at HITS Saugerties, especially because it is so close to my home and farm, Trade Winds Farm in Rexford, NY. Not to mention, the show itself is run so smoothly and I was sure the event would go off without a hitch.

When I first found out I qualified for the million-dollar Grand Prix, it was one of my proudest moments, especially because it was a goal I had established for myself to accomplish for 2013. It feels amazing to have succeeded and I am truly honored to have been competing with such an elite group of athletes. It was definitely a career high for me!

As for preparation, the week ahead of the competition was very interesting considering the temperatures dropped about 10 degrees which was really impacting all of the horses. The cold weather was giving the horses a break from the intense heat they have been used to competing in all summer.

The horse I was riding in the Grand Prix is named Quivola and he is a 9-year-old Selle Francais gelding. He is very sweet and I have been able to build a strong partnership and bond with him since I first received him from my parents as a Christmas gift this past winter. I worked diligently to gain his trust and I feel because of the attention I was able to give him, his personality and overall health has been able to blossom. It’s obvious that every time we get into the show ring together, Quivola tries harder and harder to do a good job for me.

As for any horse, part of building a successful partnership involves training and competing together quite frequently. In fact, Quivola and I have competed together in some of the biggest classes that I have ever jumped in, including my first Suncast 1.50m Class at WEF and the WEF Grand Prix that took place during the winter circuit. We have also competed together in all of the big Grand Prix classes at HITS this year and we even placed 12th in one of them by having a clear round and 1 time fault. I also spent some time in Vermont this summer where Quivola and I placed 4th in the Grand Prix, having a clear round with only one time fault. Although he is VERY scopey and still a little green in his technique, I feel that we have been steadily improving together as a team throughout the summer.

I was very nervous the night ahead of the show, and spent my entire night mentally preparing. In fact, I was watching the streamed footage from the Friday’s Wild Card Grand Prix and was trying to envision the kind of course that would be built for the Zoetis $1 Million Dollar Grand Prix.

I started my day by flatting Quivola in the morning to make sure he was feeling fresh and ready. I could tell he was just as excited as I, especially with all of the commotion going on at the show grounds, which were buzzing with energy all morning. Even though there was a lot to take in, Quivola was very responsive and well behaved in our morning work out – I felt like he was in the exact place I wanted him to be before the competition.

The course looked huge and scary and it was challenging to walk the course and formulate a plan when there were so many people everywhere. I even noticed a lot of the spectators taking pictures of how big the jumps were. I walked the course several times to relax and memorize my plan. By this time, the wind really started to pick up and many of the jumps were falling over due to the incredibly high gusts.

After walking the course, I felt really good about my chances. This course was built for my horse and everything I have been practicing with him all summer. Since I always struggle for the time allowed on him, I usually leave out strides in some places to make up the time. This is a perfect course for that and there were a few scope tests but I knew it was all something we could jump.

I noticed the crowd gathering in the stands and around the show ring. I had never seen a crowd so large in this stadium in all my years I’ve competed here. I sat with my trainer to observe the first couple riders go. It looked difficult and the time allowed was really tight! Very few riders made it within the time allowed but it seemed like it rode exactly how I had planned it to. I watched the first 10 or so riders and then I got on my horse (I went 23rd in the order). He seemed to warm up really nicely on the flat. The first few jumps felt great and I started to relax and remember this is just another Grand Prix, it started to feel like a normal warm up.

Then, the wind started to really pick up. My horse started to act a little nervous and began hanging up over our oxer in the schooling ring. I thought maybe he was picking up on my nerves and feeling the electricity in the air. I wasn't sure where the hesitation was coming from. He does have the tendency to get nervous sometimes and freeze; I was hoping he would start to relax as the competition went on.

It was now time for us to enter the ring. Deep breathe! The atmosphere was incredible and just as I started to feel good and my confidence picked up, my horse seemed to have others plans.

Quivola jumped the first couple jumps great and I thought we were going to have an amazing run. I then turned back to fences 3, 4 that consisted of a really airy, spooky fence held together by some of the jump crew because of the high winds Quivola spooked hard but we kept going. He cleared the next oxer with ease but then in the bending eight strides to fence 5A5B, a huge oxer that proved difficult that day, my horse stuck off the ground. I didn't think we would make it in 2 strides to fence B since he hung up so much, so I sat on and he hopped out of the double in 3 strides instead. After that, I had to circle for a moment and regain my composure. I then started up again at fence 6, which was just four strides away from 5B. I managed to get Quivola through a large and difficult triple combination that caused a lot of rails for people that day. He was starting to feel really sticky so I over-rode a little bit through the rest of the course. I finished it up and cleared some of the jumps that most people had knocked down including the triple bar, the triple combination and the water jump.

I was really disappointed that we didn't do better but still happy that I stuck with it and got him through the whole course. A lot of people retired but I thought it would be better to give Quivola and myself the experience of completing the course rather than giving up just because we weren't going to win. This course was by far the biggest and hardest track I have ever taken him over and while I am a little disappointed that it didn't go better, I'm still pleased with all of our progress this year.

Our stars were not aligned in this class. It's okay because I am still really pleased to have been a part of this amazing experience. I want to congratulate Nayel Nassar on an amazing win as well as all of the riders who qualified this year. I am so grateful to everyone at HITS Horse Shows for their hard work and dedication to promoting our sport at such a high level. I want to thank Zoetis who gave such an incredible magnitude of support to the Grand Prix and I’d like to thank my sponsors, Elite Equine Veterinary and Cavalor, for the support they provide my horses and I every day.

Now that the Grand Prix has come to and end, my plan from here is to take a small break for my horses and myself since we showed so much this summer. My horses will enjoy being pampered and I am planning to finally catch up with my friends I haven't seen all summer since I have been working so much and maybe even take a vacation. This was a great way to end my summer circuit and now I'm looking forward to going down to Florida to compete in the winter circuit.


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