Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Irish Dressage Rider Judy Reynolds Blogs About Her Journey to the 2010 Games

I’m just back from the Schindlhof – Fritzens CDI 4* in Austria. The owners of Schindlhof, Klaus & Evelyn Haim-Swarovski have once again held one of the most enjoyable, friendly and generous shows set in the most picturesque location that I’ve been to. It’s the 25th year the show has been held, and the 15th show in memoriam to Manfred Swarovski, Evelyn’s father and a great horseman who passed away in 1995.

The grounds are 900m, that’s about 3000ft, above sea level in the middle of the Tyrolean Alps. The famous ski resort city, Innsbruck, is only a 15-minute drive from the show. The grounds themselves however are 800 km’s (10 hours straight in the truck with no traffic) from my base in Voerde, which by the way is only 50m above sea level. I usually like to leave on long journeys as early as possible to try and avoid the heavy traffic around the Dusseldorf-Cologne area. If left to my own devices I probably would have been done and gone by 6am, but as Johann wasn’t coming we had a final training session the morning of departure with the two horses I brought, Remy and my younger horse J.P.

So off we set for the show a little after 1 o’clock on Wednesday afternoon. Myself & Patrick, the 2 boys and the hound contingent of Blitzen and Pina -Pina is a little Jack Russell who actually belongs to Johann. Pretty soon after I moved to his yard I was watching TV after a long a day when I heard a short sharp bark outside. I didn’t think too much about it until I heard it again a couple of minutes later. I opened the door on the side of my apartment and in runs Pina! She’s quite old (No-one’s quite sure exactly, estimates put her at 11 or 12. Pretty old in doggy years, around 84 I think) she has a really good character and gets on very well with my long standing best friend Blitzen. So that night Pina decided that she was going to live here, and Blitzen and I decided that was ok. The show was Pina’s first trip outside of Germany, very exciting for an 80+-year-old Jack Russell I’d imagine!

I do all of my own driving, and even though we could have got there in 10 hours, there are rules for truck drivers regarding driving time and rest so the journey took a bit longer because of the rest-stops and minor delays along the way. In my truck Patrick can go out the back to check the horses and offer them water and carrots etc. I say offer them water because they never drink any! They know if they hold out on the water then they’ll get lots of carrots and apples to keep them hydrated. We tried cutting up apples and putting them into the water bucket to tempt them into drinking. This only served to annoy Remy because he can’t get them out easily, and nearly drown J.P because he doesn’t give up! We arrived at the show a little before 2am, which meant that we didn’t get to enjoy the scenery as we drove into the Alps. Even though it’s my 5th time to go to Fritzens the scenery still knocks me out. When I opened the curtains the next morning I got a full reminder of how amazing the place is. The weather was perfect. Blue skies, the sun beaming down and in every direction huge snow capped peaks. Fantastic! It was good to be back there.

On Thursday morning I let the boys have a lie-in after their long trip the day before. I took them out for a little exercise at 10am. The vet check wasn’t until 3pm, which gave me plenty of time to show them around before things started getting exciting. They were both pretty happy, presumably because I hadn’t woke them up to early! I took Remy for a walk in hand and Patrick took J.P.

J.P wasn’t entered in anything at the show. He’s just ready to do his first Prix St. George test at national level so he came along to get some show atmosphere experience, and so I could continue to work him. And in fairness to him, he went quite well. Jazz offspring are not known for their level-headedness… it was because of this that it was so surprising that between him, Remy and myself he managed to keep it together the best over the weekend...

My parents arrived on Thursday evening to lend their support and whatever help they could. My father and mother, Joe & Kathleen, come to as many of my competitions as possible. They never miss this one however, for many reasons. They also really enjoy Klaus & Evelyn’s welcoming and friendly nature, and my father has forged a good but sometimes strange friendship between himself and the owner of his favourite Alpine hotel, The Speckbacher-Hof, located a little further up the mountain than the show grounds. We went for dinner with my parents in their hotel that evening. As ever when my parents are in town Blitzen insisted on coming too. Anna Merveldt joined us a little later. It was nice to see her. Since she moved to Italy the opportunity to catch up doesn’t come very often. As always at the Speckbacher-Hof dinner was excellent, and as I had no tests on Friday we were able to stay a little later than usual. We all went into the residents’ bar for a drink after dinner. Dad’s friend, Andy, joined us and we all had a good laugh. However, It wasn’t long after dinner that I started to feel the drain of the two long days so we decided to call it a night. We got ready to go and called Blitzen. He didn’t move an inch. Except for his head, which he cocked to one side and looked at me as if to say, are you joking?

Of course when my parents are at a show Blitzen generally is nowhere to be seen. Well if you can see my mother you’ll catch a glimpse of him! He gets so excited when he see’s her at the airport or getting out of a car, that he actually forgets to breathe for a couple of minutes! Dad is a vegetarian, yet whenever he has a furry guest in the hotel he tends to take full advantage of the cold meat selection on offer at the breakfast buffet. No wonder I’m not the only one who gets a little depressed for a couple of days when Mum & Dad leave. So having left Blitzen nice and comfy in 4star surroundings, Patrick & I headed down the mountain for another night in the truck.

I have to say I was pretty nervous when I started to clean Remy and get him ready for the test. And as any rider will tell you, your horse picks up on how you’re feeling. This created a bit of a snowball effect and before long we were like a coiled spring. Not what we need before a Grand Prix test at a 4* international.

The test didn’t go so well. We went pretty much mistake-free, piaffe was a bit forward (something we’re working hard on) but everything else was ok. It just lacked the wow factor needed. And the tension showed in the movements so we weren’t able to draw the big points from the judges. Isabell Werth won the class with Satchmo on 73.5%. We finished mid-table and I was pretty happy that we managed to qualify for the special on Sunday.

Every evening at the Schidlhof tournament the owners have some entertainment arranged for the competitors and guests. Friday evening is one of my favourites! You might have recognised the name of the owners and hosts of the tournament, Swarovski? On Friday evenings they open their wonderful showrooms and factory outlet shop at the Swarovski factory in the town and we all get to enjoy the fascinating tour, and at the end, take advantage of a very nice discount in the biggest Swarovski-crystal shop you’ve ever seen! Having shopped myself into a happy state we went for dinner in a very nice little Italian restaurant in the centre of the town.

Saturday: The Grand Prix for competitors who wanted to ride in the freestyle to music was scheduled for Saturday. I had no tests so we had a fairly relaxed day. I worked the 2 boys as usual. Remy was much better than the day before and I thought over the test from Friday and what might have been. J.P went very well again. I worked him in the outdoor riding arena where he got to see lot’s new things and wavy flags etc. I had really expected him to be a bit more worked up by all the excitement and activity at a busy international show but he was really well behaved. After lunch I watched some of the riders in the class. Victoria Max-Theurer (AUT), Ulla Salzgeber (GER), Valentina Truppa (ITA) and America’s own Catherine Haddad amongst others rode in a hotly contested class, which Ulla Salzgeber won on 70.5%.

Later that evening Patrick and I had well needed showers and put on our glad rags for 8pm. We met with my parents and around 250 other guests outside the riding hall for a drinks reception and the start of the evening’s entertainment. A concert with the excellent Soprano singer, Eva Lind, was held in the hall that had only a few short hours earlier been the warm up arena for the tests! It was unrecognisable as the same place. The hard working crew at the show had covered a large area of the ground with temporary wood flooring and chairs and had set up the necessary extras required to put on a concert involving an orchestra! In this setting the enormous crystal chandelier, hanging from the ceiling was perfectly at home! After the concert we moved to the catering marquee. Everyone was seated at perfectly prepared tables scattered with tiny multi-coloured crystals and an army of excellent waiters served us a very tasty but definitely bad for my diet 4 course meal. We got the chance to dance away some of the calories before the evening ended and we headed back to the truck to get some rest shortly after 1am.

Sunday: The special started a lot better. I even got a 9 from one of the judges for my entry! It continued quite well for a while, he stayed up and with me and listening, until we came to our first piaffe.. I’m not sure what happened exactly, but as we started to ride the movement we got about 2 or 3 really good steps when all of a sudden he threw his head in the air and began to resist the aid. It took a moment to get this under control and from then on he got very tense and our marks suffered as a result. Our test that was on 70% (Patrick & my father informed me later. He could see the scores on a live board) was murdered down to the low 60’s. I was extremely disappointed. After we performed our duty in the prize giving, where Beatriz Ferrer-Salat was named the worthy winner of the class after a score of 74%, we packed the truck and left. It was along drive back with lots of time for reflection on the events of the weekend.

When you get down to it, Remy and I are still trying to navigate the Grand Canyon size valley between riding Grand Prix at national and at international competition. There are a few things we still have to work through and with only 78 days to go before Remy is due to leave for Kentucky horse park, I wouldn’t be honest if I said I wasn’t feeling the pressure. Two of the other Irish riders qualified for WEG have unfortunately had to withdraw. Yvette Truesdale’s horse, Has To Be Fun, has been out action for a while now, and there’s not enough time for her to get him back to full fitness. Anna Merveldt has withdrawn due to personal commitments. This is obviously a huge disappointment as it was my first opportunity to ride for a senior Irish team at a world championship and it would have been a fantastic experience. I’m sure it’s an even bigger disappointment for Yvette and Anna though and my heart goes out to them.
So now, unless Angela Crane can get her 2nd qualifying score, and I wish her the best of luck, it looks like it might just be me flying the Irish flag in dressage at the biggest equestrian event of my life. If I want to go to Kentucky and really show what Remy and I can do –and I really, really want that- we have to work harder than ever!

I believe that we have to try to get to as many international shows as we can between now and the world games as possible. For want of a better phrase, ‘international match fitness’ is what we’re lacking. We’ve only competed at five international-Grand Prix’s so far and a few more would definitely help us prepare for what will be required in Kentucky.
I’ll keep you updated on how we’re progressing.
Bye for now, Judy.


  1. Great blog, well done!
    When are you next in Ireland? Have a list of people who want lessons.

  2. Such an interesting blog, i loved it!)))

  3. Great blog!

    From someone who is going from prelim to novice its good to see that even at the top things go wrong but you keep learning - good luck at WEG!!!

  4. Wonderful Blog! Thoughtful and warm. Thank you for sharing such an insightful glimpse of your adventure with us. Many blessings and best wishes for WEG!

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