I cannot believe it’s been over a month since I’ve been back and I’m just now getting to this. Those of you who have distracted me from this task know who you are 😉 Anyway, we left home on the 27th of September for West Virginia and stayed at the Gillum House B&B, which accommodates horses as well. We always stay there on our way down South; it’s a great place for all of us. On the 28th we made it to our final practice at Hodge Arena in Kentucky. This was more of a barrel racing style arena, the footing had to be a foot deep, and hard pieces of clay throughout. It was kind of scary but practice went great and all the horses and riders had their patterns down by the end of the night. The horses stayed overnight while the people went on to our hotel for the duration of our stay in KY. In the morning, we woke up at 5am and went back to pick up the horses for transport into KY Horse Park. All required vet checks/records and vehicle checks went by with no problem or hassle, and access into the park and stable area was immediate and easy to navigate. Once unloaded and unpacked, we went about acclimating our horses and preparing for our evening exhibition. Some of us had a few mishaps, but no one noticed. The arena was not full that night; we were riding during the same time as the dressage competition so it was more of a practice run anyway.
The next day, our exhibition was in the morning, and the stands were packed. In fact, even the standing room was full. Lots of school groups had come in and the kids were leaning over the fence, rocking it the whole time we rode. They were singing our song louder than the speakers and dancing through our entire ride. The routine went as well as it possibly could have, and rather than veer away from the mobs of screaming children running to get closer, Blue pushed all the way up to the rail head on and never flinched through his whole routine. I laughed the whole time and when I was finished, my lips were so dry that I couldn’t close my mouth. Everyone there was having a great time. After the demo, we rode back up to the rail and stopped for the kids to pet the horses. Blue loved this part best, especially when he smelled little hands full of buttery popcorn. He didn’t even try to steal their food, he just forged his head down into the crowd for the kids to hang on his head and neck and give him kisses. We got to sign some Breyer WEG Autograph horses too. This was by far my favorite day.
We spent the rest of the day wandering around the park sightseeing, shopping, and just enjoying the calm, well-maintained environment. That evening we had tickets to the reining freestyle show and it was really great. I was happy to be able to see Stacy Westfall do her demo. I had met her a few times before but this was the first time I got to see her ride. There were three riders in particular who were absolutely amazing; I will have to check my program for their names.
The next morning, I took Blue out for a walk around the Park to stretch his legs. We ended up parking out on a grassy patch and letting some children step in for photos. We had a line by this time, but Blue did not move once until everyone had gotten their photo. In fact, three different people jumped back when they touched him because they thought he was a statue at first. I guess they hadn’t seen a horse stand that still in the middle of a crowd before 🙂 We did another demo that night.
October 2nd and our last day at the Park. We had a morning demo and then spent the rest of the day relaxing and going back to see anything we wanted to spend more time on. My mom had flown in for the day and I was able to sneak her back to see Blue after our ride. I went back to the Ariat pavilion to pick up some of my goodies that I had requested from the day before. (They also sent a new pair of field boots to my hotel 🙂 Arait has been great to me this year, I’ll be a lifelong ambassador for their company. Also stopped by Soft-Ride to say hello and saw that our testimonial was playing on their TV’s. Again, more amazing people. We were able to go down to the cross country course and get right up along the fence for some of the really great jumps. Then it started to get really windy and we headed back to the barns in time for the rain to start. It had been beautiful weather, mid 70’s and sunny up until this point so we got lucky to have been finished for the day. We had to leave that evening, and although we supposedly had reservations to go back to Hodge Arena, they had no room for us. Some people who lived fairly close went home or found other places to go. We went to a beautiful Thoroughbred racing farm called McPeak, just a few minutes away, courtesy of Duke Thorson (thanks!). The next morning we were out of there and back to Gillum House, WV. Finally on the 4th, we made it back home.
Overall, the whole event was very well managed and I was very pleased at the lack of chaos. Everything seemed to go according to schedule and the Park stayed clean. The volunteers and staff were all knowledgeable and pleasant to deal with. The entire experience was a positive one. All the individuals who spoke to us made it very clear that they thought our team was amazing and that they were so proud of us for bringing flat-shod, sound horses to exhibit. Side note: USDA was there for our inspections to make sure all our horses were clean and sound. Blue was the only one with any bare feet so he got a lot of attention from the spectators for that.
Thank you to the selection committee that knew we would represent well. Thank you to all my sponsors who made this year possible. Not just the trip to the Games, but all the practices all over the country as well. Thank you to Chris for helping make this an easy journey before, during and after, believing in us when we needed someone to, and for helping take care of Blue while we were there so I didn’t get tired. Thanks to everyone who came out to see our demos and support sound Walking Horses. Thank you Mama Bear for letting me call you 20 times a day and being happy for me because I was there even though you couldn’t be.