Imagine being at a raging bar at 2 a.m. and you’re the only sober person there. That, I imagine, is what it feels like to compete in the Military Boekelo CCI3*.
Certainly, it is an apt description for what it has been like to work all day in Boekelo’s press center, with its (all-day) open bar, rosé-pushing media hostess (bless her), loud dance music (so. much. disco. why?!) and throngs of people loitering about with drinks in hand whom I’m quite certain are not journalists (get a room, people, I’m trying to transcribe this interview).
Having said that, thank God for the open bar without which I’m pretty sure I would be losing my mind.
Correspondingly, the Boekelo dressage ring is an electric funhouse of flapping banners, sponsor signage, superfluous cross country obstacles and in-your-face jumbotron. While the bulk of today’s spectators seemed content to seek refuge from the chilly, grey weather inside the lounges lining the main arena, the ring was still encircled by a muffled soundtrack of wind, music, laughter and voices — a recipe either for enhanced performance or eminent disaster, depending on your horse.
The two Americans who rode their dressage tests today, Kylie Lyman and Tamie Smith, were mounted on young horses relatively new to the level. Both have been based in the UK for the past couple-ish months and competed in the CIC3* 8/9-year-old division at Blenheim in September — Kylie and Lup the Loop finished 19th, and Tamie and Dempsey finished 23rd — and Boekelo marks each of the horses’ second CCI3* attempt.
That’s where the similarities end, though, as each horse responded to today’s party atmosphere in a markedly different way.
Kylie’s ride “Loopy,” an 8-year-old Irish Sport Horse, may have been born in Ireland but he is a California dude at heart. He’s not the fanciest horse in the world, but today’s competition lit a fire under his tail for the better.
“I wasn’t too worried going in there,” Kylie said, explaining that she would have been surprised if Loopy lost his cool. “He took it all in and got bigger and knew it was more important instead of getting worried and put off by it.”
Kylie said of cantering around the ring before their test, “I felt like I had a horse I could ride. He was ready for his test.”
The pair scored a 50.7, good for 16th place after 47 competitors with 47 still to go on Friday.
“It was the best test we’ve done,” Kylie said. “He has an incredible brain and he went in there and did his job and picked up that little bit more. That makes everything so much easier, when you know you can count on him. I felt like he loved the atmosphere rather than getting nervous about it. The fact the fact that he’s just 8 is, I think, amazing. “
Since their European arrival in mid-July — Kylie’s husband is Irish and they’ve been based at his yard since mid-July — they’ve been soaking up the overseas experience. Prior to Blenheim they finished 7th in the Millstreet CIC3* and are excited to tackle their second CCI3* here at Boekelo.
“This year has been such a big step up for both of us,” Kylie said. ” Looking ahead to the winter knowing there’s still so much to improve upon — that’s the most exciting part. He’s such a worker it’s so easy for him, but he can get stronger and I’m just getting that little bit more confident with the level and the work that’s required. I’m trying to keep realistic expectations but I still want to be competitive and do the best that the two of us can, and I feel like we did that today.”
Kylie explained that being based here this summer also worked to their advantage: “It’s still a big deal, but I think if I had just gotten off the plane and arrived here I would have felt more pressure.”
Kylie has also enjoyed the “vacation” experience of having just one upper-level horse to focus on. “I’ve had more time to think and focus instead of just getting on one horse and onto the next. That’s been a different perspective I didn’t have at home, and won’t have on Monday when I get back!”
Tamie Smith and the two horses she is competing this weekend, Dempsey and Twizted Syster, have also been based in Europe since late summer. Dempsey did his test today to a score of 59.1, good for 34th overnight.
Dempsey, an 8-year-old Dutch horse owned by the West Coast Dempsey Syndicate, IS the fanciest horse in the world: a bright, shiny ball of talent and expression. The challenge is keeping all that bounce and brilliance in check.
Today at Boekelo Dempsey got a little tightly wound in his trot work and had a mistake in the reinback, resulting in a score of 59.1 — harsh, I thought, as the pair put in an accurate test and had some gorgeous moments especially at the canter.
“This ring is more electric than anything we’ve ever seen,” Tamie said after her test. “Ultimately he was tense, and they really marked him down for that, but the test was accurate and had some of the best trot movement he has ever had — he can get sort of up and down and carriage-like — and his walk was great, and his canter was good. I was super pleased with him. Other than the reinback he was very obedient, but he’s young and this is the first time he’s been in this sort of atmosphere.”
They had a two-point error deducted for entering the ring late, as Tamie felt Dempsey would benefit from taking an extra breath before cantering up the center line.
“The holding ring is really electric,” she said. “He was nearly going to lose it in there but as soon as I went in the ring he sort of let go.”
Dressage scoring is subjective, of course; Tamie says her CIC3* test at Blenheim was “not even half as good” and scored a 48. But her horses will leave their jaunt in European having gained invaluable experience — “You get in the thick of it with the best people,” Tamie says — and there’s no question they will be better for it in the future.
Great Britain’s Isabella Innes Ker and Carolyn, a 12-year-old Hannoverian mare owned by the Duchess of Roxburghe, lead day one Boekelo dressage on a score of 42.0, with just as many horses still to go tomorrow.
Boekelo top 20 after day one dressage:
Dressage resumes tomorrow at 9 a.m. local time. Ride times for our American contingent:
12:02 p.m. local time (6:02 a.m. EST) – Ellie MacPhail and RF Eloquence
12:09 p.m. local time (6:09 a.m. EST) – Tamie Smith and Twizted Syster
4:32 p.m. local time (10:32 EST) – Lauren Kieffer and Meadowbrook’s Scarlett
Best of luck to all! We’ll leave you with this except from tonight’s Boekelo afterparty. Because … it just seems to fit the mood of this place. They’re taking requests, though, and I am this close to dialing in some Dolly Parton just to see what happens.