I keep pinching myself. How many times can I wake up, ride my horse, and still be in disbelief that this magic mare is mine? Not that I’m counting, but wake, ride, pinch has been on repeat for approximately 510 days. . .
I officially bought Dance with the Devil or "DeeDee," as I call her, on Valentine’s Day 2020. It’s been magic ever since, although I’ll also be the first to tell you that our journey hasn’t been all rainbows. The good life with a chestnut thoroughbred mare is something that is earned, and I’ve been putting the time in ever since she came home.
We spent most of 2020 getting to know each other, doing some Novice events, and then closing out the year with a move up to Training level. Let me be clear - this was my adult move up. Somehow, things are much different in my thirties. . . Navigating a high-pressure career, married with two kids, it all has my mind in a different place than the days when I ran Preliminary tracks as a teenager. I joke that the last time I ran Preliminary was last century, and my husband is quick to point out it was also last millennium! Things have changed, but the adrenaline rush is still the same.
Every ride with DeeDee leaves me with a smile, and I’ve started to indulge my inner child. It’s the things I may not have had the budget for as a junior rider or even as a young adult trying to balance things like buying a house while maintaining a horse. But now, I realize how precious these shows are. That colorful show coat? Buy it. Want the blingy browband because it sparkles as much as your mare? Sure! Live a little!
So, when I saw our first outing of 2021 was over Valentine’s Day weekend, the first anniversary with my heart horse, I may have leaned in a little bit to the pink theme. . . You cannot imagine my joy and shock when I realized that show is what qualified us for AEC. Somehow it seems so fitting. I pinched myself when I told my husband I had qualified. He didn’t even miss a beat; he just asked, “how long will you be gone?”
Qualifying for AEC turned out to be one of the easier hurdles on our road to AEC. My coach, James Alliston, who seems to go to every show and win all the ribbons, doesn’t have Kentucky on his schedule. I might love every ride on this pocket rocket, but love doesn’t always address show nerves! So I’ve spent the last few months paving my road to AEC with a vast support network. There’s the kindred spirit from the Lainey [Ashker] clinic - she’s also going solo, so we’ll be stabling together. I have a few other adult amateur friends, independent riders like myself, who will also be there. My trusted vet and chiropractor have given me bodywork recommendations for arriving (shipping from California to Kentucky is no joke!). And my coach, ever the professional, has walked me through what her final days before shipping should look like and how we should structure our time at the Kentucky Horse Park.
I’ve continued showing since our AEC qualification, and while every event has been fun and a learning experience, we haven’t had another qualification. This really drives home how special THIS trip is going to be. DeeDee is good; she’s special. The mare is a missile on cross-country, she’ll never refuse in the stadium, and her movement is almost fancy. But she’s overconfident at times and gets tense, both of which have made the road rockier. I know she’s worthy, but I also know there was a certain amount of magic when we qualified, and you never know if that magic will happen again.
As we’re closing in, I’m checking home schedules and trying to make things as easy as possible for my family while I’m gone for a week. Which, come to think of it, will be the longest I’ve ever been away from them! I’m only slightly neurotic and Type A, so while I have my AEC packing list, I haven’t actually started packing. I’ve told my husband I’m waiting until August to pack.
Throughout this long road, full of hurdles and lined with people supporting us, I can’t stop pinching myself. I honestly can’t believe I get to take this sassy chestnut mare to AEC. I tell everybody who listens that this is on my bucket list, that DeeDee is a lot of things, and “DREAM MAKER” is at the top of the list. How grateful I am to have this opportunity. And after I (try) to thank everybody in my support system, I have to thank her, too. She nickers at me now. Her ears are always pricked, and while it might not be an easy road to AEC, I won’t stop pinching myself.
About the USEA American Eventing Championships
The USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds is the pinnacle of the sport for the national levels. Held annually, the best junior, adult amateur, and professional competitors gather to vie for national championship titles at every level from Beginner Novice to Advanced. This ultimate test of horse and rider draws hundreds of horses and riders from around the country to compete for fabulous prizes, a piece of the substantial prize money, and the chance to be named the National Champion at their respective levels. In fact, the 2019 AEC garnered over 1,000 entries and took place with 925 starters, now standing as the largest eventing competition in North American history. The 2021 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds will be held August 31 – September 5 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Click here to learn more about the USEA American Eventing Championships.
The USEA would like to thank presenting sponsor Nutrena Feeds, Advanced Final Title sponsor, Adequan, Platinum level sponsor Bates Saddles and Vetoquinol, Gold level sponsors Parker Equine Insurance, SmartPak, Standlee Hay, Silver level sponsors Auburn Laboratories, Mountain Horse, Park Equine, The Jockey Club, and Saratoga Horseworks. The USEA would like to thank all other sponsors supporting the 2021 AEC as well.
The 2021 USEA Future Event Horse (FEH) Championships will take place at three different regional competitions. The first of the three to kick off the FEH Championship season is the FEH East Coast Championships which will start on Saturday, September 25, and run through Sunday, September 26 at Loch Moy Farm in Adamstown, Maryland. The 2021 USEA FEH Central and West Coast Championships will take place in October.
What a week in Aachen! Nicole is joined by Erik Duvander and Jenni Autry to relive a brilliant week for U.S. riders in Aachen in this special bonus episode.
When Daniel Stickney met his future wife Kathy in college, he had zero involvement in the horse world. Kathy had ridden as a teen and after marrying in graduate school, the couple was invited on a trail ride by an acquaintance who owned a boarding and lesson barn. That trail ride sparked Kathy’s fire for riding again and she began working at the barn to help offset costs of lessons and boarding for her first horse, Kismet. Suddenly Daniel found himself in the saddle as well. The two have been riding together for over 30 years now.
Are you following along with the action from home this weekend? Or maybe you're competing at an event and need information fast. Either way, we’ve got you covered! Check out the USEA’s Weekend Quick Links for links to information including the prize list, ride times, live scores, and more for all the events running this weekend.