Last week I drove out to beautiful South Hadley, Mass, for the IDA National Championships. If you read the blog last year, you'll remember that qualifying for last year's nationals was one of the biggest and most exciting accomplishments of my time in college... but that my actual performance at Nationals was, for me, pretty disappointing. I've since been able to put the experience into a much more positive perspective (I mean dang, I got to travel across the country to be the very first person to represent my university at the highest level of my sport... definitely nothing worth being sad about!), but I remember pretty clearly the crushing feeling that was walking out of the ring and not feeling like I'd done my best.
This year was super exciting because it was the first time that Stanford had ever qualified as a team, which meant that there was a strong contingent of four riders (including one of my best friends from college) and our beloved coach, Rachel, headed my way. I helped found the Stanford Dressage team four years ago, and honestly wasn't sure that I would see the day where our rag-tag and underdog crew of riders would make it to nationals together (seriously, our team has 8 eight riders total compared to others in our area that have 40+, we have no dedicated dressage team horses, and there was a not insignificant amount of time where our 'equipment' consisted of 3 saddles that were literally stapled together and that would literally fall apart as you rode in them).
I came out to Mount Holyoke on team day to cheer them on, and while I wish I could say that they went on to blow the competition out of the water in the sort of massive blaze of glory I know they're capable of... that didn't quite happen. Stanford ended up coming in 12th of the 12 teams that qualified, finishing with 4 very respectable top-10 individual finishes. So it was a little bittersweet, and I know that my (former) teammates were feeling the sort of disappointment that I felt a year ago.
But am I disappointed in them? Absolutely not. In fact, I felt like my heart was bursting out of my chest, I was so proud of how well everyone on the team rode, dealt with problems as they presented themselves, and stayed bright, cheerful, and positive even when it became clear pretty early in the day that the show wasn't going their way. I hadn't seen them ride since January when I came out for the Stanford home show, and was blown away by how much everyone on the team had improved even since then, and even with the added pressure of being at a national final. There was so much poise, grace, and good sportsmanship going on that I could barely process my pride in this wonderful team that gave me so many wonderful memories in my time at Stanford.
I'm very certain that Stanford Dressage will be back at Nationals in the future, even better prepared and ready for domination than they were this year. This was just the first step! Stanford Dressage, I love you, miss you, and am forever indebted to the skills you gave me as a rider and as a human being. You guys rock.
And now, pretty pictures!
(Senior Kristen Malinak led off with a 7th in Open on a horse that was a legit clone of my draw from Nationals last year)
(Struttin' in warm up)
(Getting some elevation in the medium canter!)
(Boom! Swag, baby)
(Patrick warming up his tricky little draw in Upper Training)
(Patrick warming up under the watchful eye of coach Rachel, who was a vision in Cardinal)
(GAME FACE, BABY)
(Getting the most out of his draw)
(looking good, Patrick!)
(Patrick is this year's dressage captain/team mom/all around badass)
(Sophomore Tori Greenan on her gorgeous (and massive!) paint in Lower Training)
(Looking great in warm up! Too bad I cut off part of Tori's head...)
(Our Intro rider Monika getting some half light through the door in warm up)
(Monika is such a beautiful rider!)