The second day of dressage has concluded at the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event presented by Land Rover and though no one has caught Michael Jung and and Fischerrocana FST just yet, the weekend is certainly not over, and Allison Springer and Arthur are right on their heels (39.7) following their knockout performance this afternoon. Another rider vying for the top spot this weekend is Canada’s Jessica Phoenix (44.7) and I had the opportunity to speak with her earlier today. She rode beautifully this afternoon and knowing Jessica’s strong cross-country riding, she is not out of the hunt.

I asked Jessica how important the warm-up is to a great test as she’s readying herself and Pavarotti for the ring. She explained that if the rider does not have a good warm-up,  it is very difficult to achieve a good test, and that she is not going to change her game plan for Pavarotti based upon the scores from yesterday or today. She has a warm-up that he loves, and he’s experienced at this level and at this venue so Jessica feels that he will be confident and that her focus will be upon keeping him happy and relaxed. Of the three very different horses she’s riding here this weekend, Jessica says “some of them get ridden prior to the test, some of them get galloped before the test, and some of them you just get on and go straight to your warm-up and to the test.”

As Jessica mentioned, each horse is different in terms of what they need in warm-up and what will translate into a successful test; and riders have used several different strategies over the past two days.

Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High opted for a bit longer warm-up. Though she did not ride until after the first morning break, Selena brought Foxwood High down to the warm-up area as soon as the last horse before the break had entered the ring. She began at the walk, and worked her way into a stretchy, long-and-low frame 20-meter circle. From there, she focused a lot on lateral work and counter canter. About ten minutes before she was to enter the ring, she performed the collected walk half-pirouette from the test and then went back to her trot. She trotted down the long side in her medium trot and then directly down the chute and into the ring. Selena had very little walk and down-time in her warm-up once she put Foxwood High to work, and this strategy and her performance in the ring earned her a very respectable score of 50.8 points.

Holly Payne Caravella and Santino had a much different warm-up. Holly began working right away when she entered the final warm-up area. She worked on her flying changes and canter serpentine quite a bit, with her mother and renowned Dressage judge, Marilyn Payne, looking on. Then she gave Santino about a ten minute walk break before picking him up about five minutes before she entered the ring for her test. She resumed her canter work and added lateral work in both the trot and canter, as well. Holly gave Santino a couple of light taps with the dressage whip when she was called to enter the arena before picking up her trot and heading down the chute. Holly’s approach rendered a score of 46.8 points, and she seemed very pleased with her ride.

Matthew Brown and Super Socks BCF were lovely to watch in the warm-up. Matthew began in the walk and began to add walk to canter transitions, focusing on quality and stopping more than once to recollect the horse and to ask him for a better transition. Matthew also performed a lot of his initial canter work off the rail on a straight  line and once he was pleased, he went back to his walk to canter transitions and added canter to halt transitions. Next, he worked on lengthening and collecting his trot, and gave Super Socks BCF a bit of a break before heading into the second warm-up ring that is reserved for the rider “on deck.” He resumed his warm-up about five minutes before his ride time, and transitioned from shoulder-in to haunches-in, and medium to collected trot both on the long sides and off the rail. With his coaches looking on, Matthew completed his warm-up by trotting down the chute and into the ring to score a 46.5 and a comfortable placing going into cross-country tomorrow.

If you are a spectator at the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event presented by Land Rover and you’ve never spent any time watching the warm-up arenas, you are missing out. This is a great place to see rider strategy, and to watch them warm-up with their coaches. It’s a great opportunity to learn, and one of my favorite places to be during the dressage competition.