One of the beautiful things about dressage is that there are so many levels at which to play. I don’t just mean training level versus third level versus Prix St. Georges versus Grand Prix; I mean that there are schooling shows, recognized shows, CDIs, and various regional and national championship tracks. My original goal for Elvis this year was the USEF Developing Prix St. Georges Championships, a track dedicated to 7-9-year-old horses, and a program for which the bar is fantastically high. The top 15 in the country go; I was 19th. Close, but no cigar.

So when that ship sailed, I made a new goal: the U.S. Dressage Finals in Lexington, Kentucky, in November. Qualifying for Finals requires either taking champion or reserve, or earning a “wildcard” score above a certain qualifying threshold at one of the nine regional championships. I live in Region 1, which has lots of very quality trainers on quality horses. The Prix St. Georges open championship tends to be one of the bigger ones. And Elvis and I drew a time early in the class.

I gave Elvis the month of August to fluff around, letting him do some basic work, plus some hills, plus some in-hand work as I forge ahead on Operation Piaffe, all geared towards letting him be productive, but not overwhelmingly fit, through the hottest of the Virginia summer. In September, I put him back to real work, and for the first time, I leaned on him for conditioning. Our rides were longer. I really got on his case about self-carriage, which has been the biggest bugaboo for us. I made him TIRED. The week before the show, I kept our collective noses to the grindstone. I’ve upped my own fitness program, and I didn’t back down on either of us until Saturday when I caught Elvis napping midday—unusual for him—and declared victory. He hacked Sunday. He had Monday off. He schooled lightly on Tuesday, just thinking sharp and bright to the aids. We drove to North Carolina on Wednesday, where I did the same.

And on Thursday, I popped on my tailcoat, and off we went.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!