April 14, 2015--Okay, time to take a deep breath.
The horse inspection may not look like much to an outsider ("all they're doing is just trotting in a straight line," a perplexed woman once said to me at another competition), but if they don't pass, they don't show.
Everyone made it, though there was a bit of suspense because the USA's two entries were last to go during the morning trot-up at the arena in the Thomas & Mack Center.
Laura Graves capably jogged Verdades, who was perfectly behaved. Steffen Peters -- winner of the 2009 Cup here with Ravel -- showed his mileage in a no-drama performance with Legolas for the ground jury.
There was drama elsewhere, however. Morgan Barbançon Mestre of Spain found herself on the ground after the stallion Painted Black (at 18, the oldest horse in the dressage line-up) decided to proceed on his own. EMTs stood by, but it all got sorted out.
The wind was blowing like crazy much of the day, scattering dirt and sand. I got what amounted to a free, unwanted dermabrasion from the dust storm that triggered alerts in the area, but not surprisingly, I don't look the better for the experience.
After the jog, I talked with Laura in the competitors' lounge, where she was relaxing with her mother, Freddie, and her working student, Sarah Raffel, who is here to help.
Laura added a nice touch to the trot-up by wearing white gloves. I asked why she did it.
"I just thought it looked nice, and with the wind, we didn't know how reactive the horses would be, but he couldn't have been better," she said of "Diddy."
How did her horse like the arena, which is known for its electricity when the seats are filled. (This was not a performance for the public today. Unlike Rolex Kentucky, where hundreds turn out for the horse inspections, this was very private.)
"I'm pleasantly surprised. The horses seem very comfortable in there," she noted.
Laura is looking forward to tomorrow's practice session with some music in the background, "So we can start to get a feel of it," Laura continued.
"My horse was awesome today before the jog in the crazy wind. He was such a rock. It was unfortunate some of the other horses are not dealing with it so well," she commented.
The swirling dirt, she noted, "just makes the stadium seem like a haven."
We're all bubbling with anticipation for the indoor championship, and Laura commented, "It's super exciting for me. When I look at the start list, there's going to be some really good competition going on, at least for the top five spots. I hope to be a contender. But we'll see. It's a new experience in our journey," she pointed out.
"Of course, nothing could be better than having it in our own country."
The top contender, of course, is the reigning king of everything dressage, Valegro, ridden by defending champion Charlotte Dujardin of Great Britain. A former Cup winner, Edward Gal, will be a threat on Glock's Undercover. But Laura's right in there.
Verdades first International championship was just last year, the World Equestrian Games where he and Laura were fifth.
She noted that in the tight quarters of Thomas & Mack, it will be the first time he is competing without being able to go around the outside of the ring, because there's no room to pass by.
"That's just different; not that I think it's going to be a problem," Laura said, "but it's one of these new little things we have to get under our belt."
While Sarah has worked in other barns, working with Laura, "is a whole new level. I'm excited to be here," she said.
"The atmosphere is amazing."
Tomorrow, the horses will get a chance to acclimate in the ring before competition begins on Thursday. But I’ll be back with you to tell you how the informa rides go.