Ballerina DMV of Pemberton's Dreamcatcher Meadows stable fought the heat in the dressage ring and in the Illinois air, finishing eighth for four-year-old Hanoverians at the U.S. Nationals at the Lamplight Equestrian Centre in Fort Wayne.
But the filly retains her overall first place position in her age category for Horse of the Year over the course of the season, and Jill Giese of Dreamcatcher Meadows was pleased with the results of Ballerina's biggest competition to date.
The competition took place from Aug. 22 to 26, with 780 horses from across North America taking part and the top 15 in each age category invited to the final.
Ballerina was flown to Illinois, her first time on an airplane, by Fed Ex, arriving a few days before competition started. Giese's husband John Dingle, who rode Ballerina in competition, was tasked with helping her recover and acclimatize to the 90-plus degree heat.
"We had an incredible time and Ballerina was just amazing... such a trooper. Going in that container and getting on that plane, and doing everything she did at the show, what a big heart that horse has," Giese said.
Geise said it was a test for the future, including travel to competitions outside the Pacific Northwest.
"She certainly showed she could play, and the company she kept was absolutely phenomenal. I've never seen a collection of horses like that before. It really was magnificent to see that many animals of incredible quality in one place," she added.
"It's difficult to get invited to compete, let alone get in the final. People were extraordinarily kind, it seemed like everybody knew who we were. People that I've only read about before were coming up and introducing themselves and saying how much they liked our horses."
Dressage is an expensive sport in which to aim for the top level, Geise added, and taking Ballerina this far would not have been possible without the input of owner Bus Fuller and Earl's Restaurant and Joey's who "stepped up to the plate and made the whole thing possible."
The dressage program finals in the U.S. has been growing over recent years, in an attempt to emulate the European model, Giese said, with more categories being developed for different age categories.
"It has become very prestigious over the years. As Canadians, we don't have that sort of program at all. It was only by virtue of the fact that (Ballerina) is co-owned by an American that we were able to participate," she said.
Geise said she was now pulling together a proposal to establish a similar program in this country.
"It's like everything. Canada is underfunded and undermanned, and it's a case of this is a fabulous idea but if you're going to run with it you're going to have to administer it," she said, laughing.
Dreamcatcher Meadows currently has five horses in the top 10 ranking in the U.S. for Horse of the Year, in their various age categories.
"Launcelot is sitting at number two for three year olds, Ballerina is leading for four year olds. We've got another one that's sitting fourth, another at second. It's just extraordinary... and all have been born in Pemberton!" Giese said.