The first 38 riders in a field of 77 took to centreline in the main arena at Tryon on an oppressively humid day that alternated ruthless sunshine with torrential downbursts. Belinda Trussell and the handsome Tattoo 15, the 15-year-old Westfalian gelding she owns with her husband, Mark, were first up for Canada this morning, riding in front of a fairly sparse crowd. The pair performed a calm and responsive test with nice changes and big extensions, although he was a little stingy with the piaffes. Their score of 68.634% parked them in 16th place at the end of the first day of grand prix competition that would count toward team medals and individual qualification for the freestyle.

Trussell, who lives in Stouffville, ON, was quite pleased with their test overall. “I think his changes were fine and I was praying to the gods I’d get the ones and I did. Right pirouette was really, really good, right half-pass was good. What is a major improvement are his extended trots. They weren’t so great earlier in the year so that’s a big improvement, too.”

As part of her pre-competition routine, Trussell warms Tattoo up well away from the ring, avoiding the secondary warmup area adjacent to the main arena. She explained, “During the week we had our chance to familiarize, and he is really sticky and very dramatic and emotional ‒ ‘ I was in that ring and now I’m in this ring and that’s not normal; I should just go there!’ I wanted to just keep him focussed; we go in the warmup ring and them we go in the normal ring. That was my thought behind that.”

The strategy worked. “He was really, really good. The first day when he saw the World Equestrian Games signs in the ring he slammed on the brakes and went, ‘WHAT IS THAT!?’ Today he didn’t look at a thing ‒ I am so proud of him.

“I think one of the biggest moments for me is having Monica [Theodorescu] here. I bought him from her five years ago and she had trained him and hasn’t seen him since. To see him as a grand prix horse at WEG and for her to be happy, someone I respect so much, is really nice.”

Next to ride for the maple leaf was Jill Irving of Moncton, NB, with Degas 12, Windhaven Farm’s 16-year-old Hanoverian gelding. The pair had a solid test, scoring 67.888%, good for 19th place. “Degas was unbelieveable,” said Irving. “He’s 16; he’s got fire, but we had to really manage him with the heat for the last three weeks. I kind of asked him to giddyup before that pirouette and he said ‘ooops I’m just going to do my job and then go.’ His passage felt great ‒ I’m going to have to review the video. I liked the halt. He stood, so I was really thrilled. He was really well-behaved and wasn’t bothered by the crowd and wasn’t as anxious as he was when he was seven.”

A torrential downpour during the lunch break did not make any difference to the footing. “Didn’t even notice,” Irving remarked. About Degas’ personality, she explained, “He doesn’t know he’s a horse. He’s very snuggly. When I walk by the Americans they say, ‘Aw, cute little Breyer horse!’ He’s really affectionate and comfortable with people.”

“I’m so thrilled to be here,” she concluded. “I call this home turf, because it’s North America. All of the ingate people, we’re used to having them there … I kind of think I’m just at another horse show. That’s a huge advantage. And my family can come!”

With the first half of the Grand Prix field finished, there is not a lot of leeway among the top teams, with Germany, Sweden, the USA and Great Britain crowding the top of the leaderboard, which is led individually by Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl with TSF Dalera BB (76.677%). Team Canada is currently in 9th place, with some of the powerhouses of the sport including Laura Graves and Verdades, Edward Gal with Glock’s Zonik N.O.P., Isabell Werth and Bella Rose and Charlotte Dujardin with her new superstar, Mount St John Freestyle, to ride tomorrow.