THOMSON, Ga. -- Lellie Ward spent 16 years as an alternate to the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team.
Friday morning -- after four years abroad and out of the running for the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia -- the Aiken resident was back in the dressage ring at Pine Top Farm in Thomson.
Ward rode River Dance -- sired by 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew -- to a first and second place in two competitions Friday.
"I'm very happy with my horse," Ward said. "He made a couple of bobbles, but I think he is going to be a top-ranked horse."
Medals for dressage and show jumping will be awarded today, while cross country awards will be handed out at the farm Sunday.
The dressage competition tests the horse's physique and balance during a prescribed set of movements at different speeds. Each movement is scored on a one-to-10 scale by the judge.
Show jumping tests the horse's ability to clear a series of brightly colored fences -- which are at varying heights and widths. Points can be deducted for knockdowns, refusals, falls and riding off course. Cross country is the most demanding test. Riders and horses negotiate unfamiliar terrain -- strewn with banks, ditches, water, log jumps and other obstacles. Scoring is based on the speed and jumps, and points can de deducted for falls, refusals and exceeding optimum time.
Events begin at 8 a.m. both days. About 130 riders are expected to compete throughout the weekend.
"In spite of the weather, it is coming off well," said Glenn Wilson, one of the event organizers. "We've got more riders than they had last year."
Dressage tests began early Friday, before the sun cooked horses and riders.
"This is not like soccer or volleyball, where you can take off your shirt," said dressage judge Charlotte Trentelman.
More than three dozen riders -- mostly from Georgia -- competed Friday. They were scored on the movements of the horse, their rapport with the animals and form in the ring.
"This is really my first dressage test," said Tracie Kellos of Martinez, who admittedly was nervous about participating in the Georgia Games. "There's a lot more people out to see it. That makes us riders a lot more nervous."
Kellos placed second in the Class 2 Training Test 1 competition.
Meanwhile, Ward -- who now owns a 100-acre farm in Aiken and teaches riding lessons -- is still looking toward the Olympics.
"It's still a dream," she said. "But I find my life is almost taking priority over the Olympics."
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