LAKEWOOD RANCH — Misdee Wrigley Miller is the picture of subtle elegance.
Seated atop her dark-green antique carriage, the Lakewood Ranch resident quietly makes her way onto the course.
Donning a hunter green skirt, gold jacket and gold hat — the colors of her horse farm in Lexington, Ky.
— Wrigley Miller begins maneuvering a pair of Dutch harness horses through a series of cones.
The slightest nudge to the left or right will derail Wrigley Miller, causing her to rack up a series of unwanted penalty points and ultimately keeping her out of contention.
With her husband, James, cheering her on, she puts together a flawless timed obstacle performance.
With only one rider remaining, Wrigley Miller has thrust herself back into the driver’s seat and, consequently, put the pressure on her competition.
Wrigley Miller’s competitor fails to match her flawless performance and, within a matter of moments, Wrigley Miller relishes the achievement about which she has spent the past five seasons dreaming — winning a national championship.
Wrigley Miller captured her first USEF National Pairs Championship this spring in Live Oak, despite her horses’ harnesses getting hung up on an element in the cross-country marathon phase of the competition.
“I’ve been so close so many times and then something bizarre happens,” she says. “I knew I incurred all of those penalty points, so I thought it (had) eluded me again.”
Following her national championship, Wrigley Miller traveled to Europe for a series of combined driving competitions. On July 18, Wrigley Miller traveled to Holland for a competition; she also planned to compete in Germany.
Additionally, Wrigley Miller is waiting to hear whether she’ll have the opportunity to represent the United States at the world championships later this month in Slovakia.
Wrigley Miller represented the United States two years ago and was the leading American driver heading into the final day of competition; she put the United States in position to record its highest finish since 1993.
But that changed the following day when Wrigley Miller went off course for the first time in her life, eliminating all of her scores.
“I’m on a mission,” Wrigley Miller says. “There’s no better feeling than when you drive into the dressage ring and hear them announce you.”
A fourth-generation rider, Wrigley Miller grew up around horses; it wasn’t long before the gentle creatures captured her heart the same way they had captured her parents’ and grandparents’ years before.
“I had absolutely no choice,” Wrigley Miller says. “It was in my genes. The horses called me back.”
Wrigley Miller participated in her first riding competition when she was 8 years old. She spent hours picking out her show clothes and washing her horse in anticipation of her competitive riding debut.
“It was just so much fun,” Wrigley Miller recalls of her first competition. “It was like being on stage. I didn’t do very well, but I loved it.”
Wrigley Miller grew up riding and competing in equestrian competitions with her family’s Arabian and American saddlebred horses, before inheriting a pair of her great-grandfather’s carriages.
Shortly after Wrigley Miller looked into the sport of carriage driving, she began learning how to drive singles, pairs and tandem carriages.
In 2010, the World Equestrian Games came to Kentucky. Wrigley Miller was asked to put on a test event for combined driving, an equestrian sport involving carriage driving.
“I thought, ‘This looks kind of fun,’” Wrigley Miller says.
Wrigley Miller went on to compete in her first carriage driving show and instantly fell in love with the sport.
“I was completely hooked,” Wrigley Miller says. “I think it’s the degree of communication you have to develop with the horses.
“I love any interaction with the horses,” she says. “They are such special creatures. I learn something new every day, and I’ve been doing this my entire life.”
During each combined driving competition, Wrigley Miller competes in three phases — dressage, cross-country marathon and obstacle cone driving — over a three-day period. Dressage is her favorite.
“It’s considered my specialty,” Wrigley Miller says. “You’re scored on how well you execute. It’s a test of how well your horses work together, their flexibility and overall impression.
“Maybe I just have a knack for it,” Wrigley Miller says. “The training is tedious, but I just feel like dressage, for me, forms the basis. If you don’t have the right basis, then you can’t do the other phases quickly.”
Today, Wrigley Miller splits her time between Lakewood Ranch, her farm in Lexington, Ky., where she raises 70 horses, and Europe, where she is competing currently.
Wrigley Miller competes in the Florida competition circuit every spring, while her husband plays polo for Hillcroft, at the Sarasota Polo Club. It’s also the time of year when Wrigley Miller focuses on training.
Following the Florida competition circuit, Wrigley Miller heads to Europe to compete internationally.
“It’s a crazy, gypsy life,” Wrigley Miller says with a laugh. “I compete way too much, according to my husband, but, I’ve been really blessed to have been able to compete at so many different levels.”
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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