Clouds covered the Kentucky Horse Park on Monday.
There was a definite ray of sunshine, though, coming from the face of Imke Schellekens-Bartels. Mastering the horse ballet that is known as dressage, Schellekens-Bartels embraced the cool dampness as she rode Hunter Douglas Sunrise to the first-day lead in the team Grand Prix portion of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
"The weather is fantastic," Schellekens-Bartels said of a day that saw temperatures in the mid-50s with on-and-off rain in the Main Stadium. "It's like Dutch weather, so I'm really happy."
With teammate Hans Peter Minderhoud in third place, the Netherlands leads the team standings with 145.702 points at the halfway point. The team championship and individual qualifying competition wraps up Tuesday with another 34 riders, including two each for the teams.
Germany, which has won all five WEG titles, stands second at 140.340.
Schellekens-Bartels, 33, is a two-time Olympian — at Athens in 2004 and Beijing (with equestrian events in Hong Kong) in 2008.
Lexington is not unlike those stages, she said. "It is like an Olympic arena," she said. "I must say I'm really looking forward to the freestyle, if I'm going to qualify for that on Friday night, when it's going to be full and dark and lights. I think it's going to be amazing."
Tickets for Friday night's freestyle dressage are sold out.
Schellekens-Bartels has been connected to the equine big stage beyond her years. Her mother, Tineke Bartels-De Vries, competed in dressage over four Olympic Games.
Schellekens-Bartels assessed her Monday effort with a critical eye — but not toward her 16-year-old mare.
"My horse ... is in top shape, so I was very pleased with her," she said.
"I think she was really amazing. She felt very secure in there, while (Sunday) when we practiced it was a bit, totally busy and she was really excited and upset about it. But now, when she was there alone, she felt very focused and very good."
Katherine Bateson-Chandler of Wellington, Fla., is the leading American, in fifth place, on Nartan. Teammate Todd Flettrich of Royal Palm Beach, Fla., is 16th on Otto. Bateson-Chandler, 35, said she was happy to have avoided nervousness in what is her first major international competition.
"Exciting," she said of her time in the ring. "When you come in and everybody starts cheering, you just have to smile until the nerves go away, and you're just happy that everyone wants you there."
Flettrich, 40, was happy that the rain stopped in time for his effort. "I was more nervous about the rain than I was anything," he said. "Because I'm in Pennsylvania in the summer and Florida in the winter, and I don't like the cold."
Flettrich noted that the Games have enabled him to "see people I haven't talked to in 20, 25 years. And I'm only 22."