Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Big Move- Third Try’s the Charm…

I am evacuating England. Well, that is what it feels like because as I leave, everyone else is arriving. You see, I like to be on the forefront of a trend and now that everyone is “doing” England, its time for me to get out and blaze a new trail.

Last weekend was going to be my final event in England before I returned home. I really thought it was not going to be canceled this time. We were due to leave on Friday because it was 6 hours away and I had early times on Saturday. About 4 hours down the road, we got a flat tire. Because we always try to be at least 5% prepared, we had a spare but no tools. I wasn’t going to let that stop me though. I pulled into the first turn-off from the highway, which happened to be a flower shop with some very disturbing lawn ornaments. At first I was fairly positive I was replaying some scene from the latest horror movie but 20 minutes later the kind owner had changed my tire. Back on the road, feeling rather full of myself for my quick turn around, I started hearing very strange noises from the lorry. There was some metal rod stuck in the undercarriage that was scraping along the road. Was I going to let this stop me from getting to this event? Nope, I slid underneath the lorry, which was actually very low to the ground and very difficult to fit under. All the while I was shouting things at Logan such as:

“Are you sure the parking break is all the way up”
 “Great, I even need to be skinny to fit under this lorry”

After a bit of trouble, I got the rod out from under the truck, took a picture of it on my iphone and sent it to my mechanic with this tag line…“Do I need this piece of equipment to drive?” He said he wasn’t sure if it was safe so, naturally, we kept going. At this point we were about twenty minutes away from the event and I thought we were home free.

That’s when I got the text. Who was it from? British Eventing. That’s right…British Eventing is so cool that they text people. I bet you can imagine what it said. All national classes at Great Witchingham have been canceled due to rain. The worst part was that one of the horses on the lorry was in an international class which means I had to stay at the event all weekend and NOT COMPETE. I was very angry and kept threatening to text British Eventing back and tell them what for. Cooler minds prevailed by explaining that no one would receive the text message if I sent it because British Eventing was not an actual person. I feel that this story is an allegory for my entire experience in this country. I have overcome serious obstacles only to be thwarted by the weather.  The only redeemable quality of the weekend was that Laura Collett let us stay in her lorry (which is nicer than any home I have ever lived in) and cooked for us. So basically I drove 6 hours to go on a vacation in Laura’s lorry. Great.

After another FAIL of a weekend, I felt very secure in my decision to leave the country and head back home. I planned on spending the last week packing but I DID make time to head down south and visit my compatriots one last time before they headed off for the Olympic village and I headed off for fair weather. It was Emma Ford’s birthday the night I went and of COURSE everyone was ready to celebrate so Nat, Will Faudree’s groom, organized a 20-person sit down dinner. Not an easy feat but if you know Nat there was no doubt it was going to come off. It was really fun and I have to say that all the riders seemed very relaxed if not a little bored and the horses seemed happy. Sara McKenna, Emma, Meg Kep, and I may (or may not) have then decided to go out on the town and may (or may not) have been bombarded by 18 to 20-something college students wearing not much more than their underwear. Meanwhile I was dressed in a long-sleeve button down and some boat shoes. It was NOT surprising when they tried to turn us down at the door. But that is a story for another time.

All in all, my last few weeks in England were about as successful as my British accent and so I am happy to report that I will be home soon. I am leaving the American Olympic team to hold up the “face of America abroad” in my absence. Perhaps I should lend them my tweed jacket…

Barnaby in his field...


Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Highs and Lows

Well everybody, I have an update on the subject of my show attire that was featured in my previous blog.
I bought a tweed jacket.
I know, I know. I was going to stick it out and remain true to my nation-specific sense of style but I broke down. You see when you first see the tweed, it looks really ugly but then EVERYBODY wears it and you just start to loose perspective. All of a sudden I am in the tent at the show saying to my friend, “Ohhhh, look at this tweed pattern. And those buttons…can you even believe the price? What a steal. Oh look, they have my size”. Then I think in my head, what is happening to me? Needless to say, I bought the jacket. At my next event I won the dressage on Barnaby with a 27 and then jumped double clear to win the class. Was it because of my superior horse training skills? Or was it because of the tweed jacket? Check out his picture and decide for yourself…
That business aside, I have even bigger and more exciting news (difficult to imagine, I know). After a phenomenal year abroad, I have decided to move back to the states. This might come as a shock to some of you who have heard me say things like, “I am a professional traveler and I really have no intention of ever coming home”. But I was offered a position I couldn’t turn down riding, teaching, and training at Bascule Farm in Poolesville, MD. This is the farm where I first learned to ride. When Julie Hagen, my first coach, called me up and told me she wanted me to set up shop with her back home, I thought “this is a once-in-a-lifetime offer”. A couple weeks ago I flew home to teach a clinic and was incredibly excited because this facility is unbelievable and the people are wonderful. So as of September 1st, I am officially accepting horses to train, students to teach, and really any other business that my expertise might allow (tweed jacket style tips, anyone?). As a family member so kindly put it,
“Oh, so you have decided to finally grow-up”
My response: “Oh, you mean my current mantra of ‘have horse, will travel’ is not a grown-up way of life”
Their response: “It’s not exactly that so much as your mantra of ‘I don’t care the conditions I am living under or the pay I am receiving as long as I am becoming a better rider’ that really sets you apart from the rest of us concerned about our FUTURE”
Me: “Well when you put it that way…”
         Do not fear. Since I am not moving back until September, there will still be plenty of international foolishness on my part before I return. Two weeks ago, I went to Tattersalls, the big three-day in Ireland, to help my friend Logan Rawlings (another ex-pat) and to visit with my Irish friends. On the way there, of course our truck broke down. After towing it back, borrowing a new lorry, and catching the next ferry to Ireland, we were on the road for twelve hours and arrived about 45 minutes before the jogs.
We had two horses, unbraided and dirty, that needed to be presentable for the 3-star jog. Typical Lillian, right? Logan of course was freaking out but as we pulled through the gates, two of my Irish friends, Annalena and Hugh were walking through the car-park. Within minutes, the horses were off and my friends were braiding and grooming and preparing them. In a shocking turn of events, we ended up being early for the jog. Of course, Logan thought I was some sort of celebrity. What I didn’t tell her was that we were just lucky that basically the only two friends I have were the two people we ran into when we entered the gates.
The Irish haven’t lost their charm and I had a great time catching up with everyone. Unfortunately, Logan and I had a horrible end to our week when her wonderful horse Harvey landed from a fence on cross country wrong and did irreparable damage to his leg. He had to be put down but let me tell you, both Logan and Harvey handled their pain with grace and class. I got to once again learn the lesson that this sport has the highest highs and lowest lows but it’s the character of the wonderful people involved that make the most desperate moments bearable.
 Looking to the future, I am moving Barnaby up to prelim at my next event. Tweed jacket at the ready, I couldn’t be more prepared. I also have plans to spend this Saturday night with my fellow blogger Meg Kep and the fabulous Sinead Halpin. It is going to be epic. I will be sure to have a few stories worth telling so stay tuned!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

My First Event

It is a very exciting time of year on both sides of the ocean. We have Badminton gearing up over here and Kentucky just around the corner back home. I am poised and ready because I am in England and it is the place to be. The Olympics are on everyone’s mind…teams, flights, tickets, horses, and medals.  The excitement is palpable. Well, call the press, everybody because I have big news of my own. I just did my first pre-novice (training) on Barnaby (which was also my first competition in England) and it was a success. What? This doesn’t seem as exciting in comparison to the 4-star events? Well you weren’t there and let me tell you it’s all relative and NOBODY takes eventing lightly in this country, no matter the level.

So, as you would expect, I was completely out of my element. The days prior to the event, everyone was telling me that Ascott-under-Wychwood was a perfect first event: “Oh, its very low key and you know, just in your backyard. What an easy introduction into the British eventing scene”. So I drive in and this “backyard” event has hundreds of big lorries, tents, vendors, clothing stores, candy shops, ropes, spectators and basically more excitement than any international event back home. I kid you not- the highest level was pre-novice. All I could think was, “oh no, I am definitely not going to fit in.”

I get out of the car and look around and immediately realize that I am totally out of my element. Even the easy parts were too hard for me- I couldn’t even manage to look like everyone else. Not one person is wearing anything that even remotely resembles my show attire. I do not have a tweed jacket. I was not wearing tan britches and I did not have a weird helmet on. You see in Ireland, some people wore clothes that resembled my attire. But let me tell you… not here. You know what they say, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. Well if you can’t “join ‘em”, than at least try to look like you never had any intention of joining them and you are distinctly and proudly American.

This is what they looked like….

And this is what I looked like…

(As a disclaimer, that is a picture of a model from the internet and was not taken at the event. I did not actually see anyone with hair like that, standing in that odd pose. Also, don’t ask me what I was doing in my picture because I have no idea.)

But, as one does, I carried on and I completed my dressage test, scoring a 29, which I was very happy with. I had one rail in the show-jumping and then easily jumped around the cross-country. All in all, I was very excited about my horse and how he was at the event. He is from this side of the world, so was clearly more prepared for the situation.

I, on the other hand, definitely have some work to do on my wardrobe and (even more shockingly) my demeanor. Nobody seemed to be laughing or having a good time. You see, I was prancing around doing whatever it is I was doing in these photos.

 Meanwhile everyone else was storming about saying things such as, “This horse is much sharper off the yard. Come back to my lorry and we will have tea and discuss how SERIOUSLY we need to take this pre-novice event”. And in the warm-up they were shouting “parallel” or “upright” and I am like “wait, which one is a vertical?”.
There is going to be a learning curve, just like there was in Ireland. But I am very confident with my skills at “going native”. I already have a friend that is going to lend me a tweed jacket.
So you guys over there can resume your Rolex projections and your Badminton forecasts. You can hem and haw over the Olympic teams and the prospective medal winners. But you know what? I am going to conquer the pre-novice level in England and I’m excited about it. Life has a funny way of bringing you right down to the start of things even when you are convinced you should be further along. But one of my favorite poems is “If” by Kipling and this excerpt says it all:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

So, check back with me later and I will let you know how it’s going. I also promise never to quote poetry again. I got carried away.