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.

The Big Move

So quite a bit has happened in the last month or two. I will start with the most important thing… I bought a horse!! Let me tell you about that and then I will tell you about how I moved to England. Yep, you read that right.  I'm making big life decision left and right.
It took me seven months to finally buy a horse, which was (to be honest) longer than expected but you see I have trouble committing to one designated life path. It’s like when I pack for a trip. I like to throw everything I could possibly ever need in a ridiculous, over-sized bag. Moving to Ireland? I better bring all my bathing suits. (Not a joke by the way. I did actually bring my bathing suits.)
Unfortunately, buying a horse isn’t like that. You actually have to decide what you need. You have to say, I value these traits over those. And to complicate matters further, you have the voices of your past and current coaches/mentors/friends lurking in your head. See if you can match the top professional with their theory:
“When I buy a horse, I know whether I want it after the first cross-pole it jumps”
“It’s a numbers game, quantity is important so diversify the qualities”
“Ehhhhh, bloody hell, you can make a good horse out of anything mate”
“Its all about the canter”
“Its all about the trot”
“You will know the minute you get on”
AHHHHH What does all this mean?! Nothing any of these people say makes sense to me and to make matters worse, they contradict each other. I have seen bad horses make good horses and good horses make bad horses and at this point I am so confused that I would buy a donkey just to have the decision made. There are certain qualities that make a four star horse. The problem is just about every top horse is on some level an exception to one of these rules.
            What I am trying to say here people, is we are competitors in a sport where the “best” is nearly impossible to define, completely subjective, and constantly changing. So, blindfold me, spin me around, and let me attempt to pin the tail on the donkey.
            Alright I am being dramatic, but can you see my point? Its like the cereal aisle at the grocery store. There is such a thing as having too many options. So, I know what you are thinking…how did I finally make my decision? I took all the advice that has been given to me by the smartest people in our sport, filtered it, and then forgot about it. I accepted that choosing a horse is intensely personal and probably the biggest predictor of my horse’s future success would be my own conviction in his ability to succeed. Therefore, as long as he is right for me, I have the best chance of making him right for the sport. And if not, sell and move on.
All of that is to say, I am very happy to announce that I own a 6-year-old named Barnaby.  He has been in a show-jumping yard so he has only completed 2 training level events. He is cheeky, very lovable, and in my opinion, super talented. I couldn’t be more excited about seeing how he progresses this year.

Oh, you want me to mention my move to England next? I feel you deserve a change of topic after reading the above paragraphs which now in retrospect is more like the rantings of a deranged lunatic who may or may not be packing for a trip and may or may not be shopping for cereal.

After 8 wonderful months in Ireland I decided that in order to make the most of my time abroad, I should broaden my experience by checking out another country. Carol was super supportive and helped me find a job with a kiwi rider based in the UK, Tim Rusbridge. In my own typical style, the whole move was kind of crazy. Essentially what happened was on Monday Carol and I discussed the idea of me going over to England, by Tuesday she had found someone looking for a rider, and by Wednesday night I had a text from her saying, “Shippers are coming tomorrow to take you to Tim’s”. My mother didn’t even know I was moving. I sent out a very dramatic email to my close friends and family that looked something like this:

Am leaving Ireland and moving to England. Don’t know when or where. Probably won’t have cell or internet. Will get in touch when I can.

Apparently in my panic over the move, I was unable to form grammatically correct sentences. Anyhow, the shipper arrived at Carol’s to take Barnaby and me to England. Somehow I accumulated an inappropriate amount of stuff for someone who is country hopping. When the shipper saw the 10 bags I was hoping he would take for me he said, “We are going to have to access the emergency only storage compartment”. No joke. The trip took about 9 hours and I rode in the middle between the two Irish gentlemen who ran the shipping company. As per usual, I was unable to understand anything they said to me because their accents. The trip was punctuated with awkward moments when they would ask me a question and I would just make up some random response. For example, John the shipper would actually say, “How long have you been in Ireland” and I would respond, “My horse’s name is Barnaby”. It is entirely possible that they thought I was not right in the head.

I arrived in my new country safe and sound. I have been here a week and everything is still very new but Tim runs a great operation and I am very impressed. I will be sure to report back and let you all know how I am faring in this new environment. Lots of love and thanks to all of my wonderful friends in Ireland that took such good care of me.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Christmas, New Years, Vacation, and Back Again Or My Life since my last Blog Crammed into 2 Pages

Once again, I have neglected my blog but after my recent return to the states for a wonderful vacation, I have a renewed desire to keep everyone updated of my shenanigans. The last time I blogged was two months ago so let me quickly catch everyone up to date.
The month of December was filled with horses and holidays. I will say one thing about the Irish people…They know how to celebrate Christmas. The holiday begins December 1st and ends after the New Year. I actually felt like I was running a holiday marathon and I was the only one who had not been training for the experience. You know how when you are away from home, the holidays just don’t seem as special? Well in this case, they seemed significantly MORE special. My wardrobe was inadequate for all the partying and so was my alcohol tolerance. By the end all I could think was, please let the partying stop.
             After an Irish New Year, I went back to America for a couple weeks vacation. The trip could not have been better timed. I have found that January is that time of year when most horse people get this feeling I like to call “the hamster wheel syndrome”. We have just emerged from December. A month that is cold and a little boring but the holidays keep everybody’s spirits up and the prospect of a new year is exciting. Then January arrives, we start to move our horses South, or for others we keep our heads down and train away at home. But either way, this general sense of redundancy niggles at the back of our minds. Are we really going to go through this all over again? In this sport, April can be fantastic and by August, your dreams are shattered. The highs and lows of each year seem so daunting in January that so many people whisper in their minds, can I really handle this all again? We all feel like that damn hamster, potentially running towards absolutely nothing.
Now, luckily for everyone involved, the first competition of the season or perhaps that first really good lesson blows our negative thoughts away. We become reenergized and reconnected with the stubborn optimism that seems to be required of a rider. But I am not going to lie; January can be really tough. My trip helped me battle against this hamster wheel syndrome because it not only gave me a break from the grind, but I got to see all my friends training and planning for the year ahead.
             I took a tour of the east coast with my cohort, Jennie Brannigan, and was really inspired by the training going on down in Ocala at Sharn Wordley and Scott Keach’s place. Jennie’s perpetual drive to take the next step in her career was just the motivation I needed. I think even if somebody told that girl she was running on a wheel she would say, “So? At least I am not standing still!” That’s the kind of attitude that makes a champion. And then of course the two of us got into plenty of trouble too. (See Jennie's Blog for details on how many things really went wrong in our travels)
So after catching up with everybody, I hoped on a plane and returned back to Ireland feeling very excited about getting back to the business at hand…training horses. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I have a tendency to jump the gun a bit. And in my typical fashion, I returned to Ireland thinking the season would be starting. In reality I found winter in full force. I am not sure why I thought I would come back to spring weather since Ireland actually doesn’t have spring (or summer for that matter). I’ve rebounded quickly though and have been riding around the indoor at Fernhill imagining myself to be in the main ring in Wellington. Don’t worry, I haven’t put the white britches on yet but I am considering it just to further my own delusions of grandeur. The only thing holding me back is that there is actually nothing I hate more than wearing white pants. (Who ever thought that was a good idea anyway?) Actually there is one thing I hate more…wearing white capris?
All joking aside, I am excited about the year to come even if I have no idea what it holds. So what is the next step? Hamster wheel or not, it is time to start running. (I mean that figuratively of course because in reality I hate running.) Stay tuned…