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.