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.