Starting out, we had to decide who was going to FHI! I would typically only take one groom for two horses at a two star, but I am so lucky to have two wonderful working students right now that I just couldn’t pick only one…. So both girls got to go! Jenny and Andrea are both stellar, and I really enjoyed their help and company. Quin was an absolute darling to step up to the plate to do all the feedings while we were gone for EIGHT DAYS, and Adan is an absolute miracle as usual. With Quin & Adan at home, we left the farm in two sets of very competent hands… It was SO appreciated!
Just before we left for FHI, I had the opportunity to ride Hopper in dressage in front of an important French delegation here for the World Games…. Where promptly my zipper on my tall boots decided to break! Oh the luck! Without time to get it repaired, I ran to my favorite tack store, who always has what I need…. Only to find that they didn’t have the size I needed in stock! Aaaack! I had to buy a cheaper pair of boots to use more temporarily, and ride around Fair Hill in a brand new pair of stiff leather boots…. OUCH! LOL…..
We drove down on Monday to allow the horses plenty of time to settle in and loosen up after the 11 hour drive. They shipped really well, and whizzed through their in-barn exams. To make it to the in-barn exams on time, we left the farm at 2am…. That took a LOT of coffee! Even better, when we were only 30 minutes from Fair Hill, the traffic came to a dead halt on the interstate… Thank goodness for engine brakes! It was the only shot I had at stopping the rig in such a short time… I threw the horses around a touch, but much better than being in a massive collision! I had to get a little creative to be able to stop in time. But the boys unloaded well, and my fears were calmed. That was definitely stressfull!
Tuesday was a quiet day…. Flatting the boys, and not much else to do, as the XC wasn’t open yet. Thus, I took the girls into Delaware for a little exploring, and we had a lovely, laid-back day. I did enjoy spending the day breaking in the new boots… My usual boots are calfskin and wonderful, and this poor pair was a little like having a serrated knife sticking into your calf at any given moment…. Terrific! I did what my dad always taught me to do growing up—-I “sucked it up”, and with the help of a LOT of sponges stuffed down my socks in odd places, we managed to stop the bleeding… =)
Wednesday started getting busier with the meetings, the jog, and the opening of the XC course. Both boys jogged really well and passed easily… I took my first glimpse at the XC, and it looked terrific. Big and tough with lots to do, and FOUR waters on the course! But I love my two boys so much—they are such XC machines! I was really looking forward to Derek’s course, with lots to do out there…. Just what I wanted! It was GORGEOUS!!!
Thursday dawned cold, cold, cold, and rain. I couldn’t help but smile… Here we were, soaked to the bone, my hands trembling and purple under my white gloves, rain pouring off my top hat. Yet I couldn’t help but tell myself that I might be the luckiest person alive, because here I was at legendary Fair Hill, on one of my all-time-favorite horses… Let me tell you what, NO amount of rain could dampen that uplifting thought! Hopper warmed up in the best frame I’ve ever had him in, and he added just a touch of tension in the ring, but overall was very good. He’s a funny horse… He is very good at the Prelim dressage, but still green at the OI dressage at times…. He’s an OTTB, so it comes hard for him. He tried 110% out there, and I was reasonably happy with my 58.0, considering he jigged through his walks, earning 4’s. I was happy with the 8’s that brought those scores back up! And the highlight of the day was someone I really admire, who has a very admired eye, telling me, “Hey, you had a good ride today!!” I was absolutely beaming. Always improvement to be made, but that’s a great place to start!
Friday was completely different… 55 or 60 degrees, but 30 mph wind gusts that were whipping the sponsors tent and flags around and making quite a racket. I love the dressage videos—there are leaves blowing everywhere! Nemo was VERY tense in warmup, and I told myself that I’d stay calm and just appreciate every moment of this opportunity….After all, it was the generosity of my WONDERFUL clients through the fundraising that I could even afford to be in this international venue. I was going to enjoy every last moment! My little redheaded TB settled quite a lot when he saw the arena, and put his best foot forward. He was being quite good, especially considering the conditions, when we were doing an extended canter down the long side…. And the entire long side of the ring BLEW AWAY! I have been eventing for 18 years, and I’ve never had that happen! Nemo was a champ about it, and the international panel of judges were very quick thinking to blow the whistle to pause the test. Dozens of wonderful volunteers ran into the ring to rebuild it, all the while Nemo was standing in the ring like, “Oh gosh, did I have a rail in dressage???” He was great about the whole thing, and I just smiled through it and patted him…. It was quite funny to spend all autumn building up to this moment, and have the dressage arena run away… I kept smiling and petting him, and eventually the arena was rebuilt around him and she whistled us to continue. I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to ride in quite a few three days in my life, because it took every once of composure I had to finish the test without an error! But he was a good boy, and we finished up well. Not as focused as I might have hoped after the situation, but that’s okay. He scored a 55, which is quite a respectable score, and I’ll keep working to make it better!
I had already walked the XC course three times, then joined up with Bonnie Mosser to walk it one last time on Friday evening. I really appreciated her input, and she had many great things to say…. With that fresh in my mind, I formulated my plan, and it was off to Saturday!
Saturday was a great day for XC, windy and 60 degrees. The rain on Thursday made the going perfect for the early ** horses, but by the time Nemo went (third to last to go) it was quite deep. Such is life, but it really impacts how you ride the fences and how you take care of your horse.
Hopper was first off…. He was SOOOO excited in warmup, he was a bit of a looney toon! But my beloved partner and I know each other well, and I know he’s just terrified of the other horses in the warmup (old track habits die hard). I always know as soon as he sets foot on the course, that he’ll have his head in the game. I was very brave this time, and have been working forever to take Hopper, the strongest horse I’ve ever ridden, and get him better and better in the bridle. I’m proud to say that he ran XC in a wonder bit, the least bit he’s ever run in, and ran SJ in a loose ring snaffle! But trying the wonder bit on XC at FHI was a brave decision…. I definitely had my work cut out for me. The first water was a brush, turn, brush drop in, turn, angle a skinny out on a lip. I was silly in our last run at Otter Creek and popped off in the water, and you’d better believe I was a woman out for vengeance on myself this weekend! =) I was on a mission to ride as well as I could, and do justice to my good friend. I rode strongly but not quickly in, and he was perfect! Two fences later, I was worried about a downhill brush to a galloping 5 strides down to a corner—he hasn’t always been the most honest at corners. He was good there, we rubbed the flag but he was well inside it. Then a trakehner, and off to a dip through a sunken road up to a rail. He stayed in great balance there, and jumped it like a hunter fence! Next up, a drop fence, and then another water—a rail skiing downhill into water out over a corner. Hopper was perfection there, and jumped it so easily. I heard Bonnie’s words—GALLOP into this arena! Go! And go I did! Hopper has the best gallop I’ve ever ridden. He came back easily and softly… Then angling two skinny cabins on 4 loooong strides in the arena, and he was so straight and true and mature! Next two angled AB rolltops downhill which some of the riders were concerned about, but he it was so easy for Hopp. Galloping down to the sunken road, the jump is hidden behind the trees, and I took a preemptive tug and didn’t get a response. I had two choices, (1) fight, or (2) ride him like he was more mature, and let him see the fence. I chose the latter, and he responded so well! I sat up and back and didn’t pull, and he was at just the right speed/canter to step through the ABCD sunken road like it was a simple gymnastic. No time to rest though—off to the toughest fence for us on the course! 17AB was a BIG rail in the a lot of the riders were concerned over, though water, up a mound/lip, angling a skinny offset brush. I was riding so determinedly at the 17A and so encouragingly, and he was wonderful. Then in mid air, I heard Brian O’Connor announce that a friend of mine had fallen at the water complex right next to me…. My heart skipped a beat for a moment, then I knew I had to kick out to the 17B, and he helped me out nicely and popped right over. Over a table, the over the ditch & wall. Long gallop up hill to #20AB, a table to a toothbrush, where he was great. Then another table. Then #22ABC, the final water with a skinny brush, four sharp turning strides, a rolltop drop into water, four strides, out over a goose. I was still on a water mission, and encouraged and encouraged! He was perfect, and thought I was quite silly…. Stepping in easily, and making it all simple. I still had quite a lot of horse left running, and galloped the last three fences carefully to not make any silly mistakes. I didn’t look at my watch all the way ‘round, just took him out for the best round I could give him. I looked at my watch at the finish, and was super pleased that he only had 5.6 time penalties! The Fair Hill course is known for being tough to make time and the terrain really adds in an unaccounted for challenge. He finished full of running, and he was amazing…. He really gave me one of my favorite rides of my life. What a special horse!
Nemo was next, two hours later…. By then, nearly 60 horses had gone out on the XC, and the lanes were pretty churned up. Hopper is a mudder, but Nemo is a more delicate sort, and prefers pristine footing. =) My #1 prioirty was to take good care of him, find him fresh footing and give him the footing he likes. So we angled some fences, took some tight lines, and found him fresh footing. That meant not galloping very fast, but we were very efficient, as we never bother arguing. (Hopper and I are an old married couple, Nemo and I are Mommy and Momma’s boy.) He jumped through the first water perfectly—what a mature guy he’s become for 9 years old! But he just steped lightly on his toe on landing, and it was enough to spring his shoe a little. He galloped around on it well, and I kept my foot off the gas to take good care of him. He was jumping unbelieveably well…. Cantering around making light work of every question, knowing the answers before I asked the questions. The steeplechase corner was simple, the sunken road rail was a gymnastic. He is so fast with his knees that he really excels at that sort of question. By the time he went, the crowds had quadrupled, and there was a LOT to look at! People at the waters were 4-5 people deep in places behind the roping, as if they were waiting in line at Rolex. Nemo took several peeks at them, but then returned cooly to business. The skiing downhill water was easy, and he was super straight in the arena over the 4 stride tables. The offset angles and the sunken road were delightful gymnastics. The 3rd and 4th waters were very easy for him, and I was really impressed at his maturity…. He really took me around the course, and is really starting to have the answers for himself! He crossed the finish line well…. Though I took it slow with him, we were very efficient as we never fight, and he was only 10 time penalties over.
Both horses cooled out well, and looked great Saturday night…. In fact, I had to use a chain on Hopper’s nose for the first time on his walk, as he was so pumped up and wild that I could barely hold him!
There were plenty of problems on the XC courses that day, and I was very proud that Hopper was in 16th and Nemo in 18th going into Sunday morning, just 2 points apart.
Sunday morning they were great, then off to the jog at 9am…. I forgot my black jog shoes at home (ooops), so we grabbed the only pair we could find at a Kmart that week, but they were too big…. I jogged Hopper, and I feel like I usually do a decent job at that. My shoes started falling off half way down the jog strip, and I did not do him justice. GRRRRR! I was so mad at myself. I love my horse…. Fortunately the great vets went over him with a fine-tooth-comb, and couldn’t find anything at all. So I switched shoes with my stellar WS Jenny, represented without my shoes falling off, and he passed. I may never let myself live that down! Nemo had been jogging well all morning, and jogged down the lane well. The lanes were long, and by the time he was on the second pass, he is a wimp and decided that his slight heel bruise hurt, and took a couple of funny steps. He was sent to the hold. Never in my life have I had that happen—both my guys were held…. I really felt like I let the boys down. There were plenty of stiff horses Sunday morning in the barn, but I let them down by not jogging them well. I assure you I won’t let that happen again! We worked with the vets in the hold, and everyone was so helpful and kind. The experts assured me that Nemo could probably pass on next presentation, but I decided that my beloved Nemo has nothing to prove, and if he was just a touch off, then he didn’t have to play that day. We’ve done 3 two stars together already, all clean XC…. He has nothing to prove. The important thing is that he’s not hurt, and he’s actually quite fine…. And 100% in the grass. I decided to withdraw him in the hold, which was really hard as I love riding him and he’s a wonderful show jumper, but I gave him a hug and a kiss in the middle of the jog lane, and we’ll play another day. I thanked the vets for all of their guidance, and went back to the barn.
It was very strange having one horse to show jump. Nemo has never actually gotten himself eliminated, so he’s never had an event he hasn’t completed (except the one years ago when I missed a flag on XC, but not his fault.) It was eerie not riding him Sunday morning. Again, rather than stress about it, I decided to be incredibly grateful that he’s totally fine, and that I got the opportunity to ride in the same arena with some of the all time great riders in our country on Hopper, an amazing horse in his own right. I was in 16th after XC on Hopper of 60, so I had the chance to watch quite a few rides before I needed to get on. Kudos to my fabulous grooms for allowing me that privilege—you guys rock!
Show jumping has always been Nemo’s strong suit, and Hopper’s weak one. Imagine the most careful horse you know, take the opposite, and that’s how Hopper naturally feels about rails. =) We’ve been working HARD to change that opinion, by helping him be physically stronger and improving his shape in mid air and my position. He cantered into the ring and once again, I was all smiles. How lucky am I to ride THIS horse in THIS arena in front of THIS crowd? Yes, they ran here last year too, but it never diminishes just how lucky we are to have each and every day with them. And off I went into the ring… I smiled big and got the canter I wanted and cantered off to the first show jump fence, determined to put my best foot forward. We were rewarded! Hopper was really trying to clear the rails and jump round, not flat! He was being so good, and we were very much on the same page. This is a STRONG horse to ride, so it’s always a fun balance of getting the right canter but being able to soften. We rubbed the back rail of 5A, an oxer to a vertical off a 10 meter rollback turn in the corner of the arena, and had that one down. But I don’t think he even touched any others!! He was jumping huge! I was too deep to the yellow at #9, and he jumped up and around and didn’t touch it… A huge step forward for him! The time was tight, so I was thrilled with 4 jumping and 0 time! The scores were all tight, as all the best ** horses on the east coast were in abundance… Hopper finished in 18th place of approximately 60 horses, with a 58.0 dressage, 5 time 0 jump xc, 0 time 1 rail SJ. A top 20 finish at the Fall National CCI** Championships! I was leaving the arena, so happy with my $500 pony from the killer truck…. And then they asked me to stick around for the awards? I knew I wasn’t top 10, so I was definitely second guessing myself a bit waiting around…
But when they called us back in, the members of the ground jury and the veterinary panel chose to award The Sportsmanship Award to me for the weekend. WOW, what a nice moment—I nearly cried! After nights of sleeping in the cold horse trailer, taking camper showers in the back of the trailer (yes, with cold water in the part that the horses travel in!), having the dressage arena blow away, having Nemo not get to finish…. And being so grateful for the opportunity all along, and so grateful that my clients would help send me this weekend. What a nice moment and what a nice thing to do…. That ribbon and plaque are hanging in the lounge, and will always been very special to me.
Oh, and then think the funny part was over? Not a chance. We drove home all night Sunday night, as we needed to get back to go to the T3D/CCI* at Team Challenge this week…. And at 2am Monday morning, in West Virginia, my relatively new dually had a massive EXPLOSION sound and died…. We limped into a gas station and managed to convince the attendants and the cops that came later to let us hang out there…. My dad was great to drive all the way out there to check on us, and Quin was amazing when I called her at 2am, three hours from where we were, to ask her to pretty please bring us the old farm truck that will just barely pull the horse trailer…. She was a gem, and came right away…. So we limped home at 55 miles per hour, arriving home 17 hours after we left Fair Hill!!!
Yet with all of those moments, I was so grateful for the experience. Thank you to each one of my terrific students who were willing to flat my young horses while I was gone…. Thank you to each one of you who came to the fundraising clinic to help send the boys to Fair Hill…. Thank you to the working students for working their butts off all weekend…. Thank you to Adan & Quin & Howard for holding down the fort… Thank you to Chris and Bonnie and Jeff and Eric and Reese for their expertise in getting us to this point in our lives…. Eventing truly is a team sport!!!! That’s why the farm is called TEAM ceo eventing… It’s all about the team.
And let me tell you, in addition to a lot of Red Bull, the one thing that kept me awake the whole way home was the constant replay in my mind (over and over!) of the two boys and their XC courses, and how absolutely amazing they both were… I’m so lucky to be a part of their journeys!
The boys jogged great once they got home, and are enjoying the week outside with their respective best friends…. They are happy, muddy, and probably growing fur as I speak…. =)
And in case you were wondering, since I drove 17 hours, I didn’t go to bed AT ALL Sunday night, so if my post is a little long or incomprehensible, please forgive me!
All the best,