I must admit that in between showing in Ocala, packing for the long trek home to my beloved Crow's Ear, cheering Buck and Bobby (and Reggie) on at Rolex in a remote coffee shop, and prepping for my own spring three day at Jersey Fresh, writing a blog had been demoted to the least of my priorities. To add insult to injury, the increasingly sluggish pace of our computer’s internet connection here at the homestead certainly does not add any incentive. So let’s see, so much to cover in so little time as I sit here in the overly air conditioned Apple Store in my work-out ensemble...where shall I begin?
I think I will start by congratulating my coach and friend, Buck Davidson with one of the most inspirational and emotional weekends of riding and horsemanship I have ever witnessed in my twenty five years of living. Needless to say, I was pretty anxious to drive up to his farm in Reigalsville, PA, to train a week prior to Alex and my CCI***, which would not only be Alex’s first CCI*** in his career, but my first three day outing since my accident, over a year later. This blog is especially paramount because I feel the need to address to my audience the importance of my taking a lengthy time to come back to full speed at the upper levels. Allow me to elaborate: last year after my accident, I was so focused on recovering and hopping back into the saddle that the idea of coming back at Fairhill in the fall of 2008 seemed an impeccable one. I would hear my mom and my coach tell me to take things slow and steady but I was so set on proving to everyone (including myself) that I come back quickly, that I lost sight of the present and ignored the past. However, after taking a few months longer to heal and pondering the reasoning behind this surge to get to a fall CCI***, I realized that the reason why I was pushing myself was the only reason why I SHOULDN'T. The person I should be proving anything to is myself, and that is probably the largest lesson I have learned in a long time. Interestingly enough, as the fall shows commenced, and the winter circuit in Ocala began to transpire, that overwhelming feeling of having to prove myself to everyone dissipated, and what replaced it was a feeling of self doubt and insecurity. How was I going to give my young mounts, Alex and Seajack the confidence they needed to step up to the higher levels if I myself couldn’t conjure up even an ounce mentally or physically? Let me tell you, the drive down to Ocala was a somber one as I hoped this move wouldn't be a waste of my or my family’s money, time, or faith.
However, the nearly three months spent down south proved to be a worthy venture as I was able to successfully navigate my three competition horses around many horse trials, all with competitive results. I think the largest confidence boost for me came in the form of the completion of my first advanced back at the Fork with Alex. Although self-doubt weighed heavily on my shoulders, which is a feeling I have seldom had on the back of my horses, I was able to push through it’s barriers and increase both my and Alex’s confidence.
Now, back to the week spent in Reigalsville PA with Buck, Hawley Bennett, and Kerry Blackmer. Both Kerry and I carpooled our way to Buck’s farm only to be informed by a shocked yet awkwardly lucid Hawley that Buck cheated death by five seconds as his camper that he had owned for less than two weeks literally blew up! Of course because of the competitive drive that makes him a winner on so many accounts, Buck encouraged both Kerry and I to continue our pilgrimage up I-95 towards his farm and be ready for an afternoon gallop. Both Kerry and I thought, well if we are still going to gallop, then it shouldn't be that bad right? Oh, quite the contrary! As we pulled up to the back side of the farm’s entrance (had to take an alternate route to get there as the main road was closed due to a “fire”) we were immediately greeted by Mackenzie Booth (Buck’s head groom) and company on motor bikes all simultaneously explaining how the debacle at the farm took place. After everyone settled down, both Kerry and I escorted our trusty steeds to the nearest paddocks where we allowed them to graze while we took a gander at what was to be a skeleton of an RV surrounded by no less than twenty fire trucks and fifty fire fighters. Leave it to Buck to make an entrance such as this!!!!
The days working up to Jersey Fresh were nothing short of miserable, bringing with them torrential rain and bone-chilling temperatures. In fact, there was not one day the week before the three star that wasn't downtrodden with rain. Luckily for us at the new BDJ stables, we spent most of our time in the indoor arena practicing our flat work or performing ornate grid work under the watchful eye of “Coach.” Even though the weather was certainly not willing to participate, Alex put in great work and effort leading up to the pinnacle of our spring season.
The weather in Allentown NJ was less than desirable which seemed to cause people’s morale to follow suit. Every time I exercised Alex in the warm up ring, I would have to take him back to the wash stall for a full bathing in order to get the mud and blue stone grime that covered his legs, belly, and tail. Let me tell you, there was certainly a large scramble to get to those coveted wash stalls right before the jog which made for an interesting and increasingly entertaining scene as I watched the grooms, horse in one hand and hose in another, dance around in circles in preparation for the upcoming jogs.
Alex performed his trot up like a rock star, and might I add, certainly looked the part of one too. Until this time, my cheering squad and closest friends, Mom, Yvette Joyce, and Jess Bowen hadn’t arrived to the show so I was eager to see their smiling faces accompanied with their boisterous laughter. Following the jogs, we headed out to walk the course, ate a quick dinner, and headed back to the warmth of the hotel in anticipation for the next day’s festivities in the dressage court.
In the morning I took Al out for a quick hack and canter in order to get him in front of my leg for his upcoming performance. I then gave him another bath, with Jess’s help, and then proceeded to put my infamous “Rolex” braids into his mane and forelock. Before I knew it, I was mounted and warming up for our test. Because the weather never subsided, the ground jury made the decision to move the final test into the indoor arena, which is something we at Jersey have never experienced before. The indoor is rather vast and obtrusive, with birds flying in the rafts and an abundance of noisy garage doors being opened and closed depending on the weather. I was a little perplexed as to how Al would react to such a monstrosity, being the spooky horse that he characteristically is. However, as we trotted around the perimeter of the arena, my apprehension quickly dissipated as Al was on his game and ready to perform a great test. And what a great test it was! Even though a thunderous rain beat down on the roof as we circled in our canter counter accompanied by a few lightening strikes, nothing seemed to bother Al. In fact, he was even a bit lazy to my surprise. However as we halted at L and exited the arena, I felt a surge of pride just thinking how far both this little horse and myself have come, and in such little time. I couldnt wait for what lie ahead, even though as I type about it now, it gives me the jitters.
The cross country course was, as expected, a formidable and daunting one, and accompanied with the soggy footing, made it all the more difficult. My whole mindset about the day was to take things slow in the beginning of the course, allow both Al and I to settle in, and slowly build in the latter. The overarching theme of my ride was to come home safely, soundly, and with ears pricked and smiles. After a long hold on the course, causing our times to be delayed around thirty five minutes, Al and I were set to head out on course. As my mother walked us to the start box, muttering helpful words of wisdom, I carefully plotted in my head the way I was going to jump every fence. I also had second and third plans in case the first didn't go the way I hoped. Al and I were ready. Finally, we were off. With valiant cheers from the crowd and my mother (she’s really the only one I seem to hear when on course) Al and I navigated through the first half of the course with ease, taking one option early on due to his greenness and my wanting to “play it safe.” As we jumped through the first water we were greeted by hundreds of people’s overwhelming applause which seemed to catalyze Alex’s energy exponentially. However, our momentum would soon be disrupted as a red flag was hastily waiving us down to stop as we began to accelerate in the gallop lane after the bounce combination in the woods. Across the way, I could see an ambulance speed out on the course and I immediately felt a surge of anxiety knowing that my dear friend and fellow stable mate, Hawley Bennett, was the only other person sharing the course with both Alex and I. As we circled around, trying to cool Alex off, I was soon approached by my mom, outwardly enthusiastic, and my coach, both assuring me that both Hawley and Ginny were totally fine all the while reminding me to keep my focus and and our confidence on course. After receiving the two minute call to restart, I immediately put back on my game face, cantered a now rejuvenated Alex in a circle, and set off for the second half of my course. Alex was just as positive and attentive as he was before the hold and galloped around the course with exuberance, taking one option at the end of the course at the last water to ensure a clean and safe round. I galloped through the finish lines both fists in the air followed by a well deserved hug and pats on the neck for Al. Yvette, Jess, and mom aided me in cooling Alex off, and didn't stop until our hands were numb from the ice water. Finally, with the acceptance from the vets, I hand walked Alex back to his stall where we iced and polticed his legs, took him on many hand walks, and alloted him ample grazing time which Alex truly appreciated. After our duties at the barn were finished, we headed for a late and filling dinner at Longhorn where we celebrated both Alex and my qualifying cross country round and of course, Mother’s Day. Followed by a hearty dinner, we headed to bed, and I replayed the vision of cantering through the finish lines repeatedly in my mind. In Mind Gym, a sports psychology book that I follow intently, Gary Mack says to think of a moment in your mind that you hope to pursue one day, and play it over and over every night before bed, and your mind will grow accustomed to positive thinking. Since January, while laying in my bed at night, I’d been dreaming of the moment when I would cross that finish line feeling as confident as when I left the start box! “Mind over matter;” I am now a true believer!
Al was true to form over the show jumping course leaving every rail in it’s cup and me with a perennial smile on my face. I was so ecstatic to have not only achieved my goal of receiving a qualifying score for next year’s Rolex but also to have done so in style and with a surplus of confidence to spare finishing the show in 9th place in addition to taking home the much-coveted Eight Saint James Place Trophy! Following SJ, the Crow’s Ear crew packed our things, loaded our star, and set out for the trip home. As Jess and I rocked out in the truck on 95, I couldn't help but swell with pride for my pony Al, and be thankful for all the help from my coach, my friends (Jess, Yvette, and Lynn) and of course, my mom!
So now what’s in store for me you ask? I am currently looking towards my upcoming Business Class Accelerated Program at the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond. With this new chapter in my life coming to fruition, I will be looking “upward and onward” to what life’s new experiences have to teach me. See you out in the galloping lanes!