Monday, September 13, 2010

Paving the Road to Success: AECs and WEG

So after one of the most long, tedious, grueling drives of my life, mom and I are finally home from the AECs held at Carl Bouckaert's wonderful Chattahoochee Hills facility. While the drive seemed never-ending, the actual timeframe of the show went by way too quickly! I guess our elders were right when they affirmed, "time flies when you're having fun!"

Seeing all the friendly familiar faces at the AECs made it an incredible time. However, having my mom fly in from the west coast to share the experience made it all the more refreshing. Since the last time mom was out in on the east coast was for Rolex, I felt a little rushed in wanting to fit as many memories and fun times in her short visit as possible! To make the experience even sweeter, my best friend and former groom Bronwyn Watts (who happens to live in Atlanta) came to help out bringing the whole CEF crew back together for a reunion which made all-the-more special.

As far as the whole AEC show experience, my Al certainly did not disappoint. Since we were not nearly as seasoned as the rest of our competitors who were running throughout the summer, I was a little worried that perhaps my plan to give Al some time off to relax and "be a horse" might backfire come the end of the weekend. Since I wasn't showing Al this summer, I was busy honing my dressage skills with the DQ herself, Kim Severson, which really paid off come Friday afternoon's dressage test. Even though I was hoping for a lower score than we received, I was happy that Al and I managed to chop off ten points in the same test that we rode this past Rolex! Wow, hard work really DOES pay off!!!

The first time I walked the cross country course, I didn't know if my indifference to the questions stemmed from road weariness or the simplicity of the questions. I decided to re-think my assessment of the XC the following day after I had a good night's rest and sure enough, I soon discovered that the lack of sleep sometimes makes you think some crazy things!!! Although the course seemed fairly straight forward, I felt a sense of nervousness since the only cross country course my horse has seen since Rolex has been the preliminary at Loudoun Horse Trials. There is nothing quite like massive table with frangible pins in the middle of the field that brings you down from "lala" land and back to reality! Wake up Al...these fences may be a tad bit bigger than what we tackled a few weeks prior. Poor guy!

Al answered every question with ease, proving that my plan to give him an easy summer was perfectly suitable and completely necessary. Because the footing was slightly hard (with some AMAZING work from the ground crew at Chatt Hills I might add), I chose to ride at my own speed, and listen to my partner, rather than follow my watch. To my surprise, Al galloped through the finish flags with plenty of running considering the oppressive humidity and heat. I would like to add how much I enjoyed hearing Boydy's, Nate's, Leslie's, and Jon's PRO commentary of the Advanced cross country. It is always nice to have a familiar voice cracking jokes about his fellow competitors and offering knowledgable insight about the course to help calm the pre-XC nerves. It is equally as beneficial for those who are spectating and adds a certain excitement and anticipation to the thrill of the sport!

I hate to sound cocky, but show jumping has always been Al's best phase of the three. With that in mind, you had better believe that when I had two rails on Sunday, awestruck would be an understatement to the emotion I was feeling as we exited the show ring. For the rest of the drive home, I pouted and pondered over the reasoning behind the rails, much to my poor mother's dismay. I just couldn't grasp why the rails fell, or what it was I could have done better. Since it's been over three years since Al and I have had more than one rail in SJ, my mind was running rampant with ideas and answers as to what it was that messed us up.

Finally, I came to my final conclusion: George Morris once told me that the best riders never waste time honing skills in which they're already accomplished. He told me that in order to become the best, I need to practice on perfecting my weaknesses rather than my strengths. Having said that, since dressage has become so competitive, I spent most of the summer with Al learning how to consistently achieve clean changes and better lateral work. In fact, I think I spent so much time in doing so, that I may have overlooked our training in show jumping, since that has always been our best phase. So you matter the level of experience or accomplishment, we as riders and trainers are always learning how to balance our strengths and weaknesses with that of our equine mounts. It's a perennial cycle...

Although I was quite disappointed with our show jumping experience, I was absolutely thrilled with our overall performance at the American Eventing Championships. I would like to shout out a special congratulations to Kim and Paddy. Having spent the past two weeks with them at her farm, in addition to countless times throughout the summer, I know how hard she has worked to improve their so-called weakest phase, and to have pulled out a clear round when it matters the most really speaks volumes for Kim's motivation and determination. I also want to wish our potential WEG candidates the best of luck before tomorrow's final selection and I am very confident that we have the rider and horse power to bring in the gold on home ground this year!

What's in store for me next? Aside from moving to my own barn in Crozier, Al and I will be busy prepping for Morven Park Advanced Horse Trials which is the first weekend in October. I will hopefully hear from our selectors by the end of the week whether we were selected to receive the grant to ride at Boekelo in Holland this coming October as well. Until then guys, heels down, shoulders back...and keep your toes and fingers crossed for Team USA! My heart will be with them in Kentucky as they take on the rest of the world for the coveted WEG title! Cheers!