Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bad Luck Comes in Three’s

Due to my overwhelmingly competitive nature, this will be by far one of the most difficult and necessary blog posts that I have written. The matter of the fact is that this sport is hard. Hard on it’s riders, equally as hard on our horses (not to mention our wallets). My decision to pull Al from Pau was a tortuous one, as I was in a tug-of-war between my heart and my logic.

The road up to Pau was seemingly an easy one up until last Sunday, when I took Al to the local jumper show. Thus, the “week from hell” began. The day after he won his class, I jogged him up and lunged him and noticed a slight hitch in his step, something that I am not accustomed to seeing on such a solid, sound horse. Immediately, I called my local vet and friend, Tom Newton, who sped over to my barn, and after watching Alex trot up decided that it would be in Al’s and my best interest to make the haul up to Charlottesville, VA to see the great Dr. Coles at the Blue Ridge Equine Clinic. On Tuesday I spent the day trotting Al back and forth under the knowledgable eye of Reynolds Coles where we blocked him from the foot up. When the scans came up negative for tears or holes, we turned to the X rays, which concluded what I had feared the whole time along: Al has acute arthritis. Because of the timing of the event and the FEI rules, injecting with steroids was clearly out of the question. The only option we had was to do an Irap, which would be pulled from Al on Tuesday, processed in the laboratory overnight, and re-injected back into the joint on Friday morning.

I was happy to pick Bronwyn (my best friend and groom) up from the Richmond airport on Friday, horse, hope, and trailer in tow. From the airport we jetted to Blue Ridge, where Dr. Coles once again assessed his slight lameness and reaffirmed his original conclusion. We then injected Al with the Irap, and let Al do the rest of the talking. I was given strict instructions from the vet to do a long hack on Saturday, light dressage work on Sunday, then carry on with my previously scheduled plan for Pau. I remember distinctly telling Bronwyn as Al was being injected that “if this horse is not unequivocally 100% come Wednesday morning, he will NOT step foot on a plane.” Although reality was beginning to set in, there is always hope, unto which I cling passionately.

The last member of Team CEF arrived in Richmond on Saturday evening. I sighed a breath of relief as mom hopped into the car by my side. There is nothing like having the two closest people with you during a time as arduous and painstakingly disappointing as this.

Sunday morning finally arrived: the moment of truth! I held my breath as Bronwyn trotted Al in hand down the road. To my surprise, Al was 100%! Everything that had gone awry the past week (Phillip pulling out last minute, my truck randomly deciding to break down, Al’s sudden lameness) suddenly melted from conscience knowing my little horse felt miraculously better.

On Monday I drove up to True Prospect Farm (yet again, Al jogged perfectly sound before we headed out) and had a dressage lesson with Silva. Although the workload was tough, Al met the challenges with flipping toes and clean flying changes! I was really ecstatic that the Irap improved his soundness and I felt really confident about sending my pony across the pond for our debut international four star!

But, as all the top riders can attest, horses are capricious in nature, as they are in soundness. After Bronwyn trotted him up early Tuesday morning, the “hitch” showed its ugly face and the harsh reality began to sink in. Thinking that perhaps it could be from fatigue from the previous day’s dressage lesson, I decided to do a light jump school to see if he would work out of it. Prior to my lesson, I called up the great Kevin Keane to help me evaluate my horse, and come to a decisive conclusion as to the fate of Pau. Al jumped tremendously, leaving all the rails unscathed and in their rightful jump cups. I felt a wave of hope through my body that maybe, just maybe, we could pull through this.

Riding at the four star level is a dream only very few of us reach. Receiving a grant from your Federation and representing your country overseas makes it that much more magical! I wanted to do every thing within my power to get my horse sound, irregardless if it put me in debt until I was ninety-five or held claim over my first born child. This was MY dream and I wanted to make it happen! But wait, it’s not just my dream, it’s my mother’s dream, it’s Bronwyn’s dream, my father’s, grandparent’s, my student’s dream as well. And when I really think about it, the dream doesn't entail just winning Pau; the dream is about achieving success, being the best I can be, and bringing glory to myself and my country no matter the location of the horse show. The dream did NOT involve injuring my horse or wasting the Federation’s money. I have encountered so much heart ache from the sport and do not wish to re-live that loss ever again. I have also endured the loneliest drive home back to Virginia with an empty about a reality check.

On Tuesday evening, after Kevin evaluated Al’s condition, I decided that there was too much inherent risk in sending my horse across the pond, no matter how much it hurt me to do so. At the end of the day, the decision was up to Al, and although I was prepared to do anything and everything to make him comfortable, it was not meant to be. On the contrary, I am quite lucky when you think about it. This could have sprouted up when I arrived in France or even worse, soft tissue damage as a result of running the cross country. When it comes down the the nitty gritty, the timing was the paramount factor in my decision to scratch Al from Pau.

Considering Al had such a light year of competing having only done one three day (Rolex), six horse trials, and had the whole summer off intermixed with some fun-loving trail rides, I am currently assessing my maintenance schedule in order to have him in top form come next April. Next week I plan to have Dr. Coles administer his next injection of Irap and draw out a detailed maintenance schedule for 2011.

I am also excited to announce my new sponsorship with Choice of Champions! Al is currently on and will continue have the Super Joint Solution, Ulser Shield, and Lung Aid in his daily regimen of health and soundness maintenance and I appreciate their support through my past difficult decision.

Furthermore, I want to wish Boydy the best of luck and to once again, re-live his WEG success in France! I have the utmost confidence that he and Remi will do us proud! Be sure to watch him kick some butt LIVE at!

I want to first and foremost, thank my mother Valerie and my groom Bronwyn for their undying support and understanding in such a troublesome situation. No one knows me or my horse more than these two gals, and it hurts them equally as much to witness my dismay. I want to thank the rest of my family who held off until the last minute to buy plane tickets, only to find they are non-refundable AFTER purchasing. To my students and friends who are whole heartedly sharing my long drive back to Virginia via text messages, Facebook chat, and phone calls. To the USEF, for believing in Al and I as competitive American Ambassadors. And finally, everyone who donated money, items, kind words, or well-wishes to Al’s and my opportunity to compete abroad. Rest assured your faith will not be broken and that one day, Al and I will be on top of that international podium.

Until then folks, sit back, relax, and go hug your pony! Get your voices ready; Boydy is going to hear our cheers all the way from the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave! Ce la vis!