Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bubble wrap and Subway: The Countdown to Rolex begins!

They say time flies when you’re having fun.....or when you’re preparing for a spring four star. Truth be told, the three and a half months leading up to next week’s championship have gone by so quickly, I haven’t yet been able to sit down, relax and take it all in....until now.

Oh yes, the dreaded “week before Kentucky” has now happened upon us. During this week, horses preparing for the big event love to throw a shoe, get cast in a stall, maybe pull back in the cross ties and take a tour of the farm, and come up with many other ways to give their riders, owners, grooms and supporters mild heart attacks.

Additionally during this week, the riders of these fragile beasts hone in on their technique, their physique and their mental prowess. Some of the riders will do this by taking a few intense lessons for tune up so that they peak at the right time. Some might run vigorously on the treadmill hoping to lose a quick five pounds. Others might take to a Subway diet to watch their calories (or maybe he or she has simply run out of money at this point). Or some, very few, disciplined (or perhaps desperate) individuals may engage in all the above.

The underlying point I am trying to stress here is that the week before Rolex is the LONGEST week of them all. It makes riders question their preparedness, their fitness, the horse’s fitness, their mental fortitude, and leaves them baffled as to where all the time has gone? “Man I just KNEW I shouldn't have wasted time on practicing shoulder-ins in February when I could have been working on walk pirouettes” (Yup, we hear that all the time). But what has been done has been done and we must all as riders rest assured that the hard work leading up to Kentucky has a way of presenting itself come the final show jumping round next Sunday.

Honestly I have been quite happy with Al’s and my schedule leading up to Rolex. I have done more with him than usual by way of horse shows (did one prelim, one intermediate, and two advanced) in order to regain any fitness that was lost due to the long vacation he had last year. His dressage is improving steadily, thanks to constant badgering from Kim. At Southern Pines I was happy with his performance although it lacked luster due to way too long a warm-up but still earned a solid score of 29. At the Fork doing a test similar to the one we will be performing next weekend, I was able to create a little more spark in his collection and ride for the bigger scores, although we had a few large mistakes but still earned a mark of 28. At this point we are just putting on the polish so that we are shiny and sparkly (Al loves sparkles just as much as his mother) come Thursday of next week! Speaking of sparkles, Al and I are very excited to be taking part in a clinic with the ever-bedazzled Bettina Hoy which I am hoping will be the final touch needed to break into the forties at Rolex, a realistic goal I think.

In the jumping phases Al has been his normal freakish self, soaring to sky-high measures just for the heck of it leaving his rider awe-struck every time we finish a course. However, being that I have been working alone in Aiken in the jumping I [rather brilliantly] decided to make a “pilgrimage” (and yes I use this term very earnestly) to Ocala after the Fork to visit my long-time coach, friend, mentor and the-brother-I-never-had, Buck Davidson. It’s been over nine years since I had my first lesson with Buck. Since then he has seen me go from a young girl eagerly hoping to make it to the top of the sport aboard her Trans-Amaflirt look-a-like Eight Saint James Place, to a young professional maturing and settling into the four star level. There is no one (aside from my mother of course) who I would rather have coach me in the nerve-racking two weeks preceding Kentucky. It literally took Buck five minutes in the show jumping warm up at the Fork to fix my leaning through my turns which then earned Al and I a clear round. This is why I will always emphasize the power of having a long-standing and honest relationship with your coach. It’s great to clinic with other instructors but all of the information is deemed useless if you don’t have one specific person with whom you can channel it.

Speaking of mentors, I’d like to express my deepest sympathies to the family, friends, supporters and pets of the late and great Amy Tryon. I had the pleasure of knowing Amy and riding alongside her at many a competition. Not only was she an amazing horsewoman, but Amy was also an avid firefighter who demonstrated to aspiring athletes such a myself that horses and a day job can work together cohesively. I respect her so much for staying true to herself, her job and her family and I am utterly devastated for them, for horse community, and for humanity as a whole to have lost such a beautiful person, on the inside and out. Her presence at Rolex will be whole-heartedly missed, and to honor Amy I plan on affixing a hunter green ribbon (her xc colors) to my riding coats and cross country saddle pad. I encourage and invite you all to do so as well whether you’re spectating at home or in the stands.

And so the countdown begins my friends. Each day that passes brings us one step closer to realizing our dreams, and that goes for everyone reading this blog. Could this year be the one, or just another stepping stone toward achieving greatness? We only have seven days to wait and find out....stay tuned. Until then folks sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. See you in Kentucky!