So it’s 2:00, and I’m sitting here looking out at the British countryside, trying to figure out a way to narrow down some of the experiences I’ve had since I last blogged. Somehow, after the whirlwind of the last few months, I find myself one week away from a competition that will decide if I get the opportunity to represent my country in the London 2012 Olympic Games… INTENSE!
At the beginning of the season I was told, thankfully, by the selectors that it wasn’t necessary for Tate and I to compete at a CCI competition, but that we would need to hold our form at the CIC level all spring. This was to give Tate the best chance to be fit mentally and physically for the Games.
Last year I had a very good season and ended up getting the nod of approval from the Captain and the selectors that I had a pretty good plan and to keep on the same track I’ve been on.
It was difficult at times last year to stick to the belief that ultimately I am responsible for my horse, my actions and my results. It’s a hard balance to listen, learn and then make sure that you own the final result.
There’s no point in blaming your result on the weather, the coach, the final warm-up, the saddle or 100 other things… When your feet are in the irons, the responsibility is yours. And it takes a strong filtering system—a significant amount of belief in yourself and your horse, and a really tough mental game.
So this year, when I went to the Captain and asked, “OK, so if I’m not going to Rolex (which I know how to prepare for) what do you think I should do for my season?” it shocked me a little when he responded, “Do whatever you need to do to prepare you and your horse to perform your best at the biggest competition of your life.”
There it was, just like that. Last year I had to keep fighting to maintain responsibility, and here it was just chucked in my lap… Be careful what you wish for.
At this moment, I was slightly overwhelmed and almost a bit irritated. So I responded, “Mark, I haven’t done this before. Do I go to England early? Do I go to Jersey or Bromont? Should I go to Saumur in France?”
Again, he responded with, “Sinead, we will help you with whatever you want to do, but you know your horse, so sit down and think about it: if you could prepare any way you want, what would you do?”
To me, this was like an English teacher telling me, “Write 1,500 words on any subject you want—but it has to be the best thing you’ve ever written, because your dreams and career depend on it… Go!”
So I did exactly that. I sat down and thought long and hard: “If I could do anything, what would I do?”
Last year I was fortunate to be able to do the Hartpury CIC*** in England before Burghley. I landed in the U.K. on a Monday and did the competition that weekend, and to put it bluntly, Tate and I were both not quite on form. He finished 11th but lacked luster in the dressage and had a rail in show jumping. Plus, half the competition pulled out because of hard ground (thankfully what is “hard ground” in the U.K. is pretty standard in the U.S.) on cross-country, so I ran fast and moved up, thankfully.
By the time Burghley came around, Tate and I had sharpened up and were ready to attack the biggest competition I have ever seen in my life. But I learned Tate needed a little more time with his feet on English soil to feel his good old self.
Knowing this, and also knowing Barbury is really where we need to shine (in order to get selected for the team), I decided that if at all possible I should come to England three weeks before the competition. This meant not flying with the other shortlisted riders, leaving my business at home early and making myself a little bit of a lone wolf trying to get on a team.
But I felt this would be the best prep for my horse and me. I went back to Mark with this idea in early April. Basically, I was not told no, but I also was not told yes. The short list was not being named till after Bromont, and that was in June. I had only competed at one intermediate and one advanced so far, so confirming at this point I could go early was not something any of “the powers that be” felt comfortable doing yet (rightly so).
I couldn’t get a flight from Bromont straight to England, only to Amsterdam, which would have added so much extra travel that it seemed to make leaving early worth the while. This is why we make plans in pencil. This was back in April… at which point Meg and I started contacting shippers all over the country trying to figure out how to get to England.
I was still planning on heading to Bromont, but then I attended Rolex, just to watch. And I realized that I wasn’t sure I was sharp enough. I hadn’t run since The Fork, where Tate had finished second, but I felt there was a lot of room for improvement. To wait until June to have a run at Bromont left me wondering if I was really good enough to be allowed to travel to England early.
After I got home from Rolex, I had an incredibly fit horse on my hands, and an unusual amount of rain had made the usual rock-hard ground at Jersey Fresh perfect. It was as if all signs pointed for me to change my plan to run at Jersey in two weeks instead of Bromont in a month.
AHHH!!! This was a nerve-wracking, last-minute change to the schedule, but it made sense, so off to the CIC at Jersey we went!
We had a great run there and finished second. I sat down with Mark again after show jumping, and he asked me one more time what the plan was.
I said, “I still really think the best plan is to get to England ASAP.” So he then arranged for Dr. Furlong to perform the long-format vet evaluations on the Monday after Jersey. These evaluations include scans, flexions and basically a whole physical to make sure the horses are as near-perfect as they can be. Mark then told me to find a flight.
Fast forward through a few more weeks, a wicked good last-minute fundraiser, panicked packing, Tate and Meg flying to England via Belgium while I rode Outfoxed at Bromont, my engagement to my wonderful fiancé, Tik Maynard… And we ended up here at Maizy Manor in England three weeks before Barbury!
Tate is feeling great and loves it here. The weather and footing have been great (cold, windy and wet but still better than rock hard and 100 degrees). I went and met up with the U.S. riders and horses that arrived at the beginning of the week at Lavender Hill farm to check in.
I do miss being a part of the goings on with the American team right now, but for a good run at Barbury, my best preparation is to stay here at Maizy instead of moving again right before the competition. We’ll be packed up and ready to move up with the other U.S. riders on the Sunday of Barbury and will stay there for the duration of our trip. The Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team will be picked the Monday after Barbury, but all U.S. horse and rider combinations will stay at Lavender Hill Farm through the Olympics.
My game is tough, my horse is great, and I feel ready to compete for a spot on this team. You can make your own destiny, if it’s all you see, taste and smell. But the only way to get there is to put one foot in front of the other with thought, patience and extreme focus.
Watch Sinead and Tate's training sessions in England: