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October 22, 2013

A Little Introspection With My Morning Coffee

I feel the weight of responsibility, riding one of the most competitive horses in the world. Photo by Sara Lieser

Well, today (Monday, as I write this) has been a rollercoaster of emotions. I woke up to no alarm clock, because I had nothing in particular to get up for. But still, around 7 a.m., the restless feeling set in.

My right leg was propped up on some pillows, and I stared at the throne it was resting on for about 5 more minutes before deciding to take on the day. Tik had already left for work, so I knew I was on my own.

And not only was I going to have to get pretty good on the crutches, I also knew I was going to have some mental battles to deal with in the oncoming hours… A little self-doubt, a little defeat and a little soul searching were definitely going to come up for discussion with myself over my morning coffee… Now I had to figure out how to cross what seemed like the Pyrenees to get to my lifeline: the Keurig machine.

This past week was our country’s prestigious Fair Hill CCI** and CCI*** competition. Tate is a proven four-star horse, but I certainly didn’t feel like I was downgrading him by taking him to what’s known as one of the toughest CCIs in our country.

My goal in taking Tate to Fair Hill was to get our World Equestrian Games qualification and to give him a testing and significant outing this season. Unfortunately our country has no four-star in the fall, so if that is your goal, one must travel abroad.

Investing over $30,000 in an overseas trip to prove Tate is a four-star horse seemed unnecessary, since in my humble opinion the horse is amazing and career-wise needs now to only do what is best for him. Fair Hill seemed perfect; Tate finished in the top six back in 2009 in the three-star there.

I will say it is a privilege to have a horse who is capable of being one of the most competitive horses in the world… but I will also say eventing is freaking hard, no matter what you’re riding.

I did struggle, leading up to the event, with the amount of people considering it was a “given” that Tate and I were going to win. I feel like every time I get on that horse or show up at a competition, especially a championship, I have to take it really seriously.

I don’t look at a course and think, “Oh yeah, no problem. I’m on Tate—I’ll just plug it in his GPS.” With a horse like Tate, I have a serious responsibility to get it right. If a mistake happens, it’s because I did not present it to him correctly. Riding at the advanced level is no joke: You carry the weight of your and your horses’ wellbeing on your shoulders, and you better be damn sure you’ve done your homework, because the penalties for being asleep at the wheel are huge.

I take my job very seriously, as much as I laugh and joke… A sense of humor or sarcasm, which is a common trait of an event rider, is a coping mechanism. If we all didn’t laugh in this sport, we would crack under the pressure.

My week didn’t start out great when I thought my hay steamer was broken and I managed to get splashed in the face with hot steam while trying to get Tate his very necessary steamed hay on the Tuesday we arrived at Fair Hill. Thankfully I sat in Susan Beebee and Charlie Plumb’s camper with cold compresses on my face for five hours and managed to fall asleep. Over the next few days my face turned into what most people pay for, a chemical peel!

I then went into the dressage ring feeling fairly confident, but with the lack of atmosphere Tate lacked a little of his actual jump, and he threw in a flying change down the first centerline. I was happy with the test, but the judges were rewarding more forward tests, and with a mistake and a slightly cautious performance, the horse that was supposed to blow the crowd away was sitting in fourth place. I was happy with him, but it seemed like a little bit of a letdown scoring a 45… Sorry, I have to hashtag now! #pedestalissues

I walked the cross-country about 120 times… And I thought the course was really tough. There were so many technical questions that, in all honesty, it was going to be a course that required good instinct and quick footwork. There was a question at 21AB that was a hanging log, three long strides down to an incredible angled brush.

I was confident if I got the perfect forward shot into A, Tate would read B, and we could do the straight line. David felt the same, and I asked Philip in warm-up, and he thought the same. Tate was jumping around the course really well, although coming out of the water before 21 he kicked out the flag!

He was up on his minutes and galloping fantastic as we approached 21A. I prepared early, and thankfully about five strides out I found the perfect forward distance I wanted, lining up the B element. He jumped in… I was forward on the first two steps… and then I honestly thought my job was done and started thinking about Fence 22.

Unfortunately, Tate never locked on to 21B until the third stride; I really think he thought it was a tree he was just galloping by. He tried at the last moment to jump it, but it was too late, and he was on too long of a stride. He darted left, and I went right. I hung on for a few seconds, and I remember hanging on the side of him saying, “Whoaaaa, Tate…” and he took a breath and started to slow down, but I was too far off. And the next sound I heard was my air vest.

I had a soft fall, and I instantly went to take off my vest, because if you’ve had one of those things go off on you, you know it can get pretty claustrophobic. Next I started to feel an acute pain in my ankle, so I got my boot off ASAP, again knowing it’s really annoying if you have to cut off your boot. Tik was there, and Megan was there with Tate instantly, and I knew he was fine. But I tried to take another step, and weightbearing was painful, so once again I was off to the medic.

I always talk to my peers, and we try and decide which is more worrisome—the fear of getting hurt or the fear of disappointing yourself or your support group… and it always comes out that the No. 1 fear is disappointment.

I took a risk with Tate and hoped with his experience he would get the line I put in front of him. Unfortunately I didn’t put it in front of him enough. I feel really guilty about that. Like I said, I have a responsibility. I took a risk, and it didn’t work, but next time I will make it clearer.

I said to Megan on the way home that I was upset that I ruined Tate’s perfect cross-country record. He’d done two two-stars, two three-stars and three four-stars without a single cross-country jumping penalty until this week…

Megan replied, “Well, the record will actually say ‘rider fall,’ and that’s you, not Tatey.” Ha ha! She’s right!!

All in all, I try to always be optimistic, but today I’ve probably had three temper tantrums and randomly cried in frustration twice… who knew putting on a pair of shorts and making a cup of coffee could be so hard?!

I have a small little baby miniscule (can I make this seem like less of a big deal?) fracture in my right ankle. I should be on crutches for a few weeks, but then I’ll be back in action. I was on the phone complaining about my body and how I break so much to my good friend that is also an advisor and doctor, and he asked me a few questions.

“Have you been taking multi- vitamin?”

I answered, “No…”

“Do you eat well?”

“Um... Not really…”

“Have you been working with a nutrionist or a personal trainer?”

“No, but I have been jumping rope and working on a bosu ball on my own…” Not good enough…

It became pretty clear that I might fall into the “high maintenance” horse category and will require a better fitness/nutritional/chiropractic and supplement routine than the average housewife! I have to put my pride to the side and realize if I don’t start taking as good of care as myself as I take of my horses It won’t matter how fit and sound they are because I’ll be stuck on the sidelines! #learning #later2013 #bringon2014 #Normandy #USA

Sinead

P.S.—Looking forward to watching America kick butt at Pau and soooooo thrilled for Jan to have won the CCI***. No one deserves it more!!!