In this series, the Chronicle follows seven riders as they seek to fulfill their Olympic dreams in London in 2012.
If I were going to stand for anything, I would want to be known as a rider who always keeps an open mind and is always trying to improve. I hope to learn something new every day about how to do a better job with my horses. So as a rider, I’m as committed and passionate as ever about doing the best I can this year, with my sights on London.
Since my husband David will be taking over as the U.S. coach next year, this may be my last Olympic Games. Before he takes the reins, we’ll have riders, selectors and U.S. Equestrian Federation committee members all get together and decide what it is Karen O’Connor can do with David O’Connor as coach. If we all decide that me continuing to represent the country would be a conflict of interest, then I’ll yield to that for David. We’ll just have to wait and see.
In the meantime, I’m excited for this year. I’m fitter than I’ve been in many years, and for the past two seasons I’ve been working hard on the dressage, and my marks have reflected that. I’ve been riding with Olympic dressage judge Linda Zang quite a bit, which has been incredibly helpful.
I’ve also been working hard on my show jumping since last summer; I’ve changed my position a lot and kind of recreated myself a little bit in that phase. Former grand prix show jumper turned eventer Marilyn Little-Meredith has really proved to be a huge help in honing my show jumping skills.
Since switching disciplines a little more than a year ago, she’s gained a real appreciation for the three-day event horse, and she recognizes the differences between how our horses perform on the third day versus how a jumper performs on a day-to-day basis. With her help, I’ve made some changes to my program and my warm-up to maximize my horses’ strength and efforts on show jumping day.
I got to focus even more on my dressage and show jumping in Wellington, Fla., for two weeks in January. I took six horses down, and we started things off with the PRO DerbyCross, then continued on training for the next 10 days. During that time we also showed in some jumper classes at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival and took some of the young horses to get some mileage at a dressage show during the World Dressage Masters weekend. And we plan to make another trip to Wellington later in the winter to continue our education.
But of course we can’t forget the phase that makes eventing what it is. In addition to all that, I’m also focusing more on being quicker on cross-country in the lead up to the big events this year. And I’m very excited about the quality of horses I have.
New Kid On The Stable Block
As many people know by now, I have a new horse in my string of Olympic hopeful mounts, Mr. Medicott. He’s 13 and has represented Germany in Olympic and World Equestrian Games competition, which is a tribute to what a marvelous job his previous rider, Frank Ostholt, did in training him.
Mr. M was purchased as a 5-year-old for Frank to ride, and coincidentally he came from Ann Taylor’s yard in England. Ann and I are great pals from way back—we were working students at Jimmy Wofford’s together at the start of our careers.
Plus, Mr. M is Irish bred, by Cruising. So he and his stable mate Harbour Pilot, who my assistant Hannah Sue Burnett rides, are by the same sire. So there’s a few odd but interesting ties to this horse for me.
Obviously this purchase was a big deal for Germany and for Frank personally, so unfortunately we didn’t get to have a lot of conversation. The deal was finalized just before Thanksgiving, but because of the holiday, the sale didn’t technically finish until the beginning of December. Although I was able to secure the purchase at that time, we’re now in the process of syndicating Mr. M to individuals interested in being a part of this journey.
He arrived on the farm on the Wednesday of the U.S. Eventing Association Annual Meeting [Dec. 7], so I missed him by about four hours. He was released from quarantine in Miami just as I was heading to the airport to fly to Tennessee.
He settled in pretty quickly, though. He’s a very cool horse—highly intelligent and quite a character. He’s a funny horse to be around, and he exudes personality. When you go into the stables, he’s the horse you’re drawn to first because he has this magnetic look in his eye that says, “You are coming over here to see me first!” He’s an affectionate horse as well, and I feel like for such a short period of time of having been around him, we’re forging a good bond and partnership.
The biggest difference between Frank and me is obviously our size and strength. So one of the biggest changes in this horse’s life has been getting used to responding to the degree of aid that I’m able to give him, and he’s really taken it on great.
We’ve had two training sessions with U.S. chef d’equipe Mark Phillips within the last few weeks. Mark didn’t know the horse well, but he was delighted with our progress and seems excited about the year for us.
Mr. M is very correct in his lateral work—he has beautiful half-passes and shoulder-ins, and his flying changes and turn on the haunches and rein-back are all correct. He has a nice, big extended trot and lovely working paces, and he has a super canter. He’s steady in his topline and just understands how to use himself.