In this series, the Chronicle follows seven riders as they seek to fulfill their Olympic dreams in London in 2012.
Rolex Kentucky will be the culmination of a tremendous amount of work throughout the spring by every rider there, and I’m excited to have two lovely horses entered: my Olympic nominees, Mr. Medicott and Veronica. I’m thrilled with how they’ve come through the spring season, and I’m really looking forward to this three-day.
After my last “Road to the Olympics” installment, I took both horses in the CIC*** at Red Hills [in Tallahassee, Fla., March 8-11], and they both gave me a great weekend. [Mr. Medicott finished fifth and Veronica 10th.]
I’m learning more about “Mr. M” all the time, and a really strange thing happened to me during our dressage test at Red Hills. Just before we went in the ring, something really spooked him, and I lost his concentration right before we entered. Then, midway through the test, as I started to do my left half-pass, the rider in the arena next to ours finished her test, and the crowd clapped and cheered. That spooked Mr. M again, and he jumped up in the air and bucked.
I got him back and was carrying on in my left half-pass for another couple steps when Jo Young [the judge at C] stood up and put her hand up and said, “Stop, I’d like you to do that movement over again. That wasn’t your fault.”
In all the years that I’ve competed, I’ve never been asked to repeat a movement. In the moment, I didn’t know exactly what the rule on that was, but I did know that the ground jury can stop a rider’s performance at any time they choose. Brian Ross, the other judge, concurred, and he asked me to start with the right half-pass, so I did that and went into the left half-pass and then carried on.
The experience was definitely something new for me. Several people were confused, and a lot of people asked me, “Did you ask to do that movement over?” But it certainly didn’t come from my side; I was simply doing as the judges asked.
After that, both horses gave me a terrific ride across country. [Course designer] Hugh Lochore’s done a great job and had a much more flowing, galloping track than what we’ve become accustomed to in years past. The Red Hills crew also really stepped up in the last couple days to make the footing great, treating the ground with an aerator. It rode really well.
I jumped clear rounds on both horses in show jumping, and I couldn’t have been happier with Veronica. She had a great round.
But Mr. M again got very excited and enthusiastic before he went into the show jumping arena, and it again caught me by surprise. He was really strong and against my hand, so although he jumped clear, it wasn’t a pretty round, and I wasn’t exactly happy with it.
Connection Trumps Atmosphere
When we came back from Red Hills [to our winter base in Ocala, Fla.], I really buckled down with Mr. M and focused even more on relaxation and establishing a softer and more consistent way of going for the show jumping. Marilyn Little-Meredith continues to help me in the jumping. She’s based here with us in Ocala, and her help has proven invaluable.
Here at the farm, I can’t recreate what’s going to happen with the atmosphere at any big competition—whether it be Red Hills, where you’re in front of a few hundred people, or the Olympic Games where the stands are packed, or Rolex, which also has a lot of atmosphere.
But what I can do is confirm the connection from my leg to my hand through my seat. When you have the horse connected, everything around you in terms of atmosphere becomes minimal. The horses don’t hear or see the crowd because there’s such a connection from the rider to the horse.
That’s what I needed to work on most with Mr. M, because it was very obvious that I didn’t have that connection going into either the dressage or the show jumping with him at Red Hills.
That said, both horses had run so well on cross-country that although I had entered them at Southern Pines [II Horse Trials, in the advanced division, March 23-25], I chose not to take them. It was in the best interest of both horses, as they’d already had three runs at that point. They didn’t need the extra cross-country, nor did they need the long drive up to Southern Pines from Ocala and back, especially at a time when we’re really trying to keep condition on the horses.
This spring has been especially warm, making for some unusually hot trailer rides, and at that time on the competition calendar, they can lose quite a lot of weight and condition if they’re traveling up and down the road too much.
So I stayed at home and worked on a lot of different homework exercises. That set me up to feel very confident with both horses heading into The Fork [CIC***, in Norwood, N.C., April 5-8].
Down To The Details
It’s always especially important to have a good run at The Fork, because it’s everyone’s final outing before Rolex.
We came up to North Carolina early, on Tuesday morning, because [U.S. team chef d’equipe] Mark Phillips was available to help everyone on Wednesday. I’ve also been getting wonderful help from [“O” dressage judge] Linda Zang, and she arrived on Wednesday as well.
So I had a lesson on Mr. M on Wednesday with Linda, and Mark observed and also gave some invaluable input throughout. The trio of us together is really working out beautifully for me, and I’m really looking forward to working with the two of them again in Kentucky in the lead-up to the event.