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November 13, 2012

Team Rapport And The Best Pep Talk Ever

Phillip Dutton, Clark Montgomery, Jennie Brannigan and Jon Holling comprised the U.S. nations cup team at the Boekelo CCI*** in the Netherlands.

I've been quite busy this past month, to say the least, and I feel like I’ve been so lucky to have been so!

I guess the appropriate way to start off a blog would be a recap on how the U.S. Nations Cup team at the Boekelo CCI*** fared. Being named to the team along with Phillip Dutton, Jon Holling and Clark Montgomery was quite an honor and, needless to say, an eye-opening experience.

Looking back on my performance, I have to admit that I wasn’t overly thrilled with how uncompetitive I was in such a large field. But it was a good trip in the sense that it helped put some demons to rest for me in competing overseas.

I feel as though I haven’t gotten Ping quite to where he was on the flat in 2011 before his early end to the season. That, combined with the wet footing and mistakes in our trot work, saw us coming out of dressage with a 52, which in the end just wasn’t as good as what we could have done or where we needed to be in that field.

The cross-country was interesting over there, with a lot of going in and out of fields and things coming up suddenly—your horse didn’t get to see the fences until he was right there. These are not the kinds of tracks that normally suit Ping. Plus, Boekelo has huge crowds that are almost indescribable—you can’t imagine them until you’re riding through them.

It was rainy, as I think it tends to be over there, and I was quite nervous, since Phillip had an unfortunate fall, and Clark had a beautiful round going until he picked up 20 late on the course. On par for the weekend, it was pouring when I started to warm up, and the footing in the warm-up was very sloppy. Ping was not a fan to say the least.... And I started to get a bit worried.

I jumped a bit and then hopped off Ping for a minute and got the best pep talk I’ve ever had. Phillip was well aware that my horse didn’t like the footing, and while he said a lot of things to boost my confidence, the thing that hit home the most was that I needed to go out there and “ride like it was the last cross-country course I was ever going to ride.” To not think of the course as a whole, but to break it down fence by fence.

So I hopped back on, and Phillip walked me to the box with his wife, Evie. He literally talked me through breathing as the starter counted down the last 30 seconds... My last thought as I walked around the box was, “Wow, I’m one lucky person to have these two by me in this box. I better get it done.”

I started out and jumped fence by fence. Ping gained confidence at every jump and really put in a good round. We were slower than I would've liked, but he really jumped well, and considering his disdain for the footing, I pushed him as much as I thought I could. He went the straight way at the end of the track at a tough corner combination where a lot of people had taken the option or had trouble, and from what I was told, our American crew watching got quite rowdy when he did it!

Ping trotted up extremely sound. In the show jumping I added one too many strides in the first tight turn and had the second jump down. He then jumped a brilliant round until a rollback by the in-gate to the last fence, where he decided for a second it might be more fun to exit the arena, which really wasn’t so super in helping us get to the last fence. He had that down as well, which really bummed me out. He’s such a tidy jumper, but in the end it happened, and we have plenty to work on.

If you know me well, you’ll know I wanted nothing more than to go to Boekelo and have the trip go perfectly. I’d be lying to say I wasn’t disappointed in the result. That being said, I’m more motivated than ever after seeing what it takes to be competitive in this sport on the international level, and I’ll strive even harder to accomplish that. 

Even though things didn’t go as planned for any of us over there, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had, and I truly felt like I was on a team. Jon and Clark are amazing people, not just good riders. We weren’t together for long, but I was amazed at the team atmosphere we had and how we really rooted for one another to do well. After the event I watched a video of my show jumping, and when Ping napped and hit the last jump, Jon’s reaction was priceless and purely supportive—he literally jumped up, hitting the air and shaking his head.

Seeing this simple little action for some reason got me pondering how much we as U.S. riders can gain by being supportive of one another. I really think we have some great competitors in our country, and the more we support each other and act like a team, the better we will be. And I think Boekelo was a good step in that direction. 

A big thank you goes out to everyone who supported our whole team, and to the Gardners, who own Ping and so many of the other lovely horses I get to ride. They’re unbelievable people, to say the least. And thank you to Jackie Imholte and Emma Ford, who took such amazing care of the horses. Emma is retiring from managing True Prospect after more than seven years, and she will be very missed!

Last but not least, I just wanted to say thank you to Phillip and Evie. They were so unreal in their support; it was amazing. I’ve been working for them for more than four years now, and somehow Phillip always seems to show up at the right time and say the right thing, and it usually has a big influence on the outcome. The Duttons’ belief in me means so much, and my words probably cannot describe it well enough! 

I’d like to write about all the things that happened at the end of the season, but think I’ll leave this blog just about this trip. I’ll write again soon! Thanks for taking the time to read.

Jennie

Brannigan Eventing

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