I walked around the cross-country warm-up trying to stay calm and focused. I felt at home on the familiar four legs that were carrying me, but there was a smell of nerves and of the unknown so thick you could almost see it sifting in and around the red and white flags.
To my right, Mary King was trotting around looking fairly comfortable, and to my left, a young Irish Burghley first-timer. I recognized the look in his eye as I trotted around on Tate, feeling somewhere right in the middle.
As I headed up to the start box, I heard the whistle blow and thundering hooves, and then I saw my friend and competitor Bettina Hoy barreling at 600 mpm toward fence 3. She was wearing a look that saw nothing but what was right in front of her, and it gave me chills.
I was anxious for that feeling, because in that moment I saw everything and felt everything around me. But as I got closer to the start, I felt my world growing smaller and my vision of the task at hand becoming more acute.
David O’Connor and Mark Phillips were waiting for me as I moved toward the box and gave me some last-minute advice about how far I could be down on the clock and still catch up. I knew this was important information, because the year before I had burned Tate up on the first half of the course and ran out of petrol by the last minute.
As I entered the box with 10 seconds to go, I looked down at Meg, because as she wished me good luck, her voice cracked. She looked away quickly but I knew the nerves had gotten to her. Now there were only 10 seconds to go until she, along with the rest of my family, friends and anxious followers, had to let Tate and me out there to tackle the biggest track in the world, alone.
I don’t remember much about the course. Tate and I seemed to be working together, moving simultaneously through the motions of a well thought-out, moving plan. I occasionally heard my watch beep, and I was comfortable at the 6-minute marker being 9 seconds down. As I rounded the top of the track, creeping on 8 minutes, I knew I needed to get going; time to catch up.
Tate flew over Cottesmore Leap, the most massive jump on the course, and when we landed I kicked into high gear. I remember almost smiling when I felt him respond so sharply after successfully conquering over half the track.
As I headed into the main arena, I knew it was going to be close, but I had enough power under me to get this done. As we jumped the last fence and I saw my watch say 11:25, I knew we had done it.
Andrew Nicholson, Mark Todd, Oliver Townend and I were the only combinations to get inside the time, and Tate and I were sitting in first place… That’s intense.
The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur. I watched fellow my American, Allison Springer, tear up the track on her long-time campaigner, Arthur. In every jump she jumped, she proved if you believe in a relationship strongly enough, no matter how difficult it is at times, anything is possible. I was so damn proud of her.
I had been standing alongside her for the past few months while we both dealt with the fact that, for whatever reason, we were deemed not good enough to represent at the Olympic Games. We both fought for our confidence, pride and to remain strong riders and strong people.
Sunday I woke up with a “What will be, will be” attitude. I had done my show jumping homework and felt confident Tate and I would do the best we could in the circumstances. I was not nervous going into the arena. I cantered in, stopped, looked around, saluted the judges and rode my horse.
I felt Tate struggling to find the extra bit of jump he normally has in the arena; whether it was fatigue or the footing or the combination of both, I’m not sure. I am sure that Tate remained as rideable and polite as he has ever been. He responded to every cue I gave him without hesitation.
A true elite event horse, Manoir De Carneville showed brilliance, elegance, bravery, and above all, heart. I walked away with a second-placed rosette, patting my horse and holding my head up high.