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Lauren Billys

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About Lauren Billys

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A Dream Bigger Than Ourselves

Lauren Billys accepted the award for 2015 Female Puerto Rican Equestrian of the Year last week in San Juan, and she's very kindly shared her thoughts on this achievement in a blog for EN. Many thanks to Athletux Equine for partnering with us on this blog series, and congrats to Lauren. Viva Puerto Rico!

Lauren Billys accepts the award as 2015 Female Puerto Rican Equestrian of the Year. Photo via Lauren Billys. Lauren Billys accepts the award as 2015 Female Puerto Rican Equestrian of the Year. Photo via Lauren Billys.

Sitting atop a rooftop in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, the temperature and humidity feel like a light blanket wrapping around me. To my right are alumni to the Puerto Rican Olympic team with medals from the Central American, Pan American and Olympic Games hanging in their homes.

I sit in a group of athletes, each put forward by their sport’s federation, and collectively we sit as the best athletes in Puerto Rico for the year of 2015. In front of me is the Puerto Rican and Olympic flags, and the anthems of Puerto Rico and the Olympics begin to play. It is in that moment that I think, “How in the heck did I get here?”

The answers to this question, however, are sitting just next to me, too. To my far left, my grandmother and Puerto Rican family members sit: the people who gave me the heritage to make this possible and the encouragement to reach for what they knew this opportunity could offer.

Closer to me sits the president and the chef d’equipe for the Puerto Rican Equestrian Federation: the two women who tirelessly work behind the scenes to make these possibilities and daily practice materialize into international competitions and recognition.   Sitting closest to me is my teammate, who rides dressage, believes in this system and makes the dreams of his family, owners and himself into a reality through vigorous commitment and hard work.

Photos courtesy of Lauren Billys

Photos courtesy of Lauren Billys

And in that moment I realize that the final piece of this dream lies within me, intertwined with the will and ambition of my parents and the training from my coaches. This dream vibrates within my core, reminding me that we all have one chance at this life, one chance to seize THIS day, THIS opportunity. I never want to look back and regret that I didn’t try hard enough. And it hits me that my dreams are coming true on an unpredictable and unplanned path.

This moment feels different than anything I imagined as a little girl dreaming of attending an event like this. Riding for Puerto Rico is a completely distinctive experience and is the greatest gift I have ever received. I have learned more about myself here than any other facet of my life; I know why I have an affinity for red lipstick, where that sass comes from and my love for spicy food.

And, my team is unlike any other country’s team. It lives within a team of athletes from all sports who aspire and have achieved their dreams of attending the most prestigious competitions in the world to represent Puerto Rico with pride. We are boxers, soccer players, judo fighters, shooters, tennis players — athletes all held tight by the cord of sportsmanship and a dream bigger than ourselves. We are Puerto Rico. This is my team.

At this award ceremony, I received the coveted award of the female Puerto Rican Equestrian of the Year from the Puerto Rican Olympic Committee. This award is the most humbling award of my life and has encouraged me. I realize my dreams are possible, even for a girl who grew up riding bareback through rivers and orchards, for someone who only went Preliminary when she was 21 years old.

None of this would be possible without my sponsors, family, syndicate and friends for talking horses, being my support system and giving me my dreams. There is no doubt that I am changed by this experience. Where this journey leads is yet to be known, but I am inspired to move forward with my team, competing alongside athletes who dream big in all fields of play. Viva Puerto Rico!

In Awe at the Pan Am Opening Ceremonies

We're thrilled to have Pan American Games athlete and Athletux rider Lauren Billys blogging from Toronto as she competes in eventing as an individual for Puerto Rico. EN's live coverage of the #PanAmGames starts Thursday with the first horse inspection. Follow Lauren Billys Eventing on Facebook for more updates from Toronto.

Lauren celebrates with the Puerto Rican judo team at the opening ceremony. Lauren celebrates with the Puerto Rican judo team at the opening ceremony.

It was one of those moments. The kind you want to freeze and squeeze out every bit of its essence. The kind of time that has an importance you can’t fully grasp until you walk away, drink a cup of coffee and analyze the meanings behind each detail. The Pan American Gams Opening Ceremony contained every piece of that.

Meeting the many people that make up my delegation was only the first part. After months of emails with faceless names, I finally met the people who make up the administration of Puerto Rico’s Olympic Committee. These people not only did everything they could to get me to realize my dream of attending the Pan American Games in Toronto, but they also knew me from my Facebook, results and online videos.

My delegation has spent so much time helping me get to this place, so getting the chance to put a face to each person who made a personal effort to get me here was touching. I also had the opportunity to meet some of the people who make up the 250 athletes that represent Puerto Rico.

A panoramic view from the Pan American Games opening ceremony. Photo by Lauren Billys.

A panoramic view from the Pan American Games opening ceremony. Photo by Lauren Billys.

All of this combined with the fact that we were named the best-dressed delegation gave me so much pride and confidence walking to the opening ceremonies. What an amazing group of people that I have the humbling opportunity to be a part of.

We entered the stadium after a few hours of long lines, perfecting Puerto Rican chants and dancing. We finally came to our moment to enter the stadium. There is something about walking into a sold-out stadium with a team of people that you are proud to be a part of and being part of an experience that has no price tag.

It is a feeling you can only truly understand by being a part of that moment — a moment where I truly can say I was living in that place in time solely. Nothing else occupied my mind or heart but the preciousness of what I was experiencing.

When we arrived to our (front row) seats on the floor of the stadium, the show produced by Cirque du Soleil began. It was a wordless ceremony of unimaginable acrobatics, BMX bike flips over top of the athletes and novel music. The performance was one of a kind and unforgettable.

Great shots of the Puerto Rico at opening ceremonies!

Posted by Lauren Billys Eventing on Sunday, July 12, 2015

I found that my friends sitting around me were often gasping at something I hadn’t even seen yet that was happening on a different part of the stage from where I was looking. I only wish I had more time to see each detail of what was unfolding in front of us.

Again, I was reminded of the meaning that is woven into every facet of these games: unity. Each athlete from a different sport, place in life, home country, and history come together for the purpose of uniting over sports and the many things sporting has taught us in life thus far.

We get the chance to spend time with people we would otherwise never meet building relationships of a lifetime and have the opportunity to find out details about our souls that will change us forever. In the time of watching the torch be lit and listening to the speeches of those who make these games possible, I resonated with the overriding theme to live in the moment and thrive in the present.

Moments like opening ceremonies give me inspiration for the competition ahead this week and motivation for the future. I feel honored to be in this place again and commit to letting this time sink in and cherish each part of this journey.

Tomorrow Purdy moves into Caledon Equestrian Park! Let the games begin!

Walking into opening ceremonies!

Posted by Lauren Billys Eventing on Saturday, July 11, 2015

Team FLAIR rider Marta Tabatabai grooming for Lauren and also blogging from the Pan Ams! Click here to read her latest post on Castle Larchfield Purdy’s trip to Toronto.

What A Difference A Year Makes

Athletux guest writer Lauren Billys will represent her native Puerto Rico at the 2015 Pan American Games aboard Castle Larchfield Purdy after qualifying at the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event with a 16th-place finish in their first CCI3*. Follow along with Lauren's journey to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games on her website and Facebook page.

Lauren Billys and Castle Larchfield Purdy at Jersey Fresh. Photo by Jenni Autry. Lauren Billys and Castle Larchfield Purdy at Jersey Fresh. Photo by Jenni Autry.

About a year ago, I had just acquired the ride on Castle Larchfield Purdy while living in Fresno, California, with a full-time horse training business. I was competing two mares named Ballingowan Ginger and Jitter Bug, who I loved very much, and was content. If I were given a snapshot of my life now in 2015 one year ago, I wouldn’t have the first clue how I got here.

I knew if I wanted to better myself and continue to grow and develop as I rider, I needed to embrace change, so I made the decision to say goodbye to many remarkable clients and move to Carmel Valley to be closer to my coaches, Bea and Derek Di Grazia. That mixed with both of my longtime partners selling within two weeks of my move to fantastic new homes shook things up to say the least. Each month that followed has contained a whirlwind of new changes and their accompanying emotions.

After a quick trip to England, I brought home a new horse, Marseille, in March. He’s a terrific new partner that completed the Blenheim CCI3* in 2014 with four-star rider Matthew Heath. In May, I completed my first CCI3* with Castle Larchfield Purdy at Jersey Fresh.

Now, as I push forward to forge a partnership with Marseille and prepare for the Pan American Games, it is hard for me to pinpoint what exactly has been the biggest change of them all. It may be wrapped up in the details of getting to work with my coaches on a daily basis, eating healthier or trying to learn to sleep in a house alone for the first time in my life.

Lauren Billys and Marseille look like they just stepped out of a catalogue, but no, they just finished a 2*! Photo by Lauren Billys.

Lauren Billys and Marseille at Copper Meadows. Photo courtesy of Lauren Billys.

In the midst of all these changes, key events have stuck out in my mind. Getting the opportunity to travel to New Jersey and ride amongst the best riders in the United States was certainly one of them. Close friends from California like Matt Brown, Cecily Clark, Molly Kinnamon, Tamie Smith and Mackenna Shea cushioned the change of scenery and new environment.

It reminded me that our support as riders comes from great owners and sponsors but also from true teammates; these are the riders we warm-up next to, that haul our horses, that we clean stalls next to and the people who see the real us after each victory and defeat.

My California riding family introduced me to more great riders from the East Coast and reminded me that we are all connected by our desire to be the best version of ourselves on each horse we ride. Jersey Fresh, for me as a rider, was a dream. Purdy had his best dressage test to date, cruised around a long cross-country course and completed the show jumping all with a qualifying result.

While Purdy has been spending some down time after Jersey, I have gotten to spend time getting to know my new partner, Marseille, who is known as Oz in the barn). As his old rider said, “He is part of the furniture and character of the yard,” and I couldn’t agree more.

It could be his cute milk mustache, tightly pricked ears or his killer jump, but I love getting to know this horse more each day. I am thrilled to see what the future holds for us, but in that I am also just excited to see him tomorrow to continue to grow a partnership that will extend for years to come.

Lauren Billys and Castle Larchfield Purdy at Jersey Fresh. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Lauren Billys and Castle Larchfield Purdy at Jersey Fresh. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Purdy went back to work this week, and it feels like he has had no time off at all. Every ride from here until our trip to the Pan American Games has been planned and is in the process of being completed. I truly can’t believe that I am getting the opportunity to attend this amazing event once again. The last time changed my life, and I can only imagine what will happen this time.

I look back at the last Games and see more than just a competition; I see all the people that rallied behind me to get me to Mexico on the international riding stage: my community that fundraised for me, my coaches, my family and my friends who supported me emotionally through that insane journey. I know when I look back on this years’ Games, I will see a similar crowd. Knowing this gives me encouragement that there is an incredible group of people cheering me on.

When I think about the past few months in their entirety, the changes can be summed up in an overriding theme: You are capable of pursuing your goals and achieving your dreams when you are willing to make hard decisions and prioritize your daily life to lead to success.

When I could recognize what I needed to do to get to where I wanted to go, I knew I was responsible to make the difficult decisions to put myself in a position where I could most successfully pursue my dreams. And while I am finally living in this moment, I can look back at one year ago and see exactly how each show, discussion with my coaches and decision has led me to where I am now.

The sum of all the difficult decisions for me personally is an overwhelming feeling of excitement and happiness that I am getting to do what I have always dreamed of.

The Path That Chose Me

Lauren Billys and Jitter Bug. Photo by Jenni Autry. Lauren Billys and Jitter Bug. Photo by Jenni Autry.

It’s hard for me to know if I chose this path or if it chose me. No matter the answer, my response is unchanged: I will march down the path ahead of me because it’s exactly where I have been led.

This past year has been an unrecognizable combination of victory, heartache, loss, beginnings and “yet-to-be understood” lessons. The most impacting part of the year happened on Sept. 13, the night of a fundraiser to spread awareness of my Olympic plight to people within my community.

During set up for the event, I learned about the tragic loss of a friend of mine who died while serving our country and fearlessly living out his path in life. This moment in time has changed me, moving parts in me that felt and feel like motivation, emptiness and confusion.

I say the same thing to the best of my friends when the going gets tough: “All you can do is what is in front of you, one day at a time. Before you know it, you’ll be where you were meant to be.” Those exact words have been repeated to me by my closest friends throughout the past few months.

Recognizing my path and my passion, and then understanding the steps necessary to be successful, has led me to making decisions about my future. So now I find myself doing one of the hardest things I have had to do yet because it’s what is in front of me.

In January, I am moving away from my home in Fresno, full of some of the most supportive people I know: my blood family, my horse family, my business, my best friends and my comforts. However, I will not be lacking of love in my new home of Carmel Valley, where I will seek the guidance and consistent coaching of the people I trust most.

I have had to ask myself a few questions before telling people (who have believed in me since I was 18) this news. Primarily, what do I consider to be success? Because if my answer is having a successful business and being in a place of comfort, then staying in Fresno would be an unquestionable destination for me.

But when my answer comes from my heart, I realize it is taking this one shot I have at life and living it to the fullest of its potential, regardless of discomfort (in all of its forms). It is with this that I have to hold on to the next couple years and look for my footing on an unlit path reaching for the opportunities that will present themselves.

This starts with doing exactly what is in front of me: moving to a place that will create me into the best of myself as a horseman.

Words can’t describe what my community has done for me. If making it possible for me to attend the Pan Am Games isn’t enough, it can be summed up within the text messages I received before my first Advanced, hugs after victory and defeat, people that have helped blanket horses when I was sick or the individuals who served me a Corona after a long day at the barn.

The list, as we all know, can go on, but hopefully when I look back in two years at what has come of this journey, it will start and end with these people. I will take them with me into the start box of each event; we will march this path together.

The loss of my friend twisted an unfamiliar part of my heart, the yearning to live out exactly what I was intended to do, win or lose, to its fullest, fearlessly.

I can’t thank all of my Central Valley family enough. I will be back for clinics and will, of course, represent my community throughout all of this with the best of my ability.

The move is going to be a costly one. If you would like to support me in this journey to hopefully be the first three-day eventer in history to represent Puerto Rico at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero, I invite you to take a look at my sponsorship page or contact me.