Andrea’s Return to the Maccabiah Games: The Horse Swap

Two summers ago, EN readers followed the story of Andrea Glazer, an eventer among Grand Prix show jumpers at the 2017 Maccabiah Games. She catch rode an unfamiliar horse over 1.20-meter (3’9″) and above show jumping courses to help Team USA earn the silver medal, and is now preparing to represent the team once again at the 2019 European Maccabiah Games later this summer in Budapest, Hungary. Once again, Andrea has agreed take us along for the ride. In the first installation of her blog series, she catches us up on what she’s been up to these past couple years. Read more at her blog, Dre the Zookeeper

Nando and Andrea. Photo courtesy of Andrea Glazer.

I’m currently writing this blog in the viewing area in the National Riding Hall of Budapest. What. Is. My. Life.

Let me backtrack a second before I get ahead of myself. I competed Sunday, July 28th on Spicy in the Classic (remember, this is one of the few times you get to wear white pants) to then run home, finish packing, be dropped off at the train station, to start my long journey to JFK.

I wouldn’t consider myself a light or even moderate packer, especially when I’m bringing my riding gear along with it. I had to pack Arly (my teammate) and my USA gear, my boots, helmet, gloves, spurs, etc. as well as all my normal people clothes and made sure nothing was left behind.

I had to lug my very overweight suitcase, a carry-on roller bag and my purse on 3 trains just to get to JFK. Don’t worry, my bags caused such bad traffic jams it would have shown up as a red line on Google maps, and of course, the escalators at one of the stations were broken, so I had to gather a team of people to help get me up the stairs.

I finally arrived at JFK and was able to meet Carly Dvorkin, one of my teammates, and we hit it off immediately. She’s only 18, but she is very outgoing, fun and a really good rider so I knew we would have fun. We were on a flight with the USA soccer and field hockey teams who we became friends with – it’s so fun to meet all of these other Jewish athletes and listening to their stories of how they trained/where they played to get to the European Maccabi Games. We boarded the flight where I of course had a middle seat next to a screaming baby, and despite the circumstances, I fell straight asleep and woke up after the plane landed; that’s one perk of being a working student – I sleep great whenever and wherever I can.

Carly and Andrea with the mandatory accreditation. Photo courtesy of Andrea Glazer.

Carly and I headed to our hotel where we would stay with all of the other equestrian teams, as well as the chess and basketball teams. While walking into the hotel, we ran into our 3rd teammate, Arly Golombek (bear with me because having teammates with such similar names can get kind of confusing).

Maccabi USA Show Jumping Team. Photo courtesy of Andrea Glazer.

Let me give a brief overview of my teammates so you can get an idea of the level of competition I am a part of:

Carly lives outside of Boca and competes her two horses at the 1.40+ level. She has been show jumping for 10 years and flew both her coach and horse to Budapest for the Games. She explained to me in the airport that she and the mare she brought over know each other so well, everything just clicks.

Arly lives half of the year in Wellington and the other 6 months in France. She competes tons of horses at the 1.40+ level and luckily for me, she is currently living in France, so she offered to bring her own horse, as well as a horse for me, to compete at the Games.

Let me repeat it for the people in the back – my teammate is bringing me a horse to compete from France – WHAT IS MY LIFE.

Okay, back to the blog:

As soon as we settled into our hotel room (for approximately 30 seconds because we are on very tight schedules), Arly and I headed to the National Riding Hall, which is only a 10 minute walk from our hotel, where the competition is held so that I could meet her two horses. The National Riding Hall is easily the coolest place I have ever competed. It’s smack dab in the city and as soon as you are able to get through the very strict security, metal detectors, and a ton of other hoops to prove you’re a Maccabi athlete, you can explore the many indoor and outdoor rings the venue has to offer. There are flags waving for each country competing, the jumbotron has the order-of-go projected, and there is always music blaring just to enhance the atmosphere – it is too cool.

Arly had sent me videos of both horses prior to the Games, and I was immediately drawn to Vanilla who was a small, spicy mare that was a great jumper. Nando, the second horse Arly brought is a big, beautiful dark bay gelding that she said wasn’t as straight forward of a ride. Knowing this, we walked into the barn to meet Arly’s groom, Victoria, and both horses who were already tacked up and ready to be ridden. I walked right up to the adorable bay mare with the best mane of all time and hopped on for our first ride. Arly lead the way on Nando, and we walked into the practice ring to ride alongside our competitors.

Vanilla posing in her stall before our first ride. Photo courtesy of Andrea Glazer.

Training with all of the other competitors with their matching gear that proudly displayed their native country was surreal. There aren’t as many competitors here as there were in Israel – only about 15 total. There were only 3 teams this time around – Hungary, Switzerland, USA and a handful of individual riders. I looked around at every rider and their horse noticing how synced each pair was. I was very impressed with the field we were up against – they seemed like they had been riding their horses for ages, as I was just having my first ride on Vanilla.

Turns out, the reason everyone seemed so in tune with their horses is because I am the only competitor that isn’t on my own horse. THE ONLY ONE THAT HAD ONE DAY TO GET TO KNOW MY HORSE. This is a huge disadvantage in this sport, but there’s no turning back now.

I flatted Vanilla around, showing her off a bit because she is so trained on the flat. I was testing out all of her buttons – she’s so fun to flat, and it turns out she is a bit more of a kick ride than I expected, but always did what I asked. I looked over at Arly cantering around Nando thinking to myself, “Wow, he is so fancy he could win the dressage too!” The beautiful dark bay gelding just floats across the ring.

After a bit more flatwork, Arly and I headed over to the jump ring so I could really learn how what Vanilla was like. I know Neal and Licha will be mad, but I was a little nervous just because Arly owns, trains, and rides these horses so I really didn’t want to screw up. Vanilla is a bit different to all of the horses I am used to riding – she was honestly just so simple. This nice and simple of a horse is not my normal ride, which became apparent and even though we didn’t touch a rail; I just didn’t feel like we were off to a great start. It took a while for us to get in the groove, and Arly helped me sort it out, but even by the end, I wasn’t feeling the most confident with how I was riding her. At Hay Fever Farm, we always say, “less is more” and those are words to live by on that little mare, but it’s the hardest thing to do I swear.

Definitely not the ride I wanted to have, but we called it a day and headed back to the hotel for a much needed sleep and would regroup in the morning. I was so tired after the longest 24 hours that included a competition, 3 trains, 2 flights and attempting to get to know the horse I was going to compete, that I don’t even remember falling asleep that night.

Arly helping me with Nando in the practice ring. Photo courtesy of Andrea Glazer.

The next day we headed back to the barn and Arly had me start out on Nando this time. Nando is quite the opposite of Vanilla – he is big, flashy, and very, very strong. I got on him and flatted around and he is definitely one of the nicest horses I have ever flatted! We went ahead and jumped a vertical and oxer a handful of times before the FEI judges came and told me I had to wait until the official practice during the afternoon.

Even after just jumping 5 simple jumps, I definitely felt like I got along with this horse more – you definitely can’t just sit there on him, and that is more of the ride I am used to. He is not an easy horse to ride – he can get very strong, sometimes he is uneasy in the bridle, and is just a bit complicated, but I could really ride confidently to the fences and it was easy for me to get him to the perfect distance. After the jump school, we untacked before getting back on for the afternoon practice where each team was allowed 365 seconds in the actual jump arena we would be competing in.

We were able to warm up and Nando and I jumped some big verticals and a square oxer before heading into the ring for our team practice. I had both Arly and Carly’s coach, David Blake, helping me warm-up. We didn’t have our own coach for the show jumping team, which was a little concerning, but thankfully, both David and Arly stepped in to help me. The jumps were set at a decent (they looked like they were 1.40m, but supposedly they weren’t) 1.15m – 1.20m height and I was excited just to be riding this beautiful horse in Budapest in the first place. Carly went first around the course, then Arly zipped through on Vanilla, and I started 3rd on Nando through the course. It was honestly like I had been riding the horse for months! We cantered through the course and truly it went really well! We jumped around clean and I was able to get a good feeling around the course.

We got rung out of the arena because we ran out of time, so I wasn’t able to finish the course, but I was still happy with how it went. He definitely eats up the lines – his stride is huge so keeping that in mind since he is very, very strong, that might get us into trouble. It’s always hard during the practice round to really gage what the horse is like in the show ring because there aren’t many spectators there during the practice, so you don’t really get the feel of how the horse reacts to the tense atmosphere, but with only one day to get to know Nando, I didn’t really have a choice!

Terrible quality, but Nando and I in the ring during our team practice. Photo courtesy of Andrea Glazer.

After the practice round, Arly and I made the decision to switch horses – her to ride Vanilla and for me to ride Nando. I was feeling a bit better about things because Nando and I seemed to click, but I knew I still had my work cut out for me. We went to the show office and officially changed which horses we were going to ride – basically signing out fate away when the secretary reassured us that after we write these horses next to our names, we weren’t allowed to make any more changes.

So it was set in stone – I was going to ride Nando the following morning and I was only able to spend 1 day, 2 rides and maybe 20 jumps getting to know him.