Sherri Harvey rides Rebel Yell aka Harley, a 13 year old draft/tb/qh cross and lives in Los Gatos, CA. She also teaches writing at San Jose State University and Foothill College. Sherri attended Woodside International HT as a volunteer and competitor, and wrote up a fantastic story about her weekend. Thanks to Sherri for writing, and thank you for reading.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of not only volunteering in the Woodside International Horse Trials cross country phase with the indefatigable Woodside Eventing Cross Country Volunteer Coordinators Katrina Deane, Cassie Harkins and Julie White but also riding in the competition as well. Now, mind you, I am a baby at this game. This is my second recognized event and my first time riding at novice level, but let me also remind you: there is nothing infantile at all about jumping around fences at any level. We all have to start somewhere. Any rider is this competition should be proud to be out there giving it a go, because it is no small feat at all. As most beginner riders, I am struggling to find my position and stay in the back seat and wait for the fences, among a few other issues. But after a marginal showjumping round (made it around clean with time but knocked three rails because of sloppy inconsistent hands, and inability to stay with my horse over the fence) I had a goal for xc: stay in the back seat, wait for my horse and ride the canter. Yes easier said than done…
To add to the chaos and nervousness of riding, I also agreed to help out with the cross country phase and volunteer 1) because the coupons for volunteering help me pay for competition and 2) Katrina had a few people cancel and called me at the last minute to help out: I couldn’t say no.
So, on the day of xc before my 11:04 ride, I am out on the xc course driving the golf cart around to shuttle the extraordinary volunteers out to fences and picking up score sheets for an hour before I ride. I was asked to train my replacement: a woman named Mia. We were introduced (and I promptly forgot her last name) as I am driving her around telling her what to do to pick up the score sheets for Greg at StartBox Scoring, we start talking and she mentions casually that she rode Intermediate and oh by the way, won this weekend. Oh, and she is 61 years old. I am simply in awe of this woman and let her know that I think she is amazing after hearing this. In case you forgot, let me remind you of what an intermediate level rider has to do: they have to go over 26-34 obstacles around 3’9” or 4’5” with brush at a break-neck speed of 550 m/pm (that is a gallop, by the way, not a lollygag).
As I drive around to the volunteer jump judges, shoulder to shoulder with Mia, I introduce her as The Intermediate Champion and include her age in this introduction for a few reasons.
As a 43-year-old woman, one of the things that I find remarkable about this sport are the people who are a bit older who find the courage and strength to be superstars in the sport and continue to learn and grow with their horses. My dear friend Jeanne Carly, who trains with my trainer, Matt Brown, won Training division at age 63 this weekend. Another dear friend, Cynthia Wright (who rides with JM as well) is one of the most courageous women I know and rode training level this weekend. She is 55. A lot of the top riders fall into this age group, and I find this detail incredibly inspirational. It gives me hope that I can ride for years to come continue to progress and learn this late in my own game.
Mia and I start talking shop and I ask her some questions about riding and courage and found out a few interesting things. She has never been overly courageous despite her jumping skills. She did competitive skiing for a while, but did not say “OH YEA—I AM ALL COURAGE” as I would expect from a person jumping small houses and the garages as well at the intermediate level. Mia told me her horse, Banner, had a few refusals because Mia was accustomed to the old-school style of folding over fences and needed to learn to sit tall. Mia recommended yoga and core strength to develop this part of the body. To fix this, she started riding with John Michael Durr who is helping her commit to the fences more strongly. JM is also forcing her to make Banner move, despite his tendency to be a bit slow and get behind her leg. So as Mia tells me all this, I realize that I, too, (and I imagine other newby riders) have similar struggles and am fascinated listening to her talk about these universal issues. I tell her that I often become jelly on the back of my mount and forget to “ride” as a result. She laughs a bit and continues.
Mia watches the Preliminary riders going on course and tells me what she sees in their position and asks me to look. “See how solid that one is? She half-halts there slightly before the fence. Now watch as this one approaches: 4 strides forward and 4 strides collected: do you see it there?” As I try to catch these little subtleties, I feel so blessed to be right here, in this moment, listening to this amazing woman beside me. All of this info is so helpful for me in this sport as these opportunities to talk shop this was are so rare.
So of course, since I am getting ready to ride in a few minutes, I decide to pick Mia’s brain for help and she gladly goes on talking. This type of banter goes on for another 15 minutes or so before I have to go off and get my horse tacked up to ride. Reluctantly but excitedly, I say my goodbyes to Mia and cheekishly tell her to look for me riding by in a bit.
After my ride, I went to look up Mia’s last name, as I remembered her horse’s name: Banner. I find her on the roster: last name, Edsall. (remember it, people) I go home to find Mia on Facebook so I can thank her for sitting in my golf cart that morning. What a serendipitous gift that interaction was. As I Facebook stalk Mia, I find out even more about her. She is a legend, slowly making a name for herself in the eventing world, and I got a chance to rub shoulders with her and pick her brain. How lucky can a girl be? The humility in Mia, and in most event riders I have met, never ceases to inspire me; the little gems of info you collect at a show help with the entire journey and I realize from my stalking, not from her telling me, that Mia does indeed train others as well as shows and knows a thing or two about this sport after all. She is Mia Edsall, Intermediate Winner at The Event at Woodside. For some random reason, she ended up in the golf cart with me for that brief moment in time to give me some ideas to chew on for weeks to come. Her three nuggets she imparted on me left me thinking.
- Before each fence, open your shoulders and tighten your core like someone is going to punch you.
- Put some money in your horse’s confidence bank by sitting back.
- You pay your horse a handsome salary: he sits around for 2o-22 hours a day in good footing with daily love and care, a roof over his head, 2 or 3 meals a day, so it’s ok to call him to task when he is on-duty. You have Mia’s, and JM’s by proxy, permission.
Not bad pay for a day’s work, eh? Thanks, Mia, and GO EVENTING!
P.S. As I write this today, Oct 14, Mia’s horse Banner is sick and had to pull out of Galway that is happening in a few weeks. Please send positive thoughts and love to Banner and to Mia for a speedy recovery.