It’s been 19 years since I last cruised around an Intermediate course. There was an attempt a few years ago, but that ended with the big R. And a long drive home.
This has been a long time coming. Garth was ready for the move-up last year, but his injury delayed the progression. Deszi, hot to show she was just as capable, covered ground at substantial Preliminaries and FEI events along the East Coast, proving herself eager to conquer the Big I. So the entries were mailed to the Horse Park of NJ.
It wasn’t until I walked the cross country course that all the excitement and all the confidence met the small voice of the uncertainly within me. That little voice squeaked about the long track, the enormous fences, technical questions and constant presence of BIG. For a moment, that voice had me questioning if this was the right decision, if I was ready, if the horses were ready.
Even though I had carefully prepared for this level through lessons, carefully chosen tracks to test the three of us, veterinary care, and honest discussions with my trainers, there was still a part of me that was nervous. In that moment, I recognized that being nervous is OK. It shows that I am aware of the difficulty at this level, and that I am taking the competition as seriously as I have the preparation.
My coach, Ashley MacVaugh, was there to guide me through the course walks and warm-ups. Her suggestions and guidance were paramount to our safe ride around cross country. Having my trainer there was comforting — the same comfort I know my ladies feel when I walk their courses with them and guide them through their rides.
A trainer does not just tell us where to turn, open our stride and half halt. They help to reinforce our strengths, guide us to overcome our short falls, and help us navigate our horse to a safe and confident ride. Having Ashley there gave me confidence. I also know that she would serve as my advocate and the advocate for my horses if anything had happened.
The role of the trainer is vital to our success. However, our role as riders is even more important: We must recognize when we need to listen to our “amateur voice” and seek guidance before making a big move. Being able to embrace and experience both positions as an amateur and professional has made me a better rider and trainer.
We all need a coach. We all need someone to test and reassure us, and when appropriate, put us in a place that we may not appreciate in order to keep us and our horses safe. In that moment of learning, we are all amateurs. Recognizing that is a strength.
Garth placed fourth after dressage (and resisted the temptation to be naughty quite well!), moved up to third after a double clear stadium round and incurred time penalties cross country to place 8th. He was a star. Every skinny was galloped over straight as an arrow, he listened to my aids within a split second of communication and jumped everything without reservation. He is an incredibly cool partner.
Deszi had a tight dressage test to place 13th. The poor girl pulled a shoe at the start of show jumping, and with her huge heart, finished the course but pulled 8 rails. Her front foot was badly chipped, so I pulled her from cross country. I trust these horses every stride, and the biggest compliment and testament to my role as a horseman is that they reciprocate that trust.
It was a phenomenally successful day at the horse park. To say that I am proud of them is not enough. Garth and Deszi have incredible work ethics. They have remained the kind and enthusiastic youngsters they were at 3 and 4 when I bought them, just now better focused. To say I am fortunate to work with Garth and Deszi belittles them and their generosity that allows me to count them as my own. It is an honor to work with them and count them as my partners.