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.