If you think eventing is just a sport, then you must realize that the eventing community is really a family. While most of us are competitive people, and clearly fans of adrenaline, we tend to view the sport as our partnerships versus the course, not us versus each other.
At each competition, I go out and try to showcase my partnership, which means having a dressage test that displays our skills, a cross-country course that tests our communication and trust, and a show jumping course that pushes the limits of our technical skill and physical recovery. At every show I go to, I try to conquer those three areas, and whether that puts me ahead of or behind other competitors is out of my control.
While we compete alone in the rings and on course, we do not event alone. Never was this more apparent to me than after last weekend when I went to Carolina International to contest the CIC* with my mare. The weekend ended up being a bit of a train wreck from start to finish for me, but it reminded me why I love this sport so much, even when it isn’t my weekend to shine.
I pulled up to the Carolina Horse Park last Wednesday, and my farrier Brian Grady drove 12 hours round trip from Virginia to put new shoes on Lizzie for the weekend. When they say it takes a village to raise a child, I can only imagine, as it certainly takes a village to get a horse to an FEI competition.
The weekend was packed with events and the VIP benefits for riders and owners were second to none. As an international competitor, you got every meal catered, an open bar all weekend, a fantastic bag of goodies, and passes to the red carpet competitors’ dinner Saturday night. When I told my mom about this, she decided to literally jump in her car and drive over from Louisiana. I swear the open bar sold her, but we can pretend she just wanted to see me ride.
In preparing for dressage, I realized that my shadbelly was nowhere to be found, and entered a small state of panic. Jan Byyny told me to take hers, and only when I was trying it on did I realize this meant I would head down centerline in a team patch. “I can’t wear this!” I told Jan. She smiled, gave me a hug, and said, “Yes, you can. Go have fun.”
Woot! Don’t have to tell me twice! I was excited for dressage, as we typically shine there, and she warmed up beautifully. We hit centerline and everything was going to plan, when suddenly Lizzie became uncharacteristically distracted, got tense, and proceeded to have a good ole fashioned baby meltdown. I was this close to tears as we left the ring, but then I slapped myself straight and realized that my horse had a bad day in a sandbox, life ain’t too bad.
Her test received straight 7s and 7.5s for the first 11 movements, then devolved into 4s and 5s for the remainder. We left the ring with a 58 (at FEI, so a 61 percent) and I was honestly just grateful it was not worse.
I headed right to that open bar, got myself a drink, and settled in to watch the three-star dressage tests. Eventually it was time to walk my course, so I took a stroll around the cross-country and was excited to give it a go. The footing was unbelievable, the course stunning, and there were VIP tents at the water complex so mom could cheer me on.
The next day I got ready to head out to cross-country as my husband was leaving his office in D.C. to drive down for the weekend. On my way to warm-up, I must have been told “Good Luck!” and “Have Fun!” by 10 different riders warming up for the three-star show jumping. How crazy that they take time out of their stressful and hectic warm-up to wish my menial self a great ride?
The only complex I was remotely worried about was the water, where there was a big brush jump into the water, a few strides to jump up onto an island, one stride on the island and off the bank, and then a canter out the water and over a table. The water complex was just over halfway around the course, but I knew if we could get that done then Lizzie would smoke around the rest of the way.
I told Doug Payne as I headed out, “God, watch me make it all the way through the water and off the island and then fall off cantering out!”
They counted me down in the box (I was second on course), and away I went! Lizzie absolutely tore up the course, nailing all the angled questions, taking the gallop jumps out of stride, and galloping faster in between than I have let her before. We were having a glorious round when we came to the water.
We jumped in (YAY! That was my biggest concern!!), and it walked in four and a half strides to the island, but we assumed with it being water and her nerves it would be a five. I assumed wrong, and got to the island on the four and a half. Lizzie scrambled up like the scrappy broad she is, I sighed a big sigh of relief, she took a stride on the island and leapt off.
I felt my heart flutter, as I realized the hardest part was behind us!!! We landed in the water, eyes on the table out, when suddenly all I saw coming at me was brown. AHH!!! Lizzie tripped when she went to take her first stride in the water, and while she managed to save herself, by then I was spider monkeying her head and milliseconds later dunking into the water.
I FELL OFF (which I think I am becoming good at).
So my big weekend came to a soggy and sudden end, with my first RF ever off of Lizzie, and only my second in my whole career! The medics checked me over (I was fine), and I sloshed in my boots with Lizzie at my side the whole way back to the barn.
So, you might think my weekend sucked, but you would be thinking wrong. Because even when I lose against a course, I win because I am eventing. Countless people came over to my stall to make sure I was OK, have a good laugh about my luck, and tell me to keep my chin up.
As it turns out, 11 horses would fall in that same spot that day (no telling how many just stumbled), with two going all the way down and the rest tripping hard enough for the riders to come off. So, whether there was a hole or it was a depth issue (the first part of the water before the island was ankle deep, the water they then jumped back into was almost knee-deep) I am unsure, but I was not alone in taking a swim that day!
My husband arrived from his long drive and realized that he wouldn’t see me ride. My mom was there and being that she drove over during dressage she got to see five seconds of me riding before watching me take a dunk. I had a lot of family and nothing to do! Fear not, it is eventing. So off we went to the VIP tent to watch the three star showjumping, drink Bloody Marys, and laugh.
The next day we set up shop at the VIP tent for the three-star cross country water complex, where Carolina International had Southern Pines Brewery present, a catered lunch, and a live feed of the whole course. What a wonderful day that was!
I cheered on friends, saw some epic saves and some run out of luck. We then cleaned up for the red carpet party that night, where we saw eventing legends get honored, friends get awards for their performances, and the rest of us clapped in support of the sport we love.
I am a nobody in terms of international eventing, but this weekend I got to go down centerline in a team patch, had countless top riders wish me luck and check on me after my fall, watched wonderful partnerships challenge themselves and come away smiling, and basked in the sun with my family.
This weekend was everything I love about eventing: we cheer each other on and pick each other up, we finish a course only to tell the next few heading out information on how it rides so they can have a better go, and we watch others on cross-country, holding our breath and wishing them the best. We sit in anticipation, noticing their horse’s ears flicker back in the tough complexes, and we know that years have gone into that relationship and today we are seeing the fruits of their labor.
Eventing is tough, and no one always has a good day. But eventing is more than a sport: it is a family, it is a group of friends, it is a circus act of dogs and horses and big personalities that pack up every Sunday in one state and materialize two weeks later in another. Eventing is a four-star rider loaning you his stock pin, a volunteer counting you down in the box, a neighbor in the temporary stalls topping off your horse’s water, a judge smiling after a disastrous test and writing “Today wasn’t your day, but one day soon it will be.”
Eventing is the wind flying past your ears on course, eyes watering down your cheeks, hooves thundering below you, and those ears flickering back and wanting to know, “What’s next?” Eventing isn’t us versus each other, it’s all of us versus a tough life, all of us versus a demanding course, all of us versus heartbreak, all of us versus the standard 9 to 5.
So if you think of eventing as a sport, please come spend a weekend with us and let us show you one hell of a life.
One of the Chronicle’s bloggers, Kristin Carpenter juggles the management of her own company, Linder Educational Coaching, organizing the Area II Young Rider Advancement Program out of Morningside Training Farm in The Plains, Va., and eventing at the FEI levels. She grew up in Louisiana and bought “Trance,” a green off-the-track Thoroughbred, as a teenager. Together, they ended up competing at the North American Young Riders Championships and the Bromont CCI**. She’s now bringing another OTTB, Lizzie, up through the ranks.