I sat yesterday reading Sinead Halpin’s latest Chronicle blog and was quite impressed and inspired by what she wrote. My heart broke for her when I found out a few days ago that she lost her dad suddenly. I can’t imagine what she’s going through. The timing of reading that and then her dad passing is just devastating.
I’ve been thinking about how I need to write a blog for the past two months myself, but to be honest I had not a clue how to put into words what this past year really has been like. I’ve thought for the last 16 hours as I made my final trip down south with the last load of horses about this, and though it might seem odd for some reason, the only method I came up with is if I wrote like I was writing a letter to myself from now to me a year ago. I think that the letter would go like this…
You’re going to have your biggest win so far when Cambalda jumps clean and you win the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International CCI***. After you leave the press tent and it’s late afternoon and the arena is getting quiet, you’ll turn around and reflect that it’s odd you’ve now had the best memory of your career in that arena, and the worst.
Later on when you are celebrating, you realize the joy of one still doesn’t take away the heartbreak from the other. This is going to make you a bit bitter for a moment.
You’ll be driving a rig to Florida when the head selector calls you to tell you that you haven’t been named to a training list despite your form that fall, and for a minute you will be upset, and then you’ll figure that doesn’t do much good, so you try to see where they are coming from, and you keep your mouth shut, put your head down and try to throw yourself into work. You’ll be shocked by the amount of people that support you and speak stronger about it than you ever would.
You’ll have an unreal spring season, and by the time you walk into the office at the Rolex Kentucky CCI****, you’ll see “Ping” on the front of the Chronicle for winning The Fork CIC*** and that you are predicted to be a top finisher that year.
You’re going to have a run-out coming out of the Head of the Lake, and galloping away you’re going to toughen up and fight for the finish flags. You won’t have had the weekend you wanted, but after years of failed attempts you’ll finally become a four-star rider. You’re going to try to be happy about that.
Jennie Brannigan’s year included galloping race horses for Michael Matz (right). Photo courtesy of Jennie Brannigan
You will get back to Pennsylvania, put your head down and work. You’ll be happy again that you get to spend a few hours earlier in the morning at Fair Hill galloping around to the left. You’ll reflect about the fact that the job you have and the people you work with have helped keep you going over the past few years, giving you an odd balance and you’ll be grateful.
You’ll get an email that you weren’t expecting at all that the team is vetting you for the Pan Ams. You’ll be really surprised but excited at the same time. The final outing will come around and Ping will step up and give all he’s got. Driving back north you’ll think about the fact that it’s his eighth FEI win and your 20th and be pretty darn happy.
You’ll get the call that you are the traveling alternate and when your packing your bag for the Pan Ams you’ll think about how odd it is to pack show whites that you’re probably not going to wear.
You’ll get fitted for a pinque coat which will be a crazy experience since you’ve dreamt of it your whole life. But you won’t see it. Walking around the Pan Am village you’ll be overwhelmed that you got to be there—around some of the most elite athletes in the world.
Friends like Hannah Sue Burnett (right) helped Jennie through good times and bad. Photo courtesy of Jennie Brannigan.
You’ll cheer the team on and mean it. You’ll try hard to be the best supporter you can. When you trot up and come back home you’ll write on the back of David O’Connor’s car in the airport parking lot, “I hope it was gold” in the dust, and watch as it becomes true. You’ll be so happy to have been a small part of that but also pray that it wasn’t your only shot because you were so close.
Candace Kircher is going to shock you and you’re going to get to ride Catalina. The first time you jump her you’ll get goosebumps and feel like you’ve won the lottery.
Unfortunately Candace will be the one to tell you late the night before cross-country at Millbrook that [polo player and friend] Will Tankard died in a trailer accident that day. You’re not going to know at all how to handle that. You’ll loose the plot a bit and the next few weeks will be tough.
You’ll drive to Richland with five FEI horses, which is a first for you, and have an unreal weekend driving back until you break down in the middle of the night. You’ll be shocked when everyone tries to stop and help you.
Rebekah Simmons will get up in the middle of the night and accidentally put a metal pitchfork through her foot setting up her rig to come save you. She’ll end up going to the ER while she sends her mom out to get you. She’ll drive your horses hours back home and not let you pay her at all. That will definitely leave you in awe of how good some people are.
Jennie took on a new three-star horse, Candace Kircher’s Catalina. Lindsay Berreth photo.
You’ll catch-ride Courtney Cooper’s top horses at Plantation Field along with yours and be honored that someone trusts you with the thing that matters the most to them. You’ll have a good weekend on all the horses despite the fact that Hannah Sue Burnett had a fall on cross-country and all you knew is that she was taken away.
You’ll go out and do your job, but you’ll feel pretty bad that you can’t get to your phone for hours and that you weren’t there. She’ll be OK though, just a wrist and ribs. She’ll jump clean around Fair Hill that fall.
The final outing before Fair Hill will be rained out, and you’ll wish you had that run on your green horses for the level. You’ll have a fall late in the course on Ibella after having a ripping round, and it will be your mistake. You pop off and she is fine. You’ll sit in the tack room and toughen up to go out on Catalina and jump clear and pretty darn fast and be in awe that she can jump around so easy at her second start at the level.
The next day you’ll watch as Tamie Smith’s (who you’ve been sharing your bed with for the past month) heart looks shattered and her best friend’s brother passes away from cancer. You’ll try to be there the best you can, and you’ll not have a clue what to do, but you’ll watch as she jumps a clear round under the worst circumstances possible and wins. As you walk away from the ring you’ll smile to yourself. So much for her not being able to handle pressure…
You’ll go to France and have the best four-star test of your career and be in the top 10. You’ll fall. The next day as you watch show jumping you’ll realize that this is the fifth time you’ve watched a Sunday from the ground at a four-star. You’ll feel like you’ve let your team, owners, and country down. All your peers will reach out in the sport, and you’ll appreciate that and crack on.
Driving into the driveway of your new farm in Florida you will think to yourself, “how in the world did I get to be at a place like this?” And you’ll be grateful that you have an unreal support system, and your team of girls is tops.
Landing in St. Croix for Lynn Symansky’s wedding, you’ll get the phone call that Ping will be OK but will be sidelined for the year.
Sitting on the beach with some of the people that you respect the most, you’ll reflect on what a crazy year it was and how you can’t wait to do it again. Ironically the people that you’re with know exactly how you feel in some form or another and that these are the same people that are going to be celebrating with you, picking you up off the ground, making fun of you, and standing by you for the rest of your time spent chasing a living at riding horses. And that makes all the difference.
Til next time,