The Sport We Love Is A Mental Game

Sep 25, 2013 - 6:01 PM
Sinead Halpin (left) and Jennie Brannigan accepted their first and second-placed honors in the Plantation Field CIC*** from Denis Glaccum.

Well, I have to say that at the end of my last blog I was hoping for bareback and three-star champions at Plantation Field, and I guess even though I had to settle for reserve champion in the CIC I think I can still count last weekend as a win as far as competition weekends go.

I was unbelievably happy with how well Ping went in the three-star, especially in the dressage and show jumping. It was the best test I’ve had with him, and I really think he loved the footing in the warm-up. He felt like he was trotting better than ever and was so rideable in the ring.

Show jumping was a typical well-built and thought-out Marc Donovan course, and Ping jumped out of his skin for me—especially when I put him too deep into the triple combination due to some cross-cantering into it.

Cross-country was last up, and I have to say that I didn’t have much of a clue that the course was proving troublesome due to the fact that I was getting ready and had headphones in. I pulled them out and was told they were taking the water off the track… I obviously was happy that whatever was going on with the water jump wouldn’t affect Ping. The last thing I think I would need with him is to have another bad go at the water…

I was sad to hear Lillian and Caitlin had fallen, as that is extremely out of character for both horses. The course rode well for Ping, and though I think the hills did take quite a bit out of him, he jumped well, and after speaking with David and Phillip, we will change his galloping plan before Fair Hill. He’s pulled up super from the event, and I’m very thankful for the perfect amount of rain we had for the footing Saturday night.

I Bella was super this weekend in the jumping phases and a little green on the flat, but that’s to be expected. And I think she’s forged a name for herself now with her bareback high jump win with Willie McCarthy!

I have to say that when we thought up this idea months ago, I had faith that it would go well, but never thought she would end up jumping so big! Clearing 6’1”, that filly has some serious heart.

What’s even more impressive is that Willie is a jump jockey and has had little experience show jumping at all. He literally practiced twice and went and did that… he was joking that he was more nervous to do that than to ride in a $150,000 stake race.

What I enjoyed the most about that experience was seeing how well they both handled that pressure and seeing how a PRO spectator event that’s meant to be just for fun bridged a gap between eventers and race horse people. I really enjoyed seeing all the people out supporting Willie, and it made my day to hear that Michael Matz and some of my friends from the track were there to watch me on Sunday. 

I was asked by Eventing Nation over the weekend how I’ve mentally dealt with the letdowns I’ve had this season… I had a laugh because of the way that was worded, but in the end it’s a super question, and it borders on some things the folks at the Chronicle have asked me to talk about a bit more as well…

Horse sports are tough in general, and in the end, it’s as much a mental game as it is physical. When things go a bit wrong, I’ve always made the choice to keep myself busy and work even harder. I think I have to attribute riding for Matz—in a different sport, on different horses, with a different perspective—for helping me tons with the eventing letdowns of this spring.

But in the end, to be honest, that’s just the sport, isn’t it? Learning how to deal with disappointments is really as much a part of high performance sport as training your horse in dressage, learning to how to tackle the cross-country and figuring out how to keep you and your horse fit and healthy and peaking at just the right time. No one is going to get to the top without dealing with falls, horses breaking and the hardships that come with it. And I refuse to stop loving the horses because of it or the sport. Sometimes you’ve just got to put a smile on your face and dig in.

Read more about the winners at Plantation, as well as more analysis of the event, in our Oct. 7 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine.

Now, that’s not to say I don’t have tough times or struggle. I still struggle with the loss of Cooper. No FEI win at any level on any horse will ever take that pain away… and I wouldn’t want it to.

But this is a super sport with super people in it. Sinead and I, sitting first and second in the standings, were the last two riders left in the cross-country warm-up on Sunday, and it struck me that as we walked around chatting before heading to the start box, we didn’t even talk about horses—we were just talking to each other about life.

I stopped and said to her, “You know what? How great is it that we truly like each other?”

It doesn’t mean that I (and Sinead and everybody out there) don’t want to win… I’m a competitive person! But we all know that we can be on top one second and on the bottom the next. I think that’s the point, though. We all get it.

We all love the horses and the sport, and that understanding helps us support each other, even when we each want to win. How lucky are we to be a part of a sport like that? I’m so excited about our generation of upper level eventers, because I can honestly say I think we have some real team players. 

So on and on we will go… I hope Fair Hill goes well for Ping, but in the meantime I’ll enjoy how great Sunday was, and I’ll remember it for quite awhile! 

All the best,


Brannigan Eventing


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