The rollercoaster in the life of an event rider is often times an interesting one, and I have to say that the past few weeks of my life have lived up to that ride and then some with Rolex Kentucky and now Jersey Fresh in the rearview mirror.
Rolex was such a big buildup, and I know in the back of my mind I was holding my breath, anticipating the downfall that so often comes when you’re trying to get to a premier event like that.
I didn’t sleep well on Wednesday night. I’m a natural born worrier, and it was raining so hard I thought we were in the middle of a monsoon. It was one of those rains that usually only lasts a few minutes, but it went on for hours, and I was terrified of what that amount of rain would bring in the morning.
So I was shocked when I went out to feed at 5 a.m., and it wasn’t flooding. I expected the pastures to be full of water, but they weren’t. However, by 7 we knew we were in for it because the rain was coming down hard again, and the water had started to flow south toward us.
Every year or so, usually after a few months of running myself ragged, I go through a two-week period of serious enthusiasm. I mean, I am JONESED. I'm getting stuff done. I'm up late, sans caffeine, and then up early again the next morning with a big smile on my face. I tell myself that I must be doing something right; I must be eating right or doing really well with whatever exercise regime I'm on, or that maybe I've just biologically hit my stride, because, clearly, all this energy is so great.
There’s a certain lightness, a space somewhere between leaving the ground and landing when you can feel your young horse begin to understand how to use his parts well and truly jump. His withers arc up underneath you, and out of the corner of your eye you might just see his knees. It’s a feeling that’s difficult to describe in words, so I find myself using sounds, like “pa-pow!”
As every great horseman knows, you can never know all there is to know about horses and riding. There is always more to learn, and we can't be picky about where we learn it. Even though I compete in the jumpers primarily, I've realized over the years that I can and want to learn something from everyone.
The relationship between horse and rider in eventing is unlike any other sport. While eventing demands the obedience of dressage, the horse must think for itself. While it requires the carefulness of a show jumper, the horse must be equal parts bold. But greater than any trait horses are born with, successful event horses must trust their riders more than they trust their instincts. Cross-country is unique to eventing, and it requires a horse to trust that the lake its rider asks it to leap into is shallow, and that the drop jump into the horizon will have land on the other side.
The first time I saw Andrew Nicholson in person, we were sitting in the cafeteria at the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany. My fellow Chronicle cohorts started giggling, blushing and making suggestive comments as I tried to understand what the big deal was about this gray-haired eventer seated two tables away.
“But he’s old!” I insisted. They laughed, patted me on the head and made a few more remarks about “silver foxes” before we went back to eating our lunch.