Abby Foltz is one of the Chronicle’s own, working as the advertising sales and production manager for the magazine. She also is one of nearly 1,000 horse-and-rider pairs attending the USEA American Eventing Championships in Kentucky this week. Foltz, Front Royal, Virginia, is competing in the training amateur division with her horse Absolute Zero, a 6-year-old Thoroughbred mare she purchased as a 3-year-old and has produced herself. They have been competing at training level for a little less than a year, and this is their first time attending the AECs, having qualified with top-three placings at The Maryland Horse Trials and Fair Hill International. Here, she takes us through a (cross-country) day in the life of an AEC competitor.
I snooze my alarm twice, only to wake abruptly to the sound of Brian O’Connor’s voice over the Kentucky Horse Park’s public-address system. He’s testing the speakers for cross-country day at the American Eventing Championships, which is anxiety inducing enough to force me out of bed. I’m staying at the campground with my friend and coach, Ashley Trier, as well as friend and barnmate Shannon Allen. All three of us have cross-country rides today, so we groggily pack our clothes, make some coffee and head to Barn 11. I took vacation from work to come here this week, so I scan through work emails on the golf cart ride over and forward those that need to be taken care of right away.
Ashley, Shannon and I feed, water, muck and take the horses for a walk to stretch their legs. My horse, Absolute Zero (aka “Elsa”), is a 6-year-old chestnut Thoroughbred mare, and aside from one minor explosion in the dressage, she’s been fairly amicable this week. We head up to trailer parking and collect all of the horses’ ice boots, which we’ll use after their rounds later in the day. My ride isn’t until 1:16 p.m., but I know that as the day goes on, the jitters will creep in. I operate much less clumsily if I set out all of my gear far in advance.
I try out the “Toasties Gourmet” food truck for breakfast. Deciding whether to eat breakfast is my biggest dilemma on cross-country day. Since my ride is so late in the day, I definitely want to make sure I have enough energy, so I opt for an artichoke and jalapeño jack grilled cheese. Did I mention that I get nervous? This makes the jalapeno a potentially risky decision here, but it was worth it!
We head back out to walk our cross-country course a few more times. Each time I walk, the course becomes slightly less imposing. In general, my horse is quite honest and very adjustable, so I’m dialed in on making the optimum time. Derek’s course looks to be forward and flowing, so if I show Elsa the flags and kick on, we should be in good shape.
I buy ice and store it in my cooler so it’s ready and waiting after my ride. Elsa is taking a nap in her stall, so I quietly take care of her studs and boots, making sure to include my immaculately coordinated blue and silver tape. We don’t often get to use tape at our standard one-day events, so this is the perfect occasion. I change into my own cross-country gear and saddle Elsa, making sure not to forget my favorite item: my Superman belt. I always listen to “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Disney’s “Mulan,” and I do so approximately four times, just for good measure. Shannon will be leaving the start-box right before I do, so we head up to the warm-up together.
My coach is show jumping her horse while we warm up for cross-country, so she’s enlisted the help of her friend and fellow professional, Edward Ewbank, to supervise us during warm-up. His gritty, honest approach is a welcome asset during those 20 minutes, as he has us make sure we’re attacking the fences in the right pace and balance. We jump a few fences each direction and then on an angle to confirm our horses’ accuracy. A jovial volunteer calls us down to the start box with a hearty “Good luck!” It’s time to go.
Elsa and I leave the start box. There’s something so special about a chestnut mare who loves her job, and she skips around the course with confidence. The cheers at the Head of the Lake are an incredible feeling, and she gallops on to finish in 5 minutes, 18 seconds: 13 seconds under the optimum time! I meet Edward and Shannon at the finish line.
I quickly pull off Elsa’s tack and take her to the wash racks. She seems thoroughly pleased with herself and cools out quickly, especially after her long hack back to the barns. I remove her studs and get her set up in her ice boots, where she’ll stand for two sets of 20 minutes to aid in recovery and reduce any inflammation. Her favorite gait is the halt, so icing is essentially a spa treatment in her mind. I apply some liniment and wrap her legs, and she returns to her stall to relax and rest before show jumping tomorrow.
The rest of the day after cross-country consists of more rounds of hand walking and feeding many, many peppermints. Friday will be Elsa’s first time show jumping after running cross-country, so it’s important she move around as much as possible to avoid stiffness or soreness.
In the meantime, we’ve got quite a spread set up in our tack stall, and since I haven’t eaten since breakfast, I’ll take advantage of the pita chips, hummus, fruit snacks, peanut M&Ms and wine!
Check cross-country scores, mainly to see which fences had been the most influential. We were placed around the middle of the pack after dressage (due to the aforementioned explosion), so although we climbed the leaderboard a tiny bit, I haven’t been too stuck on checking her placing, especially with this being her first big championship competition. We did find out that the Head of the Lake seemed to cause the most trouble, so I was incredibly proud of how boldly she jumped through that question.
All seven people from our barn, including family members and clients, trek down to watch my trainer compete a client’s young horse over the training level cross-country. She finished double clear as well. Time to celebrate a good day for us all.
Celebrate Ashley’s double-clear with some delicious food from the on-site vendor. Because we ate so late in the afternoon, we’ll head back to the campground and have appetizers and snacks, but probably won’t eat a full sit-down dinner to end our big cross-country day. We do so much munching throughout the day since we’re on the go that it often doesn’t end in a meal, but the wine is critical!
Head to the Rolex Stadium to walk our show jumping course. Our division goes at 10 a.m. Friday to wrap up this AEC experience. It looks good, and I feel ready to tackle it with Elsa.
Finish up with evening chores and night check. And, in true eventer fashion, the party always happens after a fantastic cross-country day. Cheers!