I woke up this morning with a feeling of incompletion after cross-country at the Pan American Games. Twenty-four hours ago I couldn’t sleep or eat. I woke up with clammy hands before my alarm. I was ready for the day.
When we arrived at La Hipica Club, we loaded the horses into trailers and took all our supplies over to Santa Sofia Country Club, where the cross-country was to be held. I got on for a quick ride when I got there to feel the footing and get a little air in my horse’s lungs.
I kept reminding myself that we were ready for this event, ready as ever, and more importantly, that we could do it. I felt the same way walking around the barns yesterday as I did the first time I went novice at Ram Tap Horse Trials in Fresno. I remember I was so sick I could barely stand up straight, and I was excited with so much anticipation.
I walked out to watch some riders take on the course early. In complete honesty, when I walked the course in previous days, the course looked challenging, a true CCI** championship with some three-star questions. I didn’t know how everyone would fair. After the first couple horses, I was still very nervous, but as the day progressed so did the riding as horse-rider teams were taking the course head on. My confidence grew exceedingly at this, but as my mother kept reminding me, “I had to stick to MY plan.”
The audience was wild. There were more than 15,000 people there. They surrounded the water complexes, covered the gallop lanes on either side, and had noise making machines I’d never heard before. The fence judges blew whistles as we galloped up to the fences. It looked like the big time events, Rolex and Burghley, look on television, except this time the course was covered with my new friends and undiscovered talent. It was quite surreal.
When it was finally time to go, I suited up and sat with Derek, calming my mind and preparing myself for the jumps ahead of me. Bea told me to keep my mind focused on the jump in front of me so as to not get distracted with the crowds.
Ginger hit the warm-up and was good, but I was unfocused. I was getting too excited and losing my concentration. As I calmed my mind and took a deep breath before each fence, the distances came naturally and things started coming back to normal. We gave Ginger a short walk before I went into the start box; she was wild and on the muscle. She knew that this is what we had done all those gallops and swims for, this is where all the training was going to count, and it was time to show the world what we were made of.
I left the box focusing on fence 1. When I hit the backside of this fence, Ginger was unclear about where to go and was a bit awkward to get through our first narrow turn. All the lanes had string to mark where to go, and this was something very new for us because it’s important to know exactly where each stride will be within the lane. She was strong and full of running. I kept hearing Derek telling me to keep her at an even rhythm and not waste my horse in the first few minutes. So, I slowed Ginger down and came to jump 2, where she jumped, but not right out of the stride. On the backside of the fence, I gave her a tap with the whip to remind her today is not the day for games; today we are here to make things happen. She was good for the lesson because the next fence she was on the money.
Our first combination was amazing and each jump following. Honestly, the next fence was better than the last. I started realizing that we belonged here. As we got to one of the major galloping lanes and one of the combinations I was most nervous for, people started screaming at me to go and do well. The cheering exhilarated me. It was the most amazing feeling. 10 ABC was the combination I was most worried about. It was a roll top bounce to a 5’6” drop and then four to five strides to a left corner (my arch nemesis). I got Ginger back plenty early because there were trumpets screeching around me, which I suppose was for encouragement, but it was hard to say. Ginger jumped down the banks well and locked onto the out and took me there without even a question.
I knew at that point that Ginger wanted this just as much as I did. The next elements on course were even better. She took everything out of stride and was honest and full of energy. We were on top of every minute marker. As we hit the ground from our last water complex to head down to the finish line with three more gallop fences and one more combination, I thought, “We can do this!” As I came to the gallop fence down the hill I lost my concentration for one second, literally one, and got to a downhill table on a long stride. After galloping for eight minutes, even though Ginger felt full of running, it was too much for her. She second-guessed the distance, and we tumbled on the landing side of the fence. As I was landing out of the saddle on the backside, I was more upset with myself than anything. I was angry that I made that decision.
The walk back to the barn was horrendous. People were asking to take pictures with Ginger and me, and I couldn’t even look at them because I was so disappointed in myself. When I got back to the barn, I sat in my tack room. I cried, of course, but only for a minute or two, because I wasn’t sad; I was mad that I lost concentration for a second. We were up there playing with the big dogs; I was turning into somebody.
It took me a few hours, but I realized some things that comforted me. Ginger was incredible out there. She was the best she has ever been. She had the drive and the desire to get there. I know she wanted to show her international flair, and she owned every ounce of it.
As I walked around the barns, I received hugs and encouraging words from my Latin American friends. It made me realize I have learned so much from this experience. It has changed my life. I have met people that I truly admire and appreciate. I realized that going to the Olympics is not that far out of reach. And, I have gotten the chance to experience what we all work so hard to hopefully achieve one day: a major international competition. If anything, yesterday did not get my confidence down, but raised it through the roof. I realized I can be a big player in this game too. Yesterday made me hungry for more. I will be back again in this scene and ready.
At the end of the day, one of my favorite equestrians as a little girl, David O’Connor, came to me and put his arm around me. He asked me what happened, and I told him that I took a long one to a table downhill. He showed me a scar on his wrist and told me that it matched one on his ankle that he received taking the long one to a downhill roll top at the Pan Am Games in the 90s when he was winning. It made me feel thankful for the people in this sport. Their willingness to share in our downfalls only to help us get back up and realize it is not the end. I appreciated his encouragement so much.
I am beyond thankful for this experience. I have learned so much. I am ready for my next shot at this, and I will come back fighting. I want to say thank you to everyone who helped me get here. Thank you to my parents, my groom, Kristin Cook, my coaches, the Puerto Rican federation for believing in me, and my friends at home who have helped me get to this place.
This has been the chance of a lifetime, and I hope it will be just the beginning of more to come.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time,
Ginger & Lauren