Ham Is Better Than Turkey, But Horses Are Better Than Any Food

Nov 22, 2011 - 5:21 AM
Sinead Halpin. Photo by Samantha Clark.

People keep asking me what I’m doing for Thanksgiving. I keep asking, “When is Thanksgiving?”

This time of the year is about taking some time out from the event season to be a “real person.” I’ll be honest, I’d rather listen to Foster The People’s new tune than the Mariah Carey Christmas music that every grocery store, Starbucks and gas station parking lot is belting out.

I find myself smiling and nodding about usual November chats, “Are you going home for Christmas?” or “Do you like turkey or ham more?” Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “When can I get to Wellington? I need to get into the show jumping arena!” and “I need to find a better hill to gallop on come April,” and “What if the weather’s wet in the spring when we get home from Florida, or worse, what if it’s too hard?” and “The Olympics are less than a year away..”

Wait… rejoin the conversation… “Umm, ham. I really like ham better than turkey.”

I’m not alone in my quest for world domination in 2012! I think the average eventer is going a bit stir crazy, whether they’re focusing on winning the AECs next year or competing in London.

When I say “world domination,” I mean trying to figure out how to shave a few points off that dressage test (I only did 4 ½ steps in the rein back at Burghley, I missed a change, and I didn’t have enough angle in my right-to-left half pass… I could go on for a long, long time), Googling Anne Kursinski riding in a grass arena over grand prix fences to study the fastest and most stylish way to keep the rails up (grass and I don’t get along… but I want to work on our friendship), as well as watching every single Burghley video trying to figure out where I lost my 12 seconds on the 11:40 course.

(Conclusion: I almost fell off in the road crossing… took me a bit to get back upright [5 sec.], I set up too much in the arena… he was a bit tired, and I was paranoid about the upright rails [4 sec.], he knocked the railroad crossing fence hard and drifted left after the fence [2 sec.], I added a stride at the bending tables before the leap [1 sec.].)

Take that thought process, multiply it by the hundreds of horse-and-rider combinations overanalyzing last year’s competitions in order to succeed in WORLD DOMINATION in London next year, and the result is one heck of a remix holiday tune.

This past Sunday I hoped in my car at 6 p.m. in Massachusetts headed back to New Jersey after teaching a two-day clinic. I was surprised with several texts congratulating me on the USEF A-Squad training list. I was all alone, but I have to admit I had a childlike smile on my face for the next five hours.

Now there’s a lot of debate on what these lists mean. Literally, they are qualified horse-and-rider combinations that the selectors think fit the mold to bring home team medals at competitions. But these lists do need to be taken with a grain of salt. At the end of the day, they’re lists based on a fair amount of qualifications but also on opinions. And opinions can be proven wrong.

This time last year, I got kicked off the B list and put on what felt like probation (the Developing Riders list). I don’t say this in an unappreciative way, because I’m aware that I was still very fortunate to be put on any list that kept me in the loop. But it was off season, so I had time to sit and stew about the situation without actually being able to do anything productive. Dangerous.

The action I did take was to call David O’Connor—he would shed some light on this current wrongdoing! I recognized that I had three rails down in Holland, but this was not normal, my horse had shown so much promise, and I had a few excuses up my sleeve for the rails. After I harped on and on to David, he finally just told me I was talking too much and to put my head down and get to work. Conversation done.

David also told me in the year he won Olympic gold he was not on any winter training list. He gave me that little bit of inspiration to help me shut up. Throughout the past year I learned to go about my business a bit more quietly. If only I had learned that in my early 20s, I would have saved myself and others a lot of grief! But that’s another blog.

I know there’s a lack of transparency in the selecting process that leads to a lot of debate. Most of us competing at the advanced level, as well as those wanting to believe in the USA’s chances at success, have experienced frustration over this. I know that I’m very fortunate to have the selectors’ nod of approval for now, but as much as the lists are supposed to be about the future, they’re based on the results in the past.

I remember in 2005, I was competing at the Radnor CCI** on a fabulous horse named Tommy 11. Due to weather, they switched cross-country to Sunday, and I was in third place headed out on the final phase, not far behind the leader. Someone asked me if I was nervous. I remember responding, “Yes, but I wouldn’t trade this position for the world. The position I’m in right now gives me a real chance, and that’s worth any butterflies I’m experiencing right now.”

I’m proud of last year, and therefore proud of being named to the A list, but I’m more excited about the fact that I have a very capable horse and am feeling confident in our ability to improve. I’m nervous about what lies ahead in the next year, but I recognize I have a chance. So I’m going to get into the holiday spirit, turn on Pandora holiday rewinds and start watching all last year’s competitions!


Sinead Halpin Equestrian


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