There are so many moments on the job as a reporter for the Chronicle that make me go, “How in the world did you wiggle your way into this one?”
It’s a very odd and wide cross-section of humanity the horse world inhabits. You have these very wealthy people and celebrities at one end that you interview and photograph and write about, and then you have your own riding friends with whom you crack open a beer and go cavorting around the fields on your half-Friesian.
We travel to these obscenely fancy places like the Hamptons, Central Park and Paris, and most of the downtime I have at those shows is spent checking my bank account online to see if I can afford to pay rent next month AND go to this music festival. I once had to stop on the side of the road because my 1999 Ford F150 (whom I lovingly call Brenda) started smoking on the highway driving to Ocala, Florida, for the Live Oak horse show, and I used the opportunity to pop open my laptop on the hood and call a billionaire in Europe for an interview about their recent Olympic horse purchase. That image pretty much sums up the hilarious dichotomy of the world we write about and our own lives.
Because we’re in the media, we also occasionally get invited to do really cool things, which we then write about, and at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event the media were invited to drive a Land Rover around the cross-country course with Capt. Mark Phillips.
You read that correctly. Someone wanted to hand me—the 20-something who once bought a $30 shadbelly and colored the buttons black with a Sharpie—the keys to a luxury SUV, turn me loose on the cross-country course, and Mark Phillips would be riding shotgun. I’ve already decided my autobiography will be titled “How Did This Idiot Get To Do All This Cool Stuff: A Case Study.”
I’m like an alley cat someone invited inside, slapped a press credential on, and set loose in a very fancy house. I’m just waiting for one of the Men In Black to show up and say, “This has all been a terrible misunderstanding. The universe meant to assign you part-time work at a Wendy’s drive thru,” and zap me to a more fitting existence. But until they show up, let’s go drive a Land Rover with the Capn’!
Land Rover supplied their Discovery model for me and Eventing Nation’s Leslie Wylie to drive around the course—a four-wheel-drive, 340 horse power, V6 turbo charged engine encased in the kind of luxurious leather that just smells like it was tanned in money. I took the first turn at the wheel, and cruising up and down hills off road around the course in that thing felt like sledding down a velvet hill on a stick of butter.
We don’t go off roading in ol’ two-wheel-drive Brenda the truck anymore because the first time we did it we got her stuck in a perfectly flat field at a music festival and had to be pushed out by the tiny town’s entire fire department. The second time she was spinning her wheels in the equally flat horse pasture for three hours when we were trying to embark on an 18-hour drive to Florida. The third time was here at Land Rover Kentucky when an aggressive parking attendant tried to get me to park on the grass the day after it rained, and when I went to reverse and straighten out I was literally spinning my wheels in a 10-foot patch of grass surrounded by pavement.
On the bright side, I don’t feel the need to visit the chiropractor after driving Brenda around town because every bump in the road both re-aligns your spine and nearly shakes your teeth right out of your head!
As far as Brenda’s interior goes, she also is decked out in leather, but I would say hers is more “authentically distressed” than luxurious, as in she has been stressed to the point of having gigantic holes in both front seats. To prevent sinking into said holes never to be seen again, there are blankets held on the seats with bungee cords. I know, I know, I’m pure class. Where is my yacht sponsorship deal?
There are a lot of pop songs that tap into the Land Rover brand, and it’s easy to see why. You feel like you are IN a rap song cruising around in that thing, doing that cool-no-smile nod at people out the window, rocking your $10 gas station sunglasses. Leslie and I tried to get Mark to sing along to the great Nelly’s opus “Ride Wit Me” as we were driving between combinations on course. Mark still did not feel the need to join Leslie and I in a rousing chorus of “HEYYY, MUST BE THE MON-NAYY,” so Leslie and I carried the carpool karaoke team on that one.
It’s refreshing to drive a car with a functioning stereo—the Discovery’s has a Meridian sound system that the company website says will, “Bring the authentic taste of an original performance to your Land Rover Vehicle.”
Brenda the truck also has a very authentic vibe about her sound system in that she adds her own boisterous crackle backtrack to whatever you’re listening to if she’ll play anything at all. I do not understand why the temperature affects my radio, but Brenda will only play music when the temperature is above freezing. There are a couple of weird things like that on Brenda that are inexplicably linked—when my heater core blew as I was driving to Ocala, the driver side window also decided to stop working, necessitating opening the door at all drive-thrus and telling parking attendants at the Live Oak horse show to suspend their disbelief, because this rust bucket did in fact have a media parking pass.
Before Leslie and I got to drive the Discovery around the cross-country course we got to take a full-size Range Rover around the driving obstacle course—Leslie took the wheel on that one, because I forgot my wallet at home, and they required a driver’s license. (I have both flown through New York City and spent an entire weekend in the Florida Keys after forgetting my wallet places, so I’m adept at functioning sans identification.)
The driving instructor sat shotgun and was explaining the various features of the car to us, including this absolutely massive center console that was tricked out with removable cup holders, an enormous storage space, and a personal ATM machine probably—I don’t know, it was like a closet-in-Narnia cavernous space. No one knows what magical things that console is hiding.
And then there is Brenda—Brenda had a very functional center console until I rolled up to a horse show and panicked that I couldn’t find my Coggins and opened it with too much force and literally ripped the top of it off, so now it can’t hold anything, and if I ever get pulled over my insurance and cards are just littered all over the floor in the back. That will surely endear me to a police officer. It’s fine though because we often flip the center console up to turn the front seat of the truck into a bench and fit three people, so we can cruise to the bars at night in style. They won’t ever write a song about how our crew rolls up to da club, but you can bet someone at that bar is going to save you in their phone as “weird old truck girl.”
The dash on the Discovery was like next generation space shuttle cool, too. It was a maze of screen and knobs and buttons that made me feel like I was at the helm of a star destroyer or something. Brenda has a lot of buttons on her dash too, like the one that flips your cassette tape over to the B side, or the one that switches between CDs in your disc changer.
The Land Rovers all come in these crazy cool colors that have names that sound like what celebrities would name their children: Carpathian Gray, Santorini Black, Loire Blue. Brenda has her own unique color too—I believe she was maroon as a young truck lady, but the years have not been kind to her, so it’s more of a Roasted-By-The-Sun Rust. We’ll call it “The Elements Effect.”
The moral of this story is dream big, kids—if this idiot somehow ended up cruising around in a Land Rover with Mark Phillips, literally anything is possible!