I honestly have been trying to write this blog for a few days and it seems every time I try, I have a mixture of emotions that I struggle to put into words. It seems crazy that last week I was in France representing my country at the World Championships. The result—not optimal, and the experience I am still digesting.
I was paired with the five best teammates I could imagine, a phenomenal coach and a horse-of-a-lifetime, seemed a recipe for success. But a comment made by veteran teammate Phillip Dutton stood out in my head at a pre-game chat.
He said, “Be ready for things to not go according to plan; be ready to compete and fight through things not being perfect.” I thought on that for a while, reflecting on other competitions where I had formulated a system to control as many variables as I could because, to be honest, it was all about me.
So there we were in France and I am representing my country and Phillip could not have hit the nail more on the head… slowly, things from the footing to our team order of go started slipping out of our control. I have never fought through so many things not going quite right at a competition, and I don’t think I could have without being warned, and the strength of our team.
We were in bronze medal position after dressage with the Team looking fantastic. But looming in the back of our minds was the amount of rain the cross-country had gotten, paired with the brutal championship track. Buck was the first of the day—an unfortunate position with no one knowing how the horses would handle the ground. The heavy going was just too much for Reggie who was jumping his heart out.
By the time I headed to the warm-up, barely any horses had made it home without penalties. I felt sick walking to the start box (that is not unusual) but it would not be long before one lapse in focus found Tate and me in a hell of a position. I was galloping to the fourth fence which was a corner combination, one I actually was not particularly worried about. I remember being three or four strides out and realizing Tate had not even seen it. I don’t know if it was the crowd or just lack of focus, but when I put by spur on he ran down the angle of the corner, and that was it.
I had actually had a conversation with Kim Severson a few days earlier cursing myself for not entering Burghley. That way, if there was a problem early I could pull up and re-route, being that I was an individual and not on the team. She looked me square in the face and said, “You do not do that here. This is a World Championship. If you have a problem early, you kick on home and get it done.”
Thank God she said that to me because at that heart-sinking moment, I made a decision to get this thing done and prove that this track was jumpable to my teammates back in the barn. This was the right decision for me, seeing as it was my first championship. The course was a fight from then on. The option at the corners was two massive tables that if you didn’t get a running start at seemed even bigger. Tate was jumping very carefully and it took until almost the fifth minute to get into some kind of groove. The footing was like a plowed field in places; dealing with that and blind turns typical of a Pierre course, Tate’s confidence was not booming. But he is a damn good horse. Every time from then on when I said go he went, although he was not thrilled about it.
I had a huge sense of relief when I crossed the finish, disappointment and a number of other emotions would follow, but the first was relief. The rest of the day took its toll and unfortunately our team was out of contention early on. It was a very long day. Thank God there was a light at the end of the day when Boyd brought home a clear and safe round on Shamwari, and we all celebrated in his victory. We all started the day together and finished the day no different. We all were absolutely gutted at the overall result but we stayed completely united, which I think is a rarity. The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur—packing and getting organized to completely change venues for the show jumping; one of the many unusual aspects on the organizing at this WEG. The horses trotted up at 7:30 a.m. and were on a truck headed to Caen an hour-and-a-half-away for show jumping.
The stadium was unreal and the crowd was electric. When we walked the course, the crowd was going wild, ready for the show to start. All of our horses jumped well. Tate jumped a lovely round but I made a bit too much of an adjustment coming around to the triple, and he had the second element down and also a roll back oxer I just couldn’t quite keep him straight and he tipped it. He truly jumped a classy round after the battle we had fought the day before. I gave Tate a deserved pat and finished my first World Championships with different eyes than I had begun.
I am so proud to have been part of this team. There will be a lot of negative talk but to quote my buddy Buck Davidson, “People who know don’t talk and people who talk don’t know,” We all will be and have been staying up at night rehashing and regrouping. We handled defeat with grace, we know what happened and we know and believe we are not far away.
A huge thank you to my sponsors who have all stuck with me from the beginning, Megan Kepferle who is with Tate and I every step of the way, to my owners who have been riding the roller coaster every day and always have wonderful words to pick me up if I started fading, my family who –in a way only family can—cried every tear with me good or bad.
And to my wonderful teammates and my wonderful horse, I’ll go to battle with you any day.