Author: Lillian Heard

11 Jan

Learning from My Mistakes (or Maybe Just Learning How to Make Mistakes)

Lillian Heard Lillian Heard 0 Comments

Lillian and Share Option Jog Rolex - photo by Cindy Lawler

It has been a very long time since I have written a blog post. So long, in fact, that I am a little embarrassed to start back up again. But since I’m fairly confident that my only current readership is immediate family (half of whom also act as my editors and are obligated to read this stuff), I feel okay about it.

I won’t even try to cover the events since my last post. (Moved back to America, started a business, went to a 4-star, acquired new horses, had some successes, cried over spilt milk a number of times…) Oh, look there, didn’t take as long as I thought it would. But I gotta tell you guys, there are some things that happened this past year that were pretty hilarious. Perhaps by recounting them here, we can all learn together and head into next year’s competition season with the confidence that these mistakes will never, ever, happen again. Seriously.

This past April I took Whitey, aka Share Option, to Rolex. Even writing it down, 8 months after it already happened, sounds crazy to me. I was driving through the gates of the Kentucky Horse Park three days before the first horse inspection and I could not believe it was happening. I had spent months prepping and conditioning my horse in every way while simultaneously preparing myself for the potential disappointment of not making it there (we all know how quickly plans change in this sport). Perhaps it would have been better had I spent those months visualizing being there and imagining the scenarios and situations. Because, let me tell you, when I finally arrived, I was like – Where am I and how did I get here?

I knew I was in trouble when it became super challenging to find the barns, find my stall, unload everything and get my packet. In my defense, the Kentucky Horse Park is oversized and teaming with activity. But really, these are things I do at so many events all year long – it shouldn’t have been quite so overwhelming. Between the enormities of the challenge I was facing, as well as the logistical problems created by simply never having been to Rolex before (even as a spectator), I was like a fish out of water. Imagine me like a tourist in New York asking how to find the Statue of Liberty. It’s a wonder I didn’t get mugged…

After finally settling in, I did manage to come up with a survival system without alerting my fellow competitors to the fact that I HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS GOING ON. I would casually say things like “oh, what are your plans for riding today” or “hey, let’s walk to this meeting together”. They all thought I was just really friendly and striking up a conversation but in reality I was thinking in my head “HELP ME, I don’t know where to go or what to do!” Great plan – up until the point that I was scheduled as the first rider of the second day of dressage. Hard to ‘follow’ someone when you are on first…

About half an hour before I was supposed to get on, someone mentioned to me that we were supposed to sew our competition number onto the saddle pad. What?! We quickly found a needle and thread and frantically sewed what we thought was my number onto my pad. I got on Whitey and made the 10 minute hack down to the warm up arena. I only ever allow about 20 minutes warm up because Whitey is a very relaxed horse and he gets lazy if I ride him for too long. Even still, I was the first person down there so I went straight to the ring reserved for the rider about to head down to the main arena.

Lillian Heard and Share Option at Rolex - photo by Cindy Lawler

After warming up for maybe 10 minutes, the ring steward arrives and tells me I am not allowed in this ring! I try to explain to her that I am the first rider of the day so I am, in fact, allowed in the ring. She looks at me in confusion and tells me that I am not scheduled to ride until this afternoon. Now I’m confused. I glance down at my number, which has been beautifully sewn onto my saddle pad. IT IS THE WRONG NUMBER. In my haste to get it on there, I had grabbed another competitor’s number from our shared tack room and sewn it onto my pad. Yep, that’s right. I had arrived at the dressage warm up at Rolex, an event in which I was only competing one horse, with the wrong number on my saddle pad. And only managed to figure it out 10 minutes before I needed to be in the ring. I am positive this is the first time something like this has ever happened at this event. So, I calmly walk over to the fence where about 100 people are already standing and watching me warm up and said to my crew “ummm, I have the wrong number on”.

Now, if you’ve ever been to Kentucky, you know that the barns are about 10 minutes away from the ring. My wonderful groom, Savannah, managed to get there and back in record time. Meanwhile, I am back in the warm-up ring and I couldn’t resist going over to my very focused friend Hannah Burnett in the ring next to me and tell her what I did. All the tension and nerves we were feeling just dissipated because we could not stop giggling hysterically. I spent the last 5 minutes before I went into the ring cutting the wrong number off and fastening my real number on (with a safety pin after all and not a needle and thread… the horror!) David was trying to tell me I still needed to canter, practicing collection and moving forward; the stewards were yelling at me to enter the ring and all I could do was get the silly number on. I literally picked up the canter from right where I was and headed down the chute into the ring for the biggest moment of my career to date.

Now I got into that ring, with the right number, and I did the test. To be honest, Whitey was great and I’m not sure a different warm up would have changed anything. I got through the dressage, I tackled the cross country (with one mistake that was all mine and not my horse) and I had a great show jumping round with one rail.

Show jumping at Rolex! photo by Cindy Lawler

Yes, it could have gone better. And yes, there were at least 10 more times that week where I did something really silly that only a first-timer would do. But, it was the most fun I have ever had and if there is anything I want to do again in my life, it is to go back and get another shot. And I am 100% sure that, when I get there, I will definitely, without-a-doubt, absolutely-not-no-way, wear the wrong number to dressage. Chances are still good I’ll grab the wrong number bib for cross country, use someone else’s saddle for show jumping, or somehow manage to mount the wrong horse… but I am positive I will never sew the wrong number to my saddle pad again. And I think that if I manage to learn from my mistakes and perhaps laugh at myself along the way, I’m still headed in the right direction.

Lillian

01 Jun

Flying Home

Lillian Heard Lillian Heard

I am sitting here in the Dublin airport awaiting my return flight home to Pennsylvania. For the past eleven days I have been traveling all over Europe looking at horses, spectating at LuMuhlen, and then looking at even more horses. The trip has been amazing. I have Phillip and Boyd to thank for organizing the whole thing and encouraging me to take the time to go and check out how the rest of the world does this sport. First off, I have to say I saw so many quality horses. You can ride a lot of horses in eleven days, let me tell you!

I started out flying into Paris where Henri Prudent had organized a friend of his, Joffrey Debut, to take me around France. Joffrey was great and I got to sit on some fabulous horses. He also made time for me to experience some of the French culture which by my rough estimation mostly includes eating ridiculously good food, drinking good wine, smoking cigarettes (I refrained from this activity), and staying up way too late. If I spoke the language (and I needed only 5 hours of sleep every night) I probably would have stayed in France and never come home.

It was also very interesting learning how the French produce their young horses. It is much more structured then in the States. This made my task of trying horses much easier because all the 6 year olds or all the 7 year olds had done more or less the same level of competition so I could measure them directly against each other. After 3 days and 8 cumulative hours of sleep, I jumped on a plane and headed to my next European destination: Germany.

Watching LuMuhlen was a serious education for me. First off, I was there to support my friends that were competing but I was also there to experience my  first overseas 4-star. I can tell you, these Germans know how to put on a good event. I watched everything, walked the course 3 times, and ran around the property all Saturday trying to catch as many rides as I could. To be honest everyone made fun of me the whole weekend because I left my clogs in France by mistake and only had flip-flops. So I spent essentially the whole (muddy) weekend in open toed shoes. Yes, I did think about just buying a pair of shoes but every time I went to spend 60 euro on a pair of shoes I didn’t really love I just could not do it. Practicality aside, I am a girl at heart and I WILL NOT buy a pair of shoes I don’t like. Shannon kept saying to me, ‘Hey Lillian, maybe you should wear some flip-flops to go walk the course, oh look…you have some already. Thank god’. In all seriousness, despite a dissapointing cross-country day, I think we all

26 Jul

The Big Move- Third Try’s the Charm…

Lillian Heard Lillian Heard

I am evacuating England. Well, that is what it feels like because as I leave, everyone else is arriving. You see, I like to be on the forefront of a trend and now that everyone is “doing” England, its time for me to get out and blaze a new trail.
Last weekend was going to be my final event in England before I returned home. I really thought it was not going to be canceled this time. We were due to leave on Friday because it was 6 hours away and I had early times on Saturday. About 4 hours down the road, we got a flat tire. Because we always try to be at least 5% prepared, we had a spare but no tools. I wasn’t going to let that stop me though. I pulled into the first turn-off from the highway, which happened to be a flower shop with some very disturbing lawn ornaments. At first I was fairly positive I was replaying some scene from the latest horror movie but 20 minutes later the kind owner had changed my tire. Back on the road, feeling rather full of myself for my quick turn around, I started hearing very strange noises from the lorry. There was some metal rod stuck in the undercarriage that was scraping along the road. Was I going to let this stop me from getting to this event? Nope, I slid underneath the lorry, which was actually very low to the ground and very difficult to fit under. All the while I was shouting things at Logan such as:
“Are you sure the parking break is all the way up”
 “Great, I even need to be skinny to fit under this lorry”
“ARE YOU DEFINITELY SURE THE PARKING BREAK IS ON BECAUSE I AM STUCK”
After a bit of trouble, I got the rod out from under the truck, took a picture of it on my iphone and sent it to my mechanic with this tag line…“Do I need this piece of equipment to drive?” He said he wasn’t sure if it was safe so, naturally, we kept going. At this point we were about twenty minutes away from the event and I thought we were home free.
That’s when I got the text. Who was it from? British Eventing. That’s right…British Eventing is so cool that they text people. I bet you can imagine what it said. All national classes at Great Witchingham have been canceled due to rain. The worst part was that one of the horses on the lorry was in an international class which means I had to stay at the event all weekend and NOT COMPETE. I was very angry and kept threatening to text British Eventing back and tell them what for. Cooler minds prevailed by explaining that no one would receive the text message if I sent it because British Eventing was not an actual person. I feel that this story is an allegory for my entire experience in this country. I have overcome serious obstacles only to be thwarted by the weather.  The only redeemable quality of the weekend was that Laura Collett let us stay in her lorry (which is nicer than any home I have ever lived in) and cooked for us. So basically I drove 6 hours to go on a vacation in Laura’s lorry. Great.
After another FAIL of a weekend, I felt very secure in my decision to leave the country and head back home. I planned on spending the last week packing but I DID make time to head down south and visit my compatriots one last time before they headed off for the Olympic village and I headed off for fair weather. It was Emma Ford’s birthday the night I went and of COURSE everyone was ready to celebrate so Nat, Will Faudree’s groom, organized a 20-person sit down dinner. Not an easy feat but if you know Nat there was no doubt it was going to come off. It was really fun and I have to say that all the riders seemed very relaxed if not a little bored and the horses seemed happy. Sara McKenna, Emma, Meg Kep, and I may (or may not) have then decided to go out on the town and may (or may not) have been bombarded by 18 to 20-something college students wearing not much more than their underwear. Meanwhile I was dressed in a long-sleeve button down and some boat shoes. It was NOT surprising when they tried to turn us down at the door. But that is a story for another time.
All in all, my last few weeks in England were about as successful as my British accent and so I am happy to report that I will be home soon. I am leaving the American Olympic team to hold up the “face of America abroad” in my absence. Perhaps I should lend them my tweed jacket…
Barnaby in his field…
 
23 Jun

The Highs and Lows

Lillian Heard Lillian Heard
Well everybody, I have an update on the subject of my show attire that was featured in my previous blog.
I bought a tweed jacket.
I know, I know. I was going to stick it out and remain true to my nation-specific sense of style but I broke down. You see when you first see the tweed, it looks really ugly but then EVERYBODY wears it and you just start to loose perspective. All of a sudden I am in the tent at the show saying to my friend, “Ohhhh, look at this tweed pattern. And those buttons…can you even believe the price? What a steal. Oh look, they have my size”. Then I think in my head, what is happening to me? Needless to say, I bought the jacket. At my next event I won the dressage on Barnaby with a 27 and then jumped double clear to win the class. Was it because of my superior horse training skills? Or was it because of the tweed jacket? Check out his picture and decide for yourself…
That business aside, I have even bigger and more exciting news (difficult to imagine, I know). After a phenomenal year abroad, I have decided to move back to the states. This might come as a shock to some of you who have heard me say things like, “I am a professional traveler and I really have no intention of ever coming home”. But I was offered a position I couldn’t turn down riding, teaching, and training at Bascule Farm in Poolesville, MD. This is the farm where I first learned to ride. When Julie Hagen, my first coach, called me up and told me she wanted me to set up shop with her back home, I thought “this is a once-in-a-lifetime offer”. A couple weeks ago I flew home to teach a clinic and was incredibly excited because this facility is unbelievable and the people are wonderful. So as of September 1st, I am officially accepting horses to train, students to teach, and really any other business that my expertise might allow (tweed jacket style tips, anyone?). As a family member so kindly put it,
“Oh, so you have decided to finally grow-up”
My response: “Oh, you mean my current mantra of ‘have horse, will travel’ is not a grown-up way of life”
Their response: “It’s not exactly that so much as your mantra of ‘I don’t care the conditions I am living under or the pay I am receiving as long as I am becoming a better rider’ that really sets you apart from the rest of us concerned about our FUTURE”
Me: “Well when you put it that way…”
         Do not fear. Since I am not moving back until September, there will still be plenty of international foolishness on my part before I return. Two weeks ago, I went to Tattersalls, the big three-day in Ireland, to help my friend Logan Rawlings (another ex-pat) and to visit with my Irish friends. On the way there, of course our truck broke down. After towing it back, borrowing a new lorry, and catching the next ferry to Ireland, we were on the road for twelve hours and arrived about 45 minutes before the jogs.
We had two horses, unbraided and dirty, that needed to be presentable for the 3-star jog. Typical Lillian, right? Logan of course was freaking out but as we pulled through the gates, two of my Irish friends, Annalena and Hugh were walking through the car-park. Within minutes, the horses were off and my friends were braiding and grooming and preparing them. In a shocking turn of events, we ended up being early for the jog. Of course, Logan thought I was some sort of celebrity. What I didn’t tell her was that we were just lucky that basically the only two friends I have were the two people we ran into when we entered the gates.
The Irish haven’t lost their charm and I had a great time catching up with everyone. Unfortunately, Logan and I had a horrible end to our week when her wonderful horse Harvey landed from a fence on cross country wrong and did irreparable damage to his leg. He had to be put down but let me tell you, both Logan and Harvey handled their pain with grace and class. I got to once again learn the lesson that this sport has the highest highs and lowest lows but it’s the character of the wonderful people involved that make the most desperate moments bearable.
 Looking to the future, I am moving Barnaby up to prelim at my next event. Tweed jacket at the ready, I couldn’t be more prepared. I also have plans to spend this Saturday night with my fellow blogger Meg Kep and the fabulous Sinead Halpin. It is going to be epic. I will be sure to have a few stories worth telling so stay tuned!

28 Apr

My First Event

Lillian Heard Lillian Heard

It is a very exciting time of year on both sides of the ocean. We have Badminton gearing up over here and Kentucky just around the corner back home. I am poised and ready because I am in England and it is the place to be. The Olympics are on everyone’s mind…teams, flights, tickets, horses, and medals.  The excitement is palpable. Well, call the press, everybody because I have big news of my own. I just did my first pre-novice (training) on Barnaby (which was also my first competition in England) and it was a success. What? This doesn’t seem as exciting in comparison to the 4-star events? Well you weren’t there and let me tell you it’s all relative and NOBODY takes eventing lightly in this country, no matter the level.
So, as you would expect, I was completely out of my element. The days prior to the event, everyone was telling me that Ascott-under-Wychwood was a perfect first event: “Oh, its very low key and you know, just in your backyard. What an easy introduction into the British eventing scene”. So I drive in and this “backyard” event has hundreds of big lorries, tents, vendors, clothing stores, candy shops, ropes, spectators and basically more excitement than any international event back home. I kid you not- the highest level was pre-novice. All I could think was, “oh no, I am definitely not going to fit in.”
I get out of the car and look around and immediately realize that I am totally out of my element. Even the easy parts were too hard for me- I couldn’t even manage to look like everyone else. Not one person is wearing anything that even remotely resembles my show attire. I do not have a tweed jacket. I was not wearing tan britches and I did not have a weird helmet on. You see in Ireland, some people wore clothes that resembled my attire. But let me tell you… not here. You know what they say, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. Well if you can’t “join ‘em”, than at least try to look like you never had any intention of joining them and you are distinctly and proudly American.
This is what they looked like….
And this is what I looked like…
D.I.S.A.S.T.E.R
(As a disclaimer, that is a picture of a model from the internet and was not taken at the event. I did not actually see anyone with hair like that, standing in that odd pose. Also, don’t ask me what I was doing in my picture because I have no idea.)
But, as one does, I carried on and I completed my dressage test, scoring a 29, which I was very happy with. I had one rail in the show-jumping and then easily jumped around the cross-country. All in all, I was very excited about my horse and how he was at the event. He is from this side of the world, so was clearly more prepared for the situation.
I, on the other hand, definitely have some work to do on my wardrobe and (even more shockingly) my demeanor. Nobody seemed to be laughing or having a good time. You see, I was prancing around doing whatever it is I was doing in these photos.
 Meanwhile everyone else was storming about saying things such as, “This horse is much sharper off the yard. Come back to my lorry and we will have tea and discuss how SERIOUSLY we need to take this pre-novice event”. And in the warm-up they were shouting “parallel” or “upright” and I am like “wait, which one is a vertical?”.
There is going to be a learning curve, just like there was in Ireland. But I am very confident with my skills at “going native”. I already have a friend that is going to lend me a tweed jacket.
So you guys over there can resume your Rolex projections and your Badminton forecasts. You can hem and haw over the Olympic teams and the prospective medal winners. But you know what? I am going to conquer the pre-novice level in England and I’m excited about it. Life has a funny way of bringing you right down to the start of things even when you are convinced you should be further along. But one of my favorite poems is “If” by Kipling and this excerpt says it all:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
So, check back with me later and I will let you know how it’s going. I also promise never to quote poetry again. I got carried away.
28 Apr

The Big Move

Lillian Heard Lillian Heard

So quite a bit has happened in the last month or two. I will start with the most important thing… I bought a horse!! Let me tell you about that and then I will tell you about how I moved to England. Yep, you read that right.  I’m making big life decision left and right.
It took me seven months to finally buy a horse, which was (to be honest) longer than expected but you see I have trouble committing to one designated life path. It’s like when I pack for a trip. I like to throw everything I could possibly ever need in a ridiculous, over-sized bag. Moving to Ireland? I better bring all my bathing suits. (Not a joke by the way. I did actually bring my bathing suits.)
Unfortunately, buying a horse isn’t like that. You actually have to decide what you need. You have to say, I value these traits over those. And to complicate matters further, you have the voices of your past and current coaches/mentors/friends lurking in your head. See if you can match the top professional with their theory:
“When I buy a horse, I know whether I want it after the first cross-pole it jumps”
“It’s a numbers game, quantity is important so diversify the qualities”
“Ehhhhh, bloody hell, you can make a good horse out of anything mate”
“Its all about the canter”
“Its all about the trot”
“You will know the minute you get on”
AHHHHH What does all this mean?! Nothing any of these people say makes sense to me and to make matters worse, they contradict each other. I have seen bad horses make good horses and good horses make bad horses and at this point I am so confused that I would buy a donkey just to have the decision made. There are certain qualities that make a four star horse. The problem is just about every top horse is on some level an exception to one of these rules.
            What I am trying to say here people, is we are competitors in a sport where the “best” is nearly impossible to define, completely subjective, and constantly changing. So, blindfold me, spin me around, and let me attempt to pin the tail on the donkey.
            Alright I am being dramatic, but can you see my point? Its like the cereal aisle at the grocery store. There is such a thing as having too many options. So, I know what you are thinking…how did I finally make my decision? I took all the advice that has been given to me by the smartest people in our sport, filtered it, and then forgot about it. I accepted that choosing a horse is intensely personal and probably the biggest predictor of my horse’s future success would be my own conviction in his ability to succeed. Therefore, as long as he is right for me, I have the best chance of making him right for the sport. And if not, sell and move on.
All of that is to say, I am very happy to announce that I own a 6-year-old named Barnaby.  He has been in a show-jumping yard so he has only completed 2 training level events. He is cheeky, very lovable, and in my opinion, super talented. I couldn’t be more excited about seeing how he progresses this year.
Oh, you want me to mention my move to England next? I feel you deserve a change of topic after reading the above paragraphs which now in retrospect is more like the rantings of a deranged lunatic who may or may not be packing for a trip and may or may not be shopping for cereal.
After 8 wonderful months in Ireland I decided that in order to make the most of my time abroad, I should broaden my experience by checking out another country. Carol was super supportive and helped me find a job with a kiwi rider based in the UK, Tim Rusbridge. In my own typical style, the whole move was kind of crazy. Essentially what happened was on Monday Carol and I discussed the idea of me going over to England, by Tuesday she had found someone looking for a rider, and by Wednesday night I had a text from her saying, “Shippers are coming tomorrow to take you to Tim’s”. My mother didn’t even know I was moving. I sent out a very dramatic email to my close friends and family that looked something like this:
Am leaving Ireland and moving to England. Don’t know when or where. Probably won’t have cell or internet. Will get in touch when I can.
Apparently in my panic over the move, I was unable to form grammatically correct sentences. Anyhow, the shipper arrived at Carol’s to take Barnaby and me to England. Somehow I accumulated an inappropriate amount of stuff for someone who is country hopping. When the shipper saw the 10 bags I was hoping he would take for me he said, “We are going to have to access the emergency only storage compartment”. No joke. The trip took about 9 hours and I rode in the middle between the two Irish gentlemen who ran the shipping company. As per usual, I was unable to understand anything they said to me because their accents. The trip was punctuated with awkward moments when they would ask me a question and I would just make up some random response. For example, John the shipper would actually say, “How long have you been in Ireland” and I would respond, “My horse’s name is Barnaby”. It is entirely possible that they thought I was not right in the head.
I arrived in my new country safe and sound. I have been here a week and everything is still very new but Tim runs a great operation and I am very impressed. I will be sure to report back and let you all know how I am faring in this new environment. Lots of love and thanks to all of my wonderful friends in Ireland that took such good care of me.
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01 Feb

Christmas, New Years, Vacation, and Back Again Or My Life since my last Blog Crammed into 2 Pages

Lillian Heard Lillian Heard

Once again, I have neglected my blog but after my recent return to the states for a wonderful vacation, I have a renewed desire to keep everyone updated of my shenanigans. The last time I blogged was two months ago so let me quickly catch everyone up to date.
The month of December was filled with horses and holidays. I will say one thing about the Irish people…They know how to celebrate Christmas. The holiday begins December 1st and ends after the New Year. I actually felt like I was running a holiday marathon and I was the only one who had not been training for the experience. You know how when you are away from home, the holidays just don’t seem as special? Well in this case, they seemed significantly MORE special. My wardrobe was inadequate for all the partying and so was my alcohol tolerance. By the end all I could think was, please let the partying stop.
             After an Irish New Year, I went back to America for a couple weeks vacation. The trip could not have been better timed. I have found that January is that time of year when most horse people get this feeling I like to call “the hamster wheel syndrome”. We have just emerged from December. A month that is cold and a little boring but the holidays keep everybody’s spirits up and the prospect of a new year is exciting. Then January arrives, we start to move our horses South, or for others we keep our heads down and train away at home. But either way, this general sense of redundancy niggles at the back of our minds. Are we really going to go through this all over again? In this sport, April can be fantastic and by August, your dreams are shattered. The highs and lows of each year seem so daunting in January that so many people whisper in their minds, can I really handle this all again? We all feel like that damn hamster, potentially running towards absolutely nothing.
Now, luckily for everyone involved, the first competition of the season or perhaps that first really good lesson blows our negative thoughts away. We become reenergized and reconnected with the stubborn optimism that seems to be required of a rider. But I am not going to lie; January can be really tough. My trip helped me battle against this hamster wheel syndrome because it not only gave me a break from the grind, but I got to see all my friends training and planning for the year ahead.
             I took a tour of the east coast with my cohort, Jennie Brannigan, and was really inspired by the training going on down in Ocala at Sharn Wordley and Scott Keach’s place. Jennie’s perpetual drive to take the next step in her career was just the motivation I needed. I think even if somebody told that girl she was running on a wheel she would say, “So? At least I am not standing still!” That’s the kind of attitude that makes a champion. And then of course the two of us got into plenty of trouble too. (See Jennie’s Blog for details on how many things really went wrong in our travels)
So after catching up with everybody, I hoped on a plane and returned back to Ireland feeling very excited about getting back to the business at hand…training horses. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I have a tendency to jump the gun a bit. And in my typical fashion, I returned to Ireland thinking the season would be starting. In reality I found winter in full force. I am not sure why I thought I would come back to spring weather since Ireland actually doesn’t have spring (or summer for that matter). I’ve rebounded quickly though and have been riding around the indoor at Fernhill imagining myself to be in the main ring in Wellington. Don’t worry, I haven’t put the white britches on yet but I am considering it just to further my own delusions of grandeur. The only thing holding me back is that there is actually nothing I hate more than wearing white pants. (Who ever thought that was a good idea anyway?) Actually there is one thing I hate more…wearing white capris?
All joking aside, I am excited about the year to come even if I have no idea what it holds. So what is the next step? Hamster wheel or not, it is time to start running. (I mean that figuratively of course because in reality I hate running.) Stay tuned…
29 Nov

As Winter Sets In

Lillian Heard Lillian Heard

The season has officially ended over here.  The competition season that is. A new season of sorts has just begun. It is that time of the year when EVERYONE comes to Ireland to look at horses. I swear to you I have seen a greater variety of American event riders here in Ireland than I ever did back home. The best part is, no matter how little I really know the people who have come over, I act as if they are my long lost best friends.
Let me give you an example of an interaction. Now, keep in mind, I am always wearing this white USA hat because it is the only hat I have and it is always raining so I have to wear it. Plus I enjoy stubbornly holding on to my identity. As if my hat is saying, “yeah, I’m American, you won’t shame me into denying it”. Anyhow, this baseball cap means that anyone coming in can instantly identify me as Carol’s American girl (more of an official name over here than even “Lilly”).
So in walks the client and they immediately say, “ohhhh, you are Lillian, right?”
My reaction: “Oh my gosh, AMERICANS!!!!!! IT IS SO SO GREAT TO SEE YOU. How are you? How was your trip? I didn’t even realize you were coming?”
Keep in mind that I generally don’t even know half the people beyond the faint recollection of seeing them at events. They probably are thrown off by my over-enthusiasm at seeing them and wonder, “Geez, I didn’t think we knew each other that well but maybe I am forgetting something”. You see I just have this odd patriotic feeling that comes over me and makes me feel like anyone with my nationality is actually a member of my family. It is completely over the top. The good news is my enthusiasm normally wins them over and they soon begin to act as if they too believe us to be best friends. Then the girls I work with say, “wow, they must be your really good friends from back home”. I respond, “ehhhh, I am actually not sure we have ever met before”.  Just imagine what happens when an American comes that I actually am close with. My behavior borders on creepy. All I can say is I’m working on getting myself under control.
Even though we are not competing anymore, life at Fernhill remains very exciting because of all this activity. New horses are coming in all the time which is great because there is nothing quite like getting on a horse for the first time. You know that feeling when you have absolutely no idea what is going to happen? It reminds me of when I would watch game shows and I always wanted the contestant to choose what was behind the curtain instead of what they already had. That is what riding here is like. I am always getting the thrill of seeing what is behind the curtain.
They had a big end of the year Eventing Ball that I was lucky enough to attend. It was very exciting and I am not quite sure why we don’t do something like this at home. It was a formal event and, oddly enough, I did not pack my formal ball-gown when I came over. (Although I did pack a bathing suit? Why would I ever need a bathing suit in Ireland?) I had to buy a dress, and shoes, and jewelry, and makeup. I got all done up and headed down to the ball. Now first off, I would like to say that it was a great party. I may or may not have thrown some of my moves down on the dance floor. Those of you who have seen me dance know what I am talking about. For those of you who haven’t, imagine someone who can’t dance. That’s me.  
BUT the problem was, I once again was completely unable to keep pace with the Irish. I kid you not, the party ended at 7 am when they had to kick people out of the hotel bar so they could clean it for the coming day.  I think at about one in the morning (when dinner had just finished being served), I was sitting on the linoleum floor of the lobby nearly crying because I had had enough. Meanwhile everyone else was just starting to get into it.  All I can say is these people are legends and although they are engaging in potentially self-destructive behavior, they are a GOOD TIME.
So here I am, still in Ireland, riding, dancing, and acting a fool. A few parting notes: the weather has been better here than at home. I don’t know why I feel the need to do a daily weather comparison but it makes me happy. I have also adopted the barn cat as my own personal pet and due to a brief gender confusion, called him Petunia. I am refusing to back down from that name. 
Until next time!
07 Oct

My First 3-day Event in Ireland…Or how NOT to keep a low profile.

Lillian Heard Lillian Heard

It feels like a lot has happened since the last time I wrote a blog. The good news is I am still in Ireland, I still work for Carol, and I still seem to be making a fool of myself on a regular basis…which means plenty to entertain you with!
Two weeks ago I headed off to Ballindenisk to compete in the CIC** on Primus. Fraser was riding a few of Carol’s horses in the 3-day as well so we all loaded up in the Fernhill truck for a week of fun and sun. Oh wait, I mean rain. Now, Ballindenisk is like the Fair Hill of Ireland. Everyone has been there a million times. Even though they knew I was American, people couldn’t believe I had never been here before.
Me: “I only arrived a couple weeks ago”
The Irish: “Yes but surely you have jumped this road crossing before. Everybody has jumped it. It has been here forever.”
Me: “Well, I have never been here before”
The Irish: “Hmm, I have never known anyone who has never been to Ballindenisk”
My plan was to just fade into the routine of the International event, a routine I know well. I was going to just keep a low profile, maybe make some new friends, but absolutely NOT don my metaphorical “Scarlet letter” that brands me as the new American rider that doesn’t quite seem to ever know what is going on.
And then I decided to just do me instead.
My dressage test was so disastrous that in retrospect, it can only be seen as comedic. I was unable to bring my top hat with me to Ireland because of limited packing space. I decided to borrow one from Carol because she has quite a few.
(Note: When I made this decision I knew that it might be problematic because for some obscure reason I have never been able to find a top hat that sits properly on my head. They all fall off.  If anyone has any suggestions on how to solve this problem please let me know. I have thought of everything obvious to try to keep it on…padding, sticky tape, sticky spray, pins. I am one FEI event away from using a chinstrap, and nobody wants to see that.)
Anyways, back to my story. I was the first competitor in the CIC in the ring. To make my long and boring warm-up story short, I entered the ring 100 percent positive my hat would fall off but I also knew it would not eliminate me so I had no other option than to be the girl who’s top-hat falls off. Well I made it about 3 feet into the arena before it flew off. I thought I would just shake it off and continue on. I halted and then tracked right. I bet you guys can guess what happened next. The bell rang and my judge informed me I was supposed to track left. I tell her ok, and then I circle around to turn left and continue on. But here is the problem…as I am turning left I am also thinking that I am completely sure that in the test I had learned you were supposed to track right. I track left anyway and begin the test cringing, absolutely positive that I had learned the wrong test. Bell rings.
Judge: “You were supposed to traverse, not shoulder-in”
Me: “Umm, I learned the wrong test”
Judge: “Are you sure you aren’t just frazzled because your hat flew-off”
Me: “Well, I am frazzled because of that but also because I definitely don’t know the test”
Judge: “I regret to inform you that you are eliminated”
As I walked out of the ring with my hairnet flopping in the wind, I really felt bad for the ring steward who had to pick up my top-hat, hand it to me, and apologize for not only losing my hat but for being ELIMINATED. I was mortified. New plan for the day: catch the first plane back to America, dig myself a hole, and live in it until horses were extinct.
As I walk out of the ring I notice that every rider who was warming up for their test is off of their horses and frantically thumbing through the test booklet. What’s going on? I realized that I was not the only one who had learned the wrong test. They had changed the test the week before and many of us were unaware of the switch. I have never been so happy to be working for Carol Gee. I explain to her what is going on and she marches up to the officials, demanding I be able to learn the test and ride again. There is a lot of discussion, hemming and hawing, threats from Carol. They say that the change was announced in the briefing. And here is where I was saved…a simple technicality… CIC competitors are not required to be at the briefing!
Well, I was given about 8 minutes to learn the new test, that I had never practiced, and go back into the ring. I sort of learned it, practiced one of the moves and marched into the arena again. This time I was wearing my tails and my hunt cap. I gave a fleeting thought to being embarrassed by my fashion faux pas but then I thought that really “faux pas” should probably be my middle name. Ok, after it was all said and done, I did have one error but I got a score of 56. I was very happy with this given the circumstances.
The fall out? Everybody at the event heard about what happened and felt so terrible for me. Great. So much for keeping a low profile. I came back to the barn and Annalena who was helping us out that week said, “When I heard what happened I almost just left the event all together” I cracked up because if that was her reaction, imagine ME.
Luckily I had a great cross-country ride and great show jumping round as well. I also met tons of very cool people. Let me tell you, these Irish know how to party at an event. They had a proper pub set up on the grounds in the basement of the barn, with a full bar and bartender. They also had a poll dancing competition? I called it a night Saturday night at 11 because I wanted to be well rested for the next day. Also because I wouldn’t be the only one scarred if I ended up on the poll that night. One of the girls came back at 2 am from the party. The next day someone said to her,
“You turned in early last night!”
My response was, “Since when is 2 am early?”
Her response: “Since the party goes until 5 am”
What?!? And these people can still ride the next day? Oh dear, if this is what it is going to take to make friends with the Irish event riders I am not going to make it.
So I am still pretty positive that Ireland is going to be the death of me. Whether it is death by embarrassment, death by horse, or death by partying cannot be determined yet. You will all be happy to know that I have been practicing my leg up and I am slowly improving. The operative word here being “slow” but let us remain positive!
2009 Gap Newport Pike
Cochranville PA 19330
Phone: 301-938-4840
Lillian J Heard Eventing