Author: Lillian Heard
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.
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.
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.
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