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

October 7, 2011 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!
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