The USEA has followed along with Cortney McDaniel and her horse, Charlotte the eventing Clydesdale, on their journey to compete at the Novice Three-Day USEA Classic Series Event at The Event at Rebecca Farm. Click here to meet Charlotte and Cortney and click here and here to read more about their journey.
The thrill of eventing is an adrenaline rush I have never experienced before in my life. Setting the goal to become the very first Clydesdale to compete in a long format three-day event was easy to write down on paper but it has been a challenging two years of preparation. Charlotte and I would not be here without the help of our trainer, family, friends, our vet and farrier, and of course all of the Team Charlotte fans that have supported us along the way. The weeks leading up to Rebecca, the hours traveling and preparing, and the week of fun in the beautiful state of Montana would not have been possible without the huge support team behind the very first Clydesdale to compete in a long format three-day and no better place to achieve that goal than the magnificent Rebecca Farm.
Our week leading up to the event was nerve wracking. We were still on the waitlist, fingers crossed that a spot would open up. Along with that I still had work, home life, and preparation for the email that we were off the waitlist. Charlotte and I practiced our new dressage test and continued our endurance training. I made lists of things we needed for the long drive and the eight days away from home and started packing. The email finally arrived and we were on the road to Montana!
Taking in the Big Sky scenery. Photo courtesy of Cortney McDaniel.
The morning of our departure, Charlotte decided she needed to stretch her legs and took off running toward her pasture for one last blade of grass before the long drive. Our 10 hours of traveling quickly turned into 12 when we blew a tire on the hot pavement just outside of Ritzville, Washington. Multiple stops along the way to give the horses water, extra hay, and of course a few treats, we made it to Rebecca Farm. That moment continuing down the driveway to your stall, staring at the beautiful facility and all the work and dedication put into it, was the realization that we made it. Charlotte was here!
We arrived a few days early to the event to allow the horses to get acclimated to the higher elevation and the hotter temperature. I personally was thrilled with the heat! A few lessons, competitor meets about the long format, and an “accepted” at barn inspection we were finally ready to start day one.
Wednesday morning was our first jogs, the day I was most excited for. With all those feathers and that thick mane braided, it only took roughly three hours to get Charlotte beautiful and ready. Thankfully jogs were in the late part of the morning, so I had time to make those Clydesdale feathers extra white and flowing. Myself, was about 20 minutes of preparation and we were walking down to the first set of jogs. Our colors are grey and yellow so I opted to wear a fun yellow sundress with grey ankle boots. When it was Charlotte’s turn to strut her stuff down the jog path, I will not forget that feeling after hearing the announcer say, “Charlotte, Accepted!”
Cortney and Charlotte strutting their stuff on the jog strip. Photo courtesy of Cortney McDaniel.
Another early morning on Thursday with plenty of time to braid and fluff the feathers we were warming up for dressage. I am extremely grateful for my friends helping me at the warm up ring because my nerves were in full force. It dawned on me that this was it, this was what we had been working towards, so let’s show them what we’ve got! Charlotte tried her heart out in our dressage test, scoring us a 36.0. One of new goals for the fall/winter is to improve our dressage for the next year. I was very pleased with our score, but who am I kidding, I was happy that was over and ready to start our cross-country adventure the next day.
Friday morning was even more nerve wracking. I took Charlotte on a few long walks to keep her joints loose and my mind busy. The fun part about the long format is that cross-country day is also endurance day. With two watches, all the times and check points written on my arm, we started Phase A at 12:49 p.m. The first phase is roads and tracks and we had 12 minutes to get to our next phase. The trick is to use it as a warm up without exhausting all your horse’s energy because you still have three more phases to complete.
I spent the 12 minutes trotting and listening to what Charlotte needed. I knew we did not have unlimited energy to waste, we had to use it wisely. Trotting into Phase B with an extra two minutes on the clock I let her walk around and stand while we waited for our turn out the start box. Four minutes later we were full speed toward steeplechase, what a thrill! Charlotte ate up all four fences and the sound of my second watch beeping told me we made time while crossing the flags to Phase C. After letting her gallop a bit into the canter then slowing it to another trot session we had 18 minutes to get to our vet box.
Cortney and Charlotte out on course. Photo courtesy of Cortney McDaniel.
Walking into the 10-minute box we were overwhelmed by people that love us. Everyone was there to help cool Charlotte down. We stripped all her tack and started icing and trying to cool her body down, which is no easy task with a draft horse. After getting the okay from the vets and another drink of water we were tacking up to start the final phase. Going out of the start box onto the cross-country field was a blast. Charlotte was giving me her all over every jump. We normally have a hard time at the water jumps, however she was courageous at each jump. We finished strong within time, even with one refusal. Charlotte was running her heart out! At the end of our last phase we were met by NBC Montana, what a rewarding interview to talk about the greatest and most willing horse I have ever met.
The last day of our competition was very emotional, Charlotte and I were both exhausted. Up at the crack of dawn to start the hours of beauty work put into Charlotte, we were set for our final jog. Charlotte sported yellow yarn in her braids, and I wore yellow corduroy pants with a fun white tank and jean jacket. Once the announcer stated we were accepted yet again, we were off to show jump that afternoon. In the hot sun around 3:00 p.m. we set out to complete the final chapter of our goal. High up in that saddle Charlotte and I gave it our all. Together we made it through the week and together we finished our show jump round. We knocked two rails, taking us out of the ribbons, but that’s not why we came to this event. We built an unbelievable partnership and trusted each other to get here. It’s not always about the ribbon or the prize or moving up a level, it’s about the memories and the people you meet along the way.
Charlotte with some of her "Team Charlotte" supporters. Photo courtesy of Cortney McDaniel.
Our goal was to become the very first full Clydesdale to compete in a long format three-day competition. Not only did we meet that goal by attending the Novice Three-Day at Rebecca Farm, but we exceeded that goal by finishing and completing. We went home happy, healthy, and ready for our next adventure. The best part of our time in Montana was meeting all the people from around the country that have been cheering us on. At almost every check point during our four phases of endurance day there was always someone cheering for the Clydesdale.
The journey to Rebecca Farm is one of my greatest accomplishments. Taking Charlotte to compete in the Novice Three-Day has heightened our partnership to a new level. I am sad to be back at home after the competition but it was the most rewarding and incredible experience I have had the pleasure of attending. The feeling of accomplishing a goal you have worked non-stop for the past two years is the greatest reward. Who knows what will be in store for us next!
Can’t get enough of Charlotte the Eventing Clydesdale? Follow along with Charlotte and Cortney on their blog!