“My whole journey has been a series of interconnected circles,” says Gina Miles.
The central compass point of those circles has been the Olympics. The Games are what set the Californian on her path, and where she reached her pinnacle - the individual silver medal in Hong Kong in 2008.
Gina, now 47, was 10 when the Olympics came to Los Angeles in 1984.
Plenty of event riders have chosen to cross oceans and base themselves thousands of miles away from “home” in pursuit of their career dreams - look at the likes of New Zealanders Sir Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson, and now Tim and Jonelle Price, while Andrew Hoy, Clayton Fredericks and of course Boyd Martin and Phillip Dutton have set sail from Australian shores. Not many American riders do it, though, probably because the sport is big enough and competitive enough in the U.S. not to make it necessary.
“He looks as grey as I am,” jokes Andrew Nicholson. Nereo’s long, chestnut face may show signs of age, with greying circles around his wise eyes, but he still slopes out to the field every day with that unmistakably rangey, athlete’s stride. It is four years almost exactly since he won Badminton, giving Nicholson virtually the only major prize in eventing that had hitherto eluded him. He was retired from the sport a year later, in 2018, at Badminton after yet another superlative cross-country round.
“I’d love to be fitter, but I don’t have the time.”
So say all of us. We know that the physically fitter we are, the better we ride - and the better our horses perform, but actually getting on and doing the exercise necessary rarely happens. Life is busy, and there are many demands on our time - particularly work, of course, be that in the saddle or behind a desk - and exercise often gets put to the bottom of the priority queue.
How many CCI5* winners and double World Equestrian Games medalists end up teaching an un-horsey teenager to ride? It wouldn’t be a long list, and in fact, there may only be one - Cool Mountain.
It’s been 11 years since the son of Primitive Rising made two successful trips across the Atlantic to Kentucky, once to win the CCI5* and, a few months later, to take team gold and individual silver medals at the World Equestrian Games with William Fox-Pitt (GBR). Yet “Ollie,” as Cool Mountain is known at home, is still in work at Fox-Pitt’s Dorset yard and a treasured member of the community there.
In July 2019, while visiting my military husband in Germany, I hit a trolley line on a bike and went flying which broke my ankle and dislocated my foot. I was rushed to surgery and while being wheeled back, I was given a 50 percent chance of losing my foot. I spent two weeks in the hospital with an external fixator, then was pinned together, but the post-trauma damage has been exceptional.
On a recent conference call with my fellow Carolina International committee members, we were discussing the aftermath of our gutting cancelation. I asked Lefreda Williams if there was this much hysteria and fear during the Flu epidemic of 1918, to which she replied in true Lefreda form, followed by a light moment and some laughter. Which we all needed.
Usually at the beginning of the year I'm pretty excited about getting back out in competitions on my horses. This year was no different, with the notable exception that I was shuffling around my upper level horses and starting out only on the lower level ones. I was still eager to get back into competing and continuing to improve.
One day Denny and I were talking, I can’t quite remember what started the conversation, but I said I do not think of myself as being that brave. He looked at me like I was nuts, I think he even said, but you went advanced! My response was that I am brave enough, but I am not crazy brave
My dad used to say when I was growing up that if you looked up the word relentless in the dictionary there would be a picture of me next to it. I think at the time he meant my relentlessness in constantly asking for a horse (and everything else that went along with it), but over time I've begun to realize just how much of this personality trait is needed in eventing.