Jul 09, 2019

CCI5*-L Done, and How!

Sherry Stewart Photo.

As I sit here typing this, I have some kind of colored pen on half my legs, some kind of food product on parts of my shirt, and duct tape and string across half my living room—that is the latest trap creation my three-year-old has made. I am back in full mom mode, and after being away for two full weeks that for the horse girl in me went by in the blink of an eye, but for the mom in me felt like a lifetime, I cannot help but think about what a difference a few days make.

Last week at this time I was in Germany preparing for the biggest competition of my life and this week here I am going to swimming lessons, taking kids to school, and working back in my wonderful quaint little office. I have a stack of emails a mile high and a to-do list a mile long, but I have to laugh thinking about the multiple lives I am simultaneously living, and I have to say I am blessed beyond measure.

When I was given the Big Becky Grant last December, I knew it would change my riding career. I knew it could take me places I would otherwise never be able to go, but I do not think it was even possible to fathom sitting in that room in New Orleans last winter what had really just become possible.

When the universe decided Land Rover Kentucky was not meant to be my first five-star competition I was gutted but was able to reroute to Luhmühlen only because a group of incredible people believed in me more than I believe in myself. When I left for Germany I had never flown with a horse overseas, I had never packed for a trip like this (which I have now been told by my good friends I am horrible at and will never be allowed to do on my own again), I had never ridden across the pond, never competed on the international stage, and never done a five-star. I had never really even dared to dream about most of these things, to be honest, because the thought of them was quite overwhelming. The Rebecca Broussard International Developing Rider Grant dared me to dream, and not only that, because of being the Big Becky recipient, I can now say we have done all these things and along the way learned more than I knew two weeks could ever teach you.

I could write an entire novel about our trip to Germany, so for these purposes, I will give you a few highlights. After navigating the waters of getting overseas with a huge thank you to DUTTA CORP. for our incredible flight and helping this clueless first-timer with paperwork and details, we safely arrived in Amsterdam where we met Allie Knowles' horse, Sound Prospect aka Sounder. After several hours at the airport, the horses were released, and we put them on a lorry to make the trip into Germany. Luhmühlen is an adorable little town about 6.5 hours from Amsterdam, and they have a lovely little riding school. This was our home for four days and being only a couple minutes down the road from the venue, with access to great trails and arena, it was ideal to get the horses settled.

During this first couple of days, I was able to ride Chatwin a bit and meet some wonderfully kind people, including Chatwin’s breeder who came from a couple of hours away to see us. Carola and I have talked via social media for years, but meeting her in person was something I always dreamed about doing, and it was more than I ever expected. She is incredibly proud of Chatwin, and she and her husband are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. I felt as if I was meeting my child’s birth parents and what an experience it was. I was able to ask questions about things I had always wondered. Such as, what is that weird scar on his right ankle from—I had always guessed a fence—but no, it was from a dead Christmas tree that was out in the horse field when he was a baby, and it makes total sense if you know Chatwin. Of course, it would never have been from something as common as a fence, silly me.

With my boys at home being cared for by every one of my amazing family members and heroic babysitter, I called home each day with the nine-hour time difference to check in and try to explain where the heck mom was to them. The amazing Sherry Stewart was along for the week taking photographs and acting as a much-needed mother figure to all of us, and soon Allie arrived following an excellent performance at Bromont as did U.S. Team Coach Erik Duvander and my fantastic best friends/grooms/coaches/life buddies Tamie Smith and Kelly Prather.

Chatwin with Kelly Prather, Frankie, and Tamie Smith. Sherry Stewart Photo.

After settling in at the venue, convincing Erik of how stellar Kelly and Tam were sure to be as “grooms” despite his attempt to hire me what he called real help the first day, my buddies had Chat looking better than ever for the jog and it was our turn right as the skies opened up. Chat and I had been accepted, and I felt incredibly excited knowing that no matter what I was finally going to get to do Dressage at a five-star if nothing else.

Allie had a nice test Thursday, and I had a practice ride to tune my beast that felt great. I am fortunate to know Chatwin incredibly well, and the horse you get on in the barn tells you a ton about how your day will go. Over the years I have learned to persuade him otherwise if he does not feel like he woke up with his A-game, but fortunately for me, he felt ready for the task at hand Friday when I got on for our turn in the ring. I think the smile on my face as we cantered into the stadium could be seen from a mile away and I reminded myself to take a minute to take it all in.

Frankie, Chatwin, and coach Erik Duvander. Sherry Stewart Photo.

I felt like we did the best possible test we could on the day and was thrilled with how in every moment and movement both Chatwin and I stayed completely focused on each other and producing our very best in a big atmosphere. I couldn’t see the live scores as I came out of the ring, so I waited to hear my friends scream as I came out with excitement to know that the test had scored as well as it had felt. I walked out of the white poles and silence from my crew. I thought oh no, did the judges hate it for some reason? Apparently, they did clap, but it is not like Kentucky in Germany, and people do not scream and holler as you come out, so they stood poised and professional till I walked out of the stadium. Then I could finally see the board myself, and although I hope we can produce a much better score in the future, a 28 at your first attempt and third place overnight was good enough for me (this time)!

Sherry Stewart Photo.

We were warned of a horrendous storm coming in and told to wake up in the middle of the night and look outside as there was a concern the storm would be so bad the barns could flood or take flight. Fortunately, neither occurred, but the storm they had promised did come in with some serious power early cross-country morning. I was incredibly thankful for their decision to push things back several hours for our division, not only because of the rain but because I had gotten some crazy food poisoning after dressage and after spending some time hugging the porcelain throne the night before I was so nauseous the morning of cross-country the only thing I could force down before the afternoon was some bland, plain yogurt. Thanks to momma Sherry Stewart, I ate about 20 tums and was ready to go by the time I left the start box at 4:00 p.m. that day.

I watched a few riders in the German Championship short format, and it is unbelievable how amazing they are! However, a few came into the final water complex so fast I nearly had a heart attack and decided I was better suited for the barns the rest of the day till my ride. I waited with anticipation as I tacked up to hear about Allie and got the very disappointing news her horse stumbled in the second water but was so thankful they were both okay.

I had walked the course many times, had what I consider to be the world’s best advice from Erik, Tam, and Kelly, and there was nothing left to do but get it done! Chat seemed ready to rumble and out we went. I went out of the box probably a bit too hot on a mission, and Chatwin answered every single question along the way. Tamie had told me that galloping through the trees there in what are insanely twisty, narrow gallop lanes would feel like running from the police, and although I do not have a lot of experience in that department thankfully, I have to say it felt every bit like I imagine that to be! The trees and twisty turning track the whole way around was almost more physically and mentally exhausting than the jumps themselves.

Sherry Stewart Photo.

Nonetheless, Chatwin amazed me as he has so many times before. The amount he still had left at the end was admirable, and I was proud of my horse and astounded in a few minutes on the track at how far our partnership has come. He fought for me the whole way around, and although I was very disappointed to have not made the time, I learned a ton about how to do it in that type of track next time.

In California, we do not have a single course where you gallop through the trees, and the courses we have excelled at to this point are big, open, galloping courses, not technical, twisty tracks. We certainly both walked away better from the amazing Mike Etherington-Smith track in Germany, and the best part was Chat seemed to come off course well and was happy and healthy, thanks to the outstanding U.S. Team Vet Dr. Tim, as we finally tucked him into bed Saturday night.

I was gutted for Allie, and reminded how cruel our sport can be that you can trip in the water and just like that it is over. Once again my world-class five-star riders who doubled as fake grooms, had my friend Chatwin looking stunning Sunday and we jogged one final time.

It is important, as a side note to say how laid back everyone is overseas about certain things. You have never seen more dogs off a leash! Tim Price’s prize pooch even followed him to the jog on the final day and not a word was said, not a yellow card was issued, and I even saw an official smile and pet his sweet dog instead. The Stewards barely checked your tack, and it was more about being sure everyone was having a great time at a fun event with happy horses than anything else I have ever experienced.

Of all the phases, I have to say I was most impressed with Chatwin in the Show Jumping. Thousands of people gathered around to watch this final test of the competition and one which has undoubtedly been our toughest over the years. Riding a horse who at his first preliminary turned and ran away from a scary oxer and then finally jumped but took out every rail; riding a horse who none would argue has a jump style all his own and one who with his one-horse rider, jumped a clear round adding less than one time fault, to climb from eighth to fourth overall making me the highest place lady rider in the group. As I sat in the awards, I looked over at my amazing team, and down at my unbelievable horse, and I could not help but take it in and think wow, I must be the luckiest chick in the world.

A clear round in show jumping saw Frankie and Chatwin finish in fourth place and get their first five-star under their belts. Sherry Stewart Photo.

When I wanted to buy Chatwin, I remember going to my cousin Zib and saying, I absolutely love this horse, and I think he has what it takes to do a five-star someday. And now he has done it! Regardless of what the future holds, he has surpassed every single one of the expectations I ever had. What started with a group of people believing in us back in December, turned us into a five-star partnership, and has shown us what we need to do to get better, what it takes to compete abroad, all while making me dream even higher.

After being awake nearly 28 hours to get Chatwin to quarantine and myself home to my family, I was greeted by my oldest in tears, mad at me that I forgot his Chat. I had come home empty-handed, without his best buddy. After some serious work convincing him that he would be returning after quarantine and that I had not left him anywhere, I was forgiven, and I hugged those boys and my prize-worthy husband as tight as I could.

My gratitude towards every person who helped us get to where we are, guided us on this journey, gave up things to be there to support us, driven us to and from the airport, stayed up late or got up in the middle of the night to not miss a moment at home, sent texts, called, and cared is endless. I am forever indebted to the USEA Foundation and everyone who played a role in the Rebecca Broussard Grant, and I am excited for what is to come.

So what now? Chatwin is enjoying a much-deserved vacation till the beginning of August, and then we will see what the fall has in store, but nothing can take away from the fact that finally, Chat and I have done a five-star, and if somehow I never do another one, there will always be Germany. While Chat enjoys being a horse, I am so excited to get to go work at The Event At Rebecca Farm this summer! If you have not been, you are missing out is all I can say. And, for those of you competing at the Advanced level, you never know which of you is the next Rebecca Broussard Grant Recipient, so I have no idea why you wouldn’t get to Montana as fast as possible to compete. After all, it is a vacation, not a horse show!

Dec 07, 2019 Profile

Now on Course: Abby’s Road - That Was Then, This is Now

When my daughter Jacquelyn turned 9, she and I started taking riding lessons together for some quality mother-daughter time. I had hoped to share my love for horses with her so we gave it a try. A few years of lessons led to a deeper commitment - horsemanship - and Jackie showed the fortitude for the hard gritty work required.

Dec 06, 2019 Eventing News

US Equestrian Announces Updated Selection Structure for 2020 USEF Eventing 25 Program

US Equestrian is pleased to announce the list of athletes who have been named to participate in an assessment of their skills prior to the 2020 USEF Eventing 25 Program selection. The USEF Eventing 25 Program offers athletes 25 years of age and under access to coaching and instruction, high intensity training sessions, and continued mentorship to further support the development of the Eventing High Performance Pathway and Program.

Dec 06, 2019 Eventing News

Bromont to Host a Leg of the FEI Eventing Nations Cup

Bromont Horse Trials Inc., organizers of the Bromont CCI-S Three-Day Event held August 13 to 16 are delighted to announce Bromont’s selection as a leg of FEI Eventing Nations Cup™ 2020 Series.

Dec 06, 2019 Association News

Madeline (2000-2019)

The USEA is saddened to share the news that Madeline, a chestnut Thoroughbred mare by Mysterious Count, passed away on December 4, 2019 at the age of 19. Madeline, also known as “Baby”, was owned by Jill Gordon and campaigned at the four-star level by Holly Payne Caravella.

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