Making your first CCI2* happen – Ridiculous stubbornness and drive

Photo credit: Amy Dragoo

 

Making your first CCI2* happen – Ridiculous stubbornness and drive

I have to begin by saying Ocala Jockey Club was never on my competition calendar, but man am I thrilled I ended up going.

Few people are aware that I packed my horse, my trailer, my truck and not a lot of belongings, other than clothes, some favorite books, and a plethora of horse gear just days before our CIC2* debut at Plantation Field International this September. My plan was… I HAD NO PLAN other than driving straight from Unionville, PA to Ocala, FL. I knew I had to find a job, and I knew I had to keep riding as much as humanly possible. To say I was stressed out would be a major understatement, but if I am anything it’s tenacious. If I have my mind set on something, I will damn well make it happen, end of story.

I’m a New Englander through and through. Vermont will always be home because my family and friends tie me to the green mountains, but to train and compete at the upper levels in Area 1 is challenging for a number of reasons. Obviously there are successful upper level event riders in New England, but the opportunities in FL are much greater and Ocala just makes sense for me and my horse. I spent several months in Ocala last winter and loved it so much I knew I had to go back, and here I am!

After my high from finishing 6th at Plantation in our first CIC2*, I arrived in Ocala with more drive and determination than I thought possible for someone with a shrinking bank account and a mental timer chiming so loudly as if to mock me each day I did not have a job.

Photo credit: Amy Dragoo

I contacted every upper level event rider I could think of in Ocala asking about jobs. I met with several riders and discussed various options but ultimately people were not looking for such an ambitious competitor who would be traveling to compete. They needed someone to stay back at the farm and do chores, ride horses, etc. Also, there’s very little money in Eventing, so farm’s are looking for working students, not paid help… in all honesty. As frustrating as this was, I kept trying.

I had heard of some event riders who worked as exercise riders at race tracks, so I emailed Bridlewood and met with the manager of the farm a few days later. I was shown around and one of the trainers took my name and number and said, “No offense but you Event riders think ya’ll know how to ride, but sitting on young thoroughbreds is a different story… but I’ll take your name.” I didn’t begin to defend myself because the truth was I had no experience at the track, but I also don’t take *no* very well for an answer.

That evening I emailed the manager and basically told him the reason why he has that position is because someone took a chance on him (a story he told me about when he drove me around the farm), and I’m asking for a chance now. I also said I know what it means to take my name and number. I don’t have time for that, I need a job now. I knew this was a huge risk, but that’s life. As luck would have it, they had me start at 7am the following morning. I worked 6 days a week exercising yearlings from 5:30am till 10:30am, would come home and either collapse from sheer exhaustion or dig deep to find the energy to ride my own horse before working for Notting Hill Stables every afternoon. The first month and a half down here was probably the most physically and mentally exhausting time of my life, but I chose this path and had to stick to it!

 


 

Ultimately the afternoon job morphed into a real full-time position and my time at the track came to an end, but I learned a great deal during my time at Bridlewood and will never forget those sunrises on the track while sitting on phenomenally bred TB babies while being screamed at in Spanish.

So here I am, working, training, competing and making it happen in Ocala FL. This doesn’t feel like a dream. I truly made this happen for myself because I’m ridiculously stubborn and driven!

However, walking my SJ course at Jockey Club a few days ago most certainly DID feel like a dream. Imagine a huge crowd on a sunny warm FL afternoon. Vendors and sponsors tents in the background with music playing, mini pony demonstrations, kids and dogs playing and an atmosphere so alive you could cut through the energy with sharp object. I’ve spent my life watching other upper level riders walk their course with their sunglasses on, and their trainers ahead of them looking like they all know exactly what’s going on. I’ve obviously walked my fair share of courses but not with spotlights on and Olympic commentators. This was SUCH a cool moment for me. And then to trot into that arena, salute and have a really solid round felt simply amazing. I want to relive that moment over and over again!

The week at Jockey Club was out of this world exciting, exhausting and exhilarating. I spent the week leading up to the event with one of my idols in Eventing, Gemma Tattersall who was invited here to teach a clinic. Gemma and her AMAZING mom and boyfriend also came to the event. I learned so much from Gemma and her super groom mom (Marcy) from braiding to properly holding the reins for jogs, to walking courses, to making white tails whiter, to greasing our horses legs, to picking out studs, and so much more.

I ended up having a fantastic run at Jockey Club. We finished in 12th place in our first CCI2* in a very large and competitive 40 plus division. I was over the moon with my horse and how we ended up. But the icing on the cake was having Gemma warm me up for each phase and giving me advice all week and answering all of my ridiculous questions. Also getting to walk the cross-country course with the designer Clayton Fredericks, was extremely helpful especially since I’ve been working with him and he’s starting to know me and my horse. And then to also know the SJ course designer, Chris Barnard and to have jumped around some of his hand picked courses at Notting Hill was super cool and helpful.

My overall experience and time competing at Jockey Club felt fantastic. My horse and I are truly becoming a solid team, though we have so much to learn and work on, we get along so well and it all boils down to a partnership at the end of the day! I’m learning though, there are no prizes large enough, or checks grand enough, or placings high enough if you don’t have others to share those moments with. It’s not just me and my horse out there, it’s about the entire team and people who stand by your side. It’s about the vet who watched our horses jog the night after cross-country. It’s about the farriers and all the people who put in their time and truly care about the wellbeing of our horses. It’s about those text messages I received from my *favorite* teenage girls from MA, and the voicemails from my Mom and sisters who wished they could have been there. It’s about getting high fives from Gemma and her mom. It’s about getting messages from people like Hawley Bennett saying YOU GOT THIS! I’m just so grateful to have people who believe in me and my horse.

I go through spells where I have a difficult time grasping what’s happening in my life and how I’m making my dreams come true. Leaving New England was one of the hardest things I’ve done, mostly because I don’t just share similar DNA with my family, but they are some of my best friends. Not seeing them on a weekly basis physically hurts, but they support me in my crazy adventures, as I support them in their “normal” lifestyles with children and daycare meetings, and packing lunches and such.

I’m absolutely thrilled to have landed a job in Ocala with people I’ve been admiring for years now. I’m so excited to be working with new trainers down here and to get as much help as we can as we continue climbing this ladder. If you’re a young and ambitious rider, or even not so young, and you’re feeling stuck and frustrated, my advice is never EVER give up. Keep working hard WITH a smile on your face and I guarantee great things will come your way. I didn’t do my first Prelim until I was 29 years old and the rest is history! Forget about the more privileged young riders who are competing at a higher level with their fancy imported horses. Forget about the high end clothes and the living quarter trailers. Forget about all the hype and fuss and politics involved in this tiny world called Eventing. Think bigger and bolder. Be the little VT barn rat who grew up riding nasty ponies that quit all the time and you just might turn into a competitive upper level event rider someday, if you want it badly enough. Be the last person at the barn and the first person to arrive in the morning. Take initiative and don’t wait to be asked to do something, find a project and do it! Ride extra horses whenever you get the chance. Don’t be a hermit. Shake hands with everyone and introduce yourself. Don’t be shy. If you want anything badly enough, it CAN be yours!

Scroll for more top stories on Eventing Connect