How to not give up – Conquering my first Red Hills International

Photo credit: Shannon Brinkman



How to not give up – Conquering my first Red Hills International

We arrived in Tallahassee Thursday afternoon and I could not have been more jazzed for Red Hills International! This event was our third time at this level, now called a CCI3*-s, which is the same as the old CIC2*. Even though Rollo and I have successfully completed several FEI events, the thrill and anticipation has hardly worn off!

My very own BT Just A Rebel, aka Rollo, or the pocket rocket was feeling extremely good leading up to this event. He felt on point for all his gallops, spent the week before in Venice where we won our first 1m25, and had some great jump lessons.

Photo credit: JXB Photography

Friday afternoon rolled around quicker than expected and before I knew it I had my shadbelly on and was putting the final touches on Rollo before we headed into the sandbox. Rollo warmed up quite nicely in the beginning and I had given him a bit of a stretchy hack earlier that day.

Even though Rollo can do all the movements in the test, I realized we were a bit rusty when I started practicing turn on the haunches, half-pass, etc. I was starting to feel a bit anxious and frustrated at myself. I could never be mad at my horse who tries so hard for me all the time. I was disappointed that I had not taken the time and spent what little money I have to take dressage lessons the last couple months. I felt I could not fix and perfect anything in the next twenty minutes. We were not horrible by any means, but definitely rusty and while I’m not one to give up EVER, I was well aware that we were not going to be competitive on this given day.

I navigated my way through the test to the best of my ability given the circumstances, but my horse was tight and I’m positive he was feeding off my anxiety because he is quite sensitive. I blame that test and pathetic score on my poor performance. You cannot get better at basketball when you don’t practice, it’s as simple as that. I should mention that I always get my dressage rides in every week, but not practicing in a dressage arena with letters and boundaries will absolutely catch up with you! I could blame that test on a million reasons and tell you why the jumper shows and jump lessons were more important, but it’s my fault and no matter how tired I am or how few hours are available every day, I am the only one responsible for getting the work done!



I knew coming out of the ring, the test was what it was and while I was obviously disappointed in our score, I didn’t have time to dwell on it. I had a long xc course to walk and memorize! I put that test in a small box and locked it away. I put a smile on and enjoyed the rest of the day!

Photo credit: Shannon Brinkman

Saturday morning arrived and I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. Seriously, I live for xc and when you you’re riding a super athletic 15.3 Connemara x TB who is just as, if not more excited than you are, you cannot help but feel excited and pumped!

A couple hours before cross-country I recalled one rider looking quite horrified and pale. She surely lacked the excitement that was soaring through my every fiber. I cracked a couple jokes and got her to laugh and smile and assured her it would be a blast, even though I never met her and had no idea how her and her horse got along.

Saturday felt like I was watching paint dry. 2:56pm could not come soon enough. I walked my course two more times that morning, had a nice big breakfast and was buzzing around adrenaline and caffeine. I watched some of the four-star and Advanced cross-country and that was fun.

2:25pm and I’m draped across my tack trunk, sunglasses on, earphones on, and listening to some of my favorite ore cross-country tunes. I absolutely love this time before I get on my horse. I’m not disappearing because I’m terrified or shy, I’m slipping into a mental zone that allows me to gallop a half pony towards solid obstacles literally bigger and wider than he is! I have to take this time and sink into a mental state that calms me down and gets me focusing on the task ahead.

“5,4,3,2,1 GO HAVE A GREAT RI…” I literally couldn’t hear the end of that sentence because when the starter said go, we were dust! Of course there’s always a certain level of nerves, I am human after all. Yes I jumped out of an airplane a few weeks ago, but this is another level of excitement and anticipation. For me cross-country on Rollo is a strange combination of a total and complete blur and remembering every single detail from the lighting, footing, crowds and the conversations I was having with my horse.

The first water came up more quickly than I thought it would. You galloped up one long fairly steep hill (for FL), jumped a small breather type log fence at the top and then you immediately entered into tailgate central! I will never forget coming around that corner to the water and sitting up, gathering my horses balance and attention. Lila: “HOLY SH$6 Rollo, check out these crowds! Seriously and the tents and kids and dogs and food. It’s like a circus! Can you believe this?”

Rollo: “crowds? So? Where’s my jump? Are you still with me up there? Get it together girl, we have a job ahead and I’m TOTALLY game and ready because I LOVE jumping into water. Watch this crowd…”

No joke, that’s what we were chatting about before coming to the water. It was a decently sized and airy log drop into the water which was facing right into the crowd. Five strides bending to a skinny in water and three strides out to another skinny log. Rollo made light work of the water and the crowd cheered us on!

The course kept getting better and more exciting with one long gallop stretch after the first water where I just completely let him go and he said THANK YOU! This horse lives to gallop and jump and he always has a smile on his face, as does his jockey. Of course, there were some not perfect distances and unexpected things happen all the time. I was blown away by my horse and so proud of how hard he tried for me even when I was a little off with my eye or judgement. He took care of us out there which makes me feel confident and brave beyond words. A lot of friends and fellow competitors mentioned how difficult it is to make time at Red Hills because of the trees and twisty narrow paths, and there’s just a lot to navigate. I took what everyone told me with a grain of salt because at the end of the day only I know what my horse and I are truly capable of. I had no doubt in my mind we could make the time but I wasn’t expecting to come in under the time. At this level in Eventing the scores can change drastically after day one, and that’s just what happened.

I don’t even remember looking at my watch except for around half way and I realized we were doing well on time. The thing about Rollo is that he is small and catlike and can make quick turns and land and jump from a variety of distances. Of course I have to be accurate at this height but he is incredibly caddy and athletic. I’ve found him easier to jump out of the Intermediate/3* pace than Preliminary because I had to keep him going much slower and at this level I can let him have his head and just let him gallop along and he’s so easy to set up before a fence which makes time easier for us.

I came across the finish with the biggest smile and the most love for this special little horse. I was beaming and on such a high for the rest of the day.

We moved up about twenty places after cross-country and were one of maybe only ten that made time out of 50 some odd riders! I knew it was a bit of a stretch but I thought there could be a chance of placing if we jumped double clear in show jumping and only if others did not. I was pretty sure we could jump double clear but I was not really thinking that we would place.

The course was set and I walked a couple times. Everything looked great and there were two bending lines that could either be done in an 8 or a 9 and knowing my horse I opted for the 9 and if something happened we would do 8 if need be. Rollo warmed up beautifully and jumped double clear with room to spare over the fences. I was ecstatic and could not believe how hard he tried after galloping that hard the day before. Somehow we managed to keep climbing up and finished 14th with a ribbon, and a victory gallop!

I know exactly what my homework is for the next month! And even though it would have been amazing to have been in the top ten after dressage, I know our day will come and I will make it happen no matter what. Luckily, Red Hills was far from a dressage show and at the end of the week or weekend a horse who can jump double clear cross-country and show jumping WILL be competitive. I’m just so proud and happy to have this amazing little athlete and we have big plans for the next year. I’m so thrilled and grateful to have so many people and coaches encouraging us. Thank you Red Hills, volunteers and everyone who made this event possible. We will be back!!

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