Last of Kentucky

This blog is hard to write because there is so much news to report about how the World Equestrian Games ended, and how that dramatic ending affected me as a horseman, an adult, and as wielder of my own future and interpreter of my past.

After catapulting themselves from 7th place to 2nd place on the second day of competition, Team USA had big pressure on them, certainly. With Britain far ahead and the Canadians and Kiwis fractions of points behind the US, They had to be nearly perfect. Each of the 4 team horses has to jump about 15 jumps, 4 feet high, with poles that will fall with a soft rub of any hoof. That pole falls=4 points. And you have to go fast, or you get time faults too.

The US's Boyd Martin went spectacularly clean, and finished both his cross country ride and stadium round without a single fault or time error, an extraordinary feat, and in his very first international event. We’re going to see more of that boy I think.

Buck came out and had another rail down, to add to the big refusal that he had on cross country the day before. He’s got some work to do before he represents the US again I think.

Phillip Dutton, an utter veteran, had a beautiful round, but had an uncharacteristic rail down, dropping America from silver to bronze in a blink, and putting Canada into position to take the silver. This was not devastating for me, I was happy to take any medal color really, and I knew that Canada could potentially still knock a rail or two down. And I was feeling good, knowing that Karen O’Connor, my veteran and childhood hero, was our last rider.

Karen came out looking determined and poised, as always. Girl has a fierce game face. It was fence #4, a solid gate panel, that in a flash wiped out 8 years of fantasizing about the US taking a medal on American Soil. Karen’s horse, Mandiba, got too close the fence, something in the sport we call “going long” or “in too deep” and when that happens, the horse can’t get himself vertical enough to clear the fence. Some horses will haplessly crash themselves through a fence with their momentum, and some will slide to a stop. Mandiba did the latter, a refusal. A refusal in Stadium jumping is 4 faults, but worse is that it costs you time, and you have still have to attempt that fence again, and usually the horse is very wary and unnerved. And so is the rider. In a flash, that 4 fault refusal turns into another 4 faults when they do finally jump it and knock it down, and another 4 when Karen goes 4 seconds over time. In somewhere between a flash of time and the last 20 seconds of the course, America plummeted from 3rd to 4th, and out of the medals.

Let me see if I can equate this for the lay reader. Remember when John Stockton took that CRAZY 3 point buzzer shot against San Antonio to get the Jazz to the Finals against the Bulls? Pretend he’d missed it.

And then pretend that you’d flown 1,000 miles and spent your life savings to see him take that shot.


And that’s when I got a little more sad than I probably should have, and couldn’t quite get over how sad Karen herself must be. And I had to ask myself why I really came here. Did I come to see my coveted American riders demonstrate their dominance? Was my childhood dream to see Karen win, or to see her ride at all? Is there more to my wildly fierce commitment to their success than mere fandom? After all, what greater vicarious thrill could there be than to obsessively follow international sports heroes in their dangerous and competitive lifestyles? Am I that afraid of my own life that THIS is more important? These questions required a hard look, that after days of being in Kentucky dreamland, I was wholly unprepared to ask myself. PS- that is the perfect time to ask yourself stuff like this. You always get honest answers.

And I think the answer I got is this: My love for horses has not waned in the slightest. If anything, my love has increased after seeing so many horses give absolutely anything and everything asked of them. A horse’s trust is not always gained, but once it is, they will burst their heart for you, and I saw many profound examples of that this weekend. But perhaps my obsession for the international sport has changed into something more realistic and mature. I want my experience with horses to be authentic to me and what I want from that relationship, and not a half hearted attempt at mimicry, or a whole hearted attempt at vicarious rides. There is no such thing. No matter how hard you rock with that horse in the grandstands, he can’t feel you.

Moreover, it’s true for my whole life. My marriage shouldn’t be like anyone else’s, and no one else’s should be my attempt. My career shouldn’t follow anyone else’s path, and I won’t waste time coveting the life of others. I will earn my own unique future that I have a feeling will surprise even me at the end of my life.
The final personal revelations of these games are that I have a wonderful husband who was 1,000 miles too far away and was genuinely supportive that I was spending our nonexistent money to do this, and that I have a wonderful mother who STUCK me with this ridiculous genetic makeup of horse loving (it’s NOT a choice, it’s NOT something that counseling or prayer can help you overcome, it’s something you‘re BORN with.) and patiently, nay, excitedly listened to all my WEG confessions and facts, while I excitedly listened to her AMAZING Zenyatta racehorse stories on the other side of the country. I realized all over again in this life how lucky I am to have a mom for forever who gets this feeling, and that we both cry when we tell each other our best horse stories.

And on a final note of the games, I have to say one more thing. Canada Rocks.

The Canadian Eventing team is young in age, young in experience, and very very new to winning. The last time that Canada was on an international podium in this sport was 1978. And this team SHOWED UP. All 6 riders went clear in cross country (unheard of) and the final four riders had a single rail down on day three. They were underdogs, hard workers, and really nice people. For that reason, I am thrilled that they were awarded with a World Equestrian Games Silver Medal. And seriously, I think they were the happiest silver medalists I’ve ever seen, in any sport, at any international competition ever. I am nothing short of thrilled for them, and their well deserved medal was the Neosporin to my razor -thin USA paper cut.

Horses are great. Read this, be glad that you weren’t born with my mother and mine’s tragic, expensive, incurable condition not covered by even the best health insurance, and go do something outside, because it’s a pristinely beautiful world out there.


Tiffani said…
heehee I like this. You and your habits.
madre said…
i think that last picture of you with the horse is the horse you should get... safer, doesn't need hay, no poop to pick up. thank you for sharing WEG with me, what a blast we had exchanging notes on our addictions! dunno about your gene pool theory, NO ONE in my ancestry was a horse person! or at least in 3 or 4 generations. so maybe you can just pure blame me for my intentions regarding you and horses~ sorry! fun anyway, if we don't die... love you!!

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