September 16, 2011

Where am I?.. Who am I?.. And WHAT am I doing here?..

Without question, it’s safe to say that my arrival in the UK didn’t play out like the script I had written in my dreams.  Such a monumental trip, moving myself and my horse to the Mecca of Eventing, following in the footsteps of so many legends in our sport.  Anyone who truly has made it in Eventing has spent time competing in England, and here I am attempting to do just that.  Does it mean as a matter of course that just because I’m here now, that I am to someday be one of those legends?  Hardly.  You see, the part that wasn’t in the script was that I would arrive here broken up, beaten down, and questioning everything about myself.  With dangerous amounts of time on my hands and nothing to do but reflect on my situation, I had hours of hacking down country lanes in solidarity to ask myself those corrosive questions.  Who do I think I am to have a great horse that I don’t deserve?  What am I doing in a foreign country as if I have the constitution to get by on my own?  What business do I have trying to follow along on the path of my idols?  And underlying it all was the question of whether Finian really wanted to be an Event horse.  I had no other horses to turn my attention to, no work to challenge me or give me a sense of accomplishment, and I had no friends or family nearby to shake some sense into me. This wasn’t a matter of life or death, war or peace, but what I knew logically and how I felt were two different matters.  Each day I went through the actions of going to the yard, doing the chores and so on, but the whole time I felt like an empty shell, as if everything I am made of had somehow drifted out like a wisp of vapor.

I hid myself away in my own personal cave and completely dropped contact with everybody at home.  For that I am sorry, but I hope those people can understand that I found comfort in suffering my disappointments by myself, without having to answer to any one for them.  In that way, the anonymity of competition in England was just what I needed.  Through small successes and huge disappointments I began to view my time here in England as bigger than “this season”, bigger than “this horse”, and so much bigger than “London 2012”.  I’ve come to believe that you can’t force success no matter how hard you try, how much talent you may be sitting on, and how much you may think the time is right.  It’s like I was staring so hard at my goal that my vision had gone crossed, and the harder I tried to not make mistakes, the more I forgot how to ride.  The more I worried about Finn losing his confidence, the more of it he seemed to lose.  I had to completely let go of all of that and start to view the ups and downs of this year as having a greater meaning, and one which I probably don’t even know yet. 

At some point along the way, somebody told me I wasn’t ready for Blenheim, and that competitive fire which has guided me through my life began to smolder again.  “Is that a challenge?”  For everything I’d been through this year, I had finally been pushed to the point of saying, right or wrong, I was going to stick to my gut and do what I thought was right.  And for some reason, although our results told a different story, I thought we should go to Blenheim.  A good friend at home adamantly told me that my instinct had never let me down, and my lesson for this year was to believe in it.  And so I did, and I accepted that if it didn’t go well, I had no one to blame but myself. 

Most of you know that last weekend was the biggest success of my Eventing career to date.  Finn didn’t put a foot wrong, and I put in a personal performance that I can be proud of.  While I am completely over the moon about that, and it tastes even better with a bit of “told ya so” sprinkled on top, I still feel that it’s all part of a bigger picture than just successes and failures.  While it’s nice to turn Finn out on winter holiday having finished on such a high, I’m not losing sight of the big picture.  Just like I couldn’t succeed by focusing on our weaknesses, I’m very aware that I can’t succeed off of one good event either.  I had a conversation with Karen O’Connor at Rolex talking about how you can’t focus on the Olympics too intensely but rather have it vaguely in view and I said “Of course, I’m not focusing on it at all.”  What has taken me 5 more months to realize is that I need to apply that same vague focus on every event I do, from Blenheim down to the smallest horse trials.

To the people who have helped me around every turn, I owe a huge amount of gratitude. I was shown kindness and support at a time when I undoubtedly needed it most, and probably wasn’t a very fun person to be around either!  From the hospitality and maternal/paternal care of the Allistons with whom I’m living, to the “been there, done that, it’s not the biggest thing in the world” support of Mike and Emma Winter, I am genuinely thankful for the people life has lead me to meet. 

…So there you have it.  I’m in England, I’m a young rider with a stubborn streak and a competitive nature, and for better or worse, I’m living the dream.