Oct 19, 2010

Well I didn’t have time to write Saturday night, and by Sunday night we were ready for a little celebration, so once again, e-mails got pushed aside.  Then I was busily packing for a 2:30 AM departure on Monday, so now I finally sit down to write in the fog of an emotional hangover.  The support from everyone has been incredible and I can’t thank everyone enough for all the nice messages, emails, and face book posts, not to mention everything it took to get us to Holland and back. 

Saturday morning started off a bit dreary and discouraging as the rain continued to be an annoyance and the course proved to be riding very difficultly.  I stood with Mike Huber at the first water complex to watch the first 5 horses come through and I saw every version of ugly unfold.  Most of the horses jumped the skinny A element well but then riders were kicking and smacking and yelling to get over B, the big ditch.  Then they were doing every version of lying on and crawling over C, the roll top, big drop into the water.  From there half the horses were pecking on landing or pulling off their shoes, or falling down, before the up bank turning to the other skinny chevron, D and E.  This was not exactly what I had wanted to see to boost my confidence!  Doug was the first to ride for us and as the 4th horse out, I was standing there to watch him have an unfortunate 2 run outs at the A element.  After that, however, he really got things going and his young horse matured years around the next 7 minutes of the course.  Will was next to go, and it was magic to watch.  His mare is also young and quite green, but she ate it all up, jumping clear and inside the time with the help of Will’s experience, moving all the way from 51st to 13th place.  I know he was absolutely delighted by Missie’s performance, and I felt lucky to get to witness it.  From there I watched a few more horses go, and had a talk with Mark.  We decided to take the long route at the water that was causing so many problems, which funny enough, was my first instinct for my horse.  Otherwise, it was just a “go get it” sort of talk. 

When we left the box I was immediately encouraged that the sea of 40,000 spectators might be less of a hindrance and more of a help.  We went all the way to Holland so our horses could experience the spectators, tents, and atmosphere of an international event.  For Finn however, I felt like we had tunnel vision down the galloping lanes, with nothing but the jump ahead of us.  He was absolutely fantastic in his gallop, and actually on the first, second, and third minute markers.  He really was taking it all as it came to us, each jump revealing itself as we twisted through the forest, and breaking out into the clearing at the water.  I am thrilled that the long route there suited him really well, and he was able to carry on, with his confidence in place, all of his shoes, and having not taken a dunking.  I found myself having to press harder for the time as we continued on, but he was still jumping boldly and straight as an arrow through the accuracy questions.  I had a dicey moment at the second water when he kicked up hard and stuck on landing, throwing me up his neck and face to face with the forces of physics that suggested I take a bath.  Fortunately I stayed on, and short of a few seconds wasted removing myself from his ears and climbing back into the tack, we were able to continue on unscathed.  We finished up adding just 7.6 time faults to our score and moving into 7th place.  Finn cooled out well and looked good back in the barn. 

4th to ride for our team was Sinead and she had a fabulous go, adding just 1.6 time penalties to move up into 14th place.  The team moved into 2nd place, knocking on the door for first with just a rail and a half separating us from the Germans.  All the horses looked pretty good Saturday night and we had the expert help of PJ, our vet extraordinaire, should anything arise.

Sunday we all got through the jog and then busied ourselves with getting ready for show jumping.  Doug jumped right after we walked the course and had a lovely round with just one rail.  While he may not have had exactly the weekend he had been hoping for, he and Skinny will be a better team for their experiences on this trip and have lots to be proud of.  After that, everything turned into a blur as Will and Sinead jumped back to back (14th and 13th places) and I was in warm up thinking about myself at that point.  Sinead had 3 rails unfortunately, but said she thought Tate was just tired.  They finished in 21st place.  Will was unlucky to have the last rail at the end of a supposedly great round.  They finished up in 12th.  My goal with Finn in warm up was to get him settled and polite to the jumps so that I didn’t have to do too much fighting with him in the ring.  Fortunately he was feeling light and springy, and right on the button.  I jumped just a few fences and Mark and I agreed we were ready to go.  When we went in the ring, he grew another few inches in height and took in his surroundings, but in proud sort of way.  I think he took a look around and said “darn right you should be applauding me, I belong here!”  He jumped a flawless round from start to finished, and out of 78 horses, was 1 of only 14 clear rounds.  We finished up 6th and our team finished 2nd, just 2.2 points behind Germany. 

I’m happy to report that I survived (and stayed in the tack for) not one, but two victory gallops as we had both team and individual awards.  The only real casualty of the day was when all the officials came through to shake each of our hands.  Mind you we were holding trophies, silver plates, wooden boxes, and oh yeah, the reins!  As Ciska van Meggelen came to shake my hand, Finian thought her fur coat looked like a really nice tissue, and reached around behind her, taking the liberty of wiping his mouth on her back.  That green slime was making his nose itch!  My eyes popped out, her eyes popped out, and Dr. Ernst Topp, another member of the ground jury, hurriedly attempted to wipe her clean.  Hopefully in time she will look back on it and see the humor.  I for one, am still mortified!  Leave it to the Americans, or this American to be more exact!

That night we enjoyed a bit of well earned celebration and packed up all our things.  Finn and I got picked up at 2:30 AM by a lorry driver that looked like he’d overslept his alarm, and arrived at Amsterdam airport by 4:30.  We spend the next few hours doing paperwork.  Finn had the pleasure (or not) of flying home with a 2 year old race horse filly who thought she was going kick her way out of the pallet and back to her field in Ireland.  By the time we got in the plane and ready for take-off, she had sufficiently worn herself out, and remained pretty quiet for the rest of the flight.  It turns out Finn was quite the celebrity on-board as several of the flight attendants had been at Boekelo and watched us go.  They had to come back into cargo and visit with him.

So that’s it, a whirlwind trip that couldn’t have gone better.  I’m so thankful for the USEF grant that allowed us our first trip to Europe, and for everything and everyone that helped us along the way.  It’s just 10 more hours of quarantine and then Finn and I will drive home for a real vacation.  Finn gets to kick up his feet and relax now for the rest of the fall and part of the winter.  I have one more, big event with McCool doing the CCI2* at Galway Downs in two weeks and then the season’s over.