This past weekend was the Richland Park Horse Trials, in Richland Michigan. That would be next door to Kalamazoo, Michigan…I can finally say that I have been to Kalamazoo! Maybe not on your top twenty, but I do highly recommend the Event if you’re in the area. I was asked how I liked Michigan, well the 600 plus acres I saw were very nice.
Amy, Shelby, Leyland and just about all of the O’Connor Event Team headed east from the heat and humidity of Virginia to compete in either the Three Star or the Advanced divisions of Richland Park with their short listed horses. They all thought it was “cold” when they got to Michigan, I on the other hand when I arrived on Friday morning into Kalamazoo (just like writing the word) had no such feelings of coolness; and it only went up from there.
By arriving on Friday, I of course missed Leyland’s dressage on Thursday, darn the bad luck… Again I find it difficult to even watch “competitive” dressage, I just wish for Amy to do well and every up and down in competition gets to be a bit much. Pathetic, I know. Besides, it is dressage after all. When I did arrive from Kalamazoo Airport, Amy and Buck Davidson were getting ready to have a dressage lesson with Oded Shimoni who has been helping the US Eventing Team to prepare for doing “proper” dressage.
The Richland Park site is very beautiful and it was generally hard to imagine that there were hundreds of horses in various stages of competing on the grounds. That is saying something when you have a wide range of levels competing, and then the US Eventing Team shows up to conduct its business of selecting a WEG Team. It may seem to be a bit burdensome for organizers and stewards all the requests that the Team and short listed riders make; after all, everyone wants to have safe, happy and sound horses right? Yes, but after spending tens of thousands of dollars to just make it to the short list; one gets a little, okay a lot paranoid about keeping your horse sound. We all know how good our horses are at finding every hole, bump or rock that is just waiting to cause a vet bill. The riders all know the cost of that hole, bump or rock, and after their years of competing they have a great deal of experience at minimizing those problems and they are quite vociferous at making sure the best environment is available for their steeds.
For me, I enjoy getting to go to these types of events, because I get to play catch up with everyone: Max, Karen, David, Kim, Stephan, Buck, Dougie, Steve, Katherine, Sara and many more. The best part of not being around a lot is that I get to play Switzerland in all of this stress of trying to make the Team.
We had a chance to see Amy’s ex-advanced horse, Woodstock II, he is affectionately known as “pecker”. Woodstock’s barn name was “woody”, which became “woodpecker” because he was notorious for eating a barn, and because of the rest of his pleasant personality, some days it just became “Pecker”. Sally Crane and her Daughter Ellie became Woody’s new adopted parents three years ago. We knew he had gone to a great home when after a few months we heard Sally refer to Woody as Pecker, and it was meant with all the endearment in the world. Woody, who has placed in the top five at Rolex and competed at Burghley, is now a cute little girl’s school master, and he looks wonderful.
Leyland’s owners are Elizabeth, Chris and Mike Nicholson. Elizabeth was competing on her other horse Spencer in the Training Division. Her parents had come down to watch the spectacle. Elizabeth had a great weekend by placing 2nd on Spencer. I am always impressed with owners like the Nicholsons. It is hard to sit back and watch your horse compete especially when the stress of the selection trials are around the corner. You always wonder if your horse has a chance. Did my rider do everything to make my horse look the best it could? What is the best for the horse: go fast or slower and smoother making it more of a schooling round? All are good questions, with no clear answers. After 11 years of directly trying to make US Teams, there is no sure answer. Do your best, have a sound horse and keep a smile on your face.
With Saturday came cross country. Amy rode in the Advanced-section with Leyland. When she finished the course they said he was clear with no time penalties, yet by the end of the weekend they had added 4 or so, oh well. She was very happy with his go. He was very rideable, which with ADHD Leyland is something we look for. This is basically only the fourth time Amy has been around a course with him this year due to her knee issues.
This is where I should talk about the glamorous side of upper level eventing. So Amy had her truck and trailer driven out to Michigan, so she would have someplace to stay and a way to get her horse around the east coast. I know last time I talked about how wonderful the trailer was (other than trying to drive it around a small parking lot!); well, it is nice, although with temps in the mid-90’s an aluminum box gets a bit warm. This is where the discussion needs to happen about that the O’Connor’s needing a MUCH QUIETER generator, especially if I am ever going to park next to them again and try to sleep! David/Karen, can’t you guys get Honda to sponsor you a generator or something?
Sunday morning rolled around bright and early with a jumping lesson with Katie Monahan Prudent. Like Oded, she has been helping with the Team’s show jumping. Amy likes her approach since she seems to be able to quickly judge the personality of the horses and be able to apply a targeted lesson to their needs, something that not everyone is able to do, especially with quirky thoroughbreds. The other challenge is that while you are trying to concentrate on the lesson you have every coach, vet, farrier and selector standing there watching you and your horse. No pressure.
And of course after each lesson there is the debrief with the Team Coach, Captain Phillips
After the lessons came the show jumping round. Amy had a single rail down with Leyland. There is the quick discussion with Captain Phillips and Katie about the hows and whys of the rail. This is where I find it amazing that something that looks so random, i.e. dropping a rail is actually an event that comes to be 7 strides before. That is how detailed one has to become in order to be successful at the upper levels.
And then it is over, a race to pack all of the tack, strip the stalls, get blood drawn on the horse (part of the selection process), say good byes, and load the horses. When you see your wife once every few weeks or months, good byes become a bit sad for all involved. The stress of trying to make the team really doesn’t help either. There was a fleeting kiss and a good bye as Team Tryon and O’Connor drove out of the Event. Me?, off I went to go catch a flight out of Kalamazoo in another puddle jumper…
And just like that, it is one week to go to the mandatory outing at the AECs in Georgia. The Team will probably be announced by the end of Tuesday following the weekend rides. After that will be two weeks of training with the Team Coaches. Hopefully the horses will get acclimatized to the heat enough that it will give them an advantage over the teams flying in from other locations, such as the Aussies, Kiwi’s or the Brits. I am just hoping the Germans don’t even show up; probably not likely since they have the closest hotel to the park. After they so kindly placed the American Event Team nearly an hour away from Aachen in 2006, I was certainly hoping they would be placed in Cincinnati!
More to come…best wishes and talk to you soon.