Festival in the Country
The week before Fair Hill International CCI3* and 2* (October 13-16) was soggy, so much that fields were flooded and I rode strictly on the roads, foregoing hunting on Thursday because the footing was so slippery. Friday was overcast with intermittent showers as I donned my wellies and fleece and headed down to Fair Hill, Maryland to go walk the course. Between leaving the vendor tents and the far side of the course, clouds blew in with yet another rain shower; fortunately fleece is still warm and comfy even when wet.
But glory be! Saturday began cold and as the morning progressed past 6 A.M., the sun rose and it turned into a perfect day spend in the country with blue sky, bright sunshine and magnificent foliage in yellows and crimson. It doesn’t get much better than that.
The organizers of the event thoughtfully placed many, many trash barrels everywhere. You didn’t need to carry that empty drink bottle more than a few steps.
Port-a-potties are normally something that I, as a photographer, abhor as they always seem to crop up in the most un-happy spot – like a “Win” picture. The organizers made sure there were lots of them and they were spread out well around the entire course, never obtrusive but there when needed. Might not be something everyone else thinks about, but I sure am grateful.
The cross country course is long and skinny; there were designated stops, with signage, where spectators could pick up a ride back to the tents. Very good detail.
Many people brought children and dogs and made a family day of it.
This year I chatted with a woman who brought two ‘tweens, a grand-daughter and her friend, both of whom are horse crazy. It involved a two and half hour drive but “no worry” - she had never missed one and the long day was a minor matter. Volunteers come year after year and at one of the water jumps, three generations – a team of grandmother, mother and grand-daughter – spent the day together fence judging.
Kristi Nunnink, whose horse is named R-Star, has blue stars on her cross country helmet.
She resides in California but when she is on the East Coast Bruce Davidson is her coach. While watching the show jump phase, where she eventually moved up from her 13th after dressage to 8th place at the final jump, Bruce stood along the rail in great anticipation and when she finished double clear he was clearly over the moon.
Life after Retirement
Some people get to the end of their career, retire and move to the chaise lounge for a well-deserved rest. Others can’t imagine getting up in the morning without a challenge to tackle; they keep on showing up at work until infirmity calls them to quit. The improbably named Ying Yang Yo came to the US with Boyd Martin and shortly thereafter placed 11th at Rolex. This weekend Boyd won the the 3* on Ying Yang Yo whom he had previously retired, handing the reins over to the owner’s daughter who competed him at Novice and Training. This horse, like some folks, didn’t seem ready to retire. Boyd tuned him up, starting all over at Preliminary then quickly moved to Advanced, winning the Three Star this year where he had come in second in 2007.
Outriders get to school too
At the end of Cross Country, as the crowd dissipated and judges packed up their gear to get back to their cars, an outrider took a moment to school her five year old Mule, “Rose”, at the water. Rose wasn’t quite so sure about it all, the sand at the edge giving way slightly under her hoof, but though tentative, she was game. With some encouragement from her rider and help from passers-by, she walked through the water and banished that boogey-man forever.
Every kid’s dream
Kylie Lyman is a 25 year old young woman who, through diligence and a winning disposition, won the Two Star. As a teenager, she rode nasty little ponies at a local stable, then finding a passion for horses, began to work for and train with Robert Costello and Buck Davidson. She has her own following now and has found a owner who clearly considers her family. Joan Nichols the owner of Trading Aces and the other horse that Kylie competed this weekend (Garrison Flash, coming in at 20th place in the 2*) told me that “she is the real deal” – a model for every kid who is willing to put in the time, effort and sacrifice that it takes. As they say, “Cream Rises”.
In reviewing the weekend and looking to the future, Boyd Martin is enthusiastic about the American prospects for 2012 (or the London Olympics, to be exact). He has competed internationally on three continents and he categorically states that Fair Hill is the hardest 3* in the world due to the combination of questions, huge fences and terrain. All three top finishers, Boyd, Becky Holder and Jan Byyny have capable horses and a depth of experience that he believes puts them in a good position to do very well next year. While they coyly refused to actually say the word “Olympics”, they do admit they are anticipating and preparing for “a Big One”.
At the end of Cross Country, Jan Byyny was ahead of Boyd Martin by two tenths of a point.
An unlucky fence in Show Jumping took Jan from first to third in the very last round Sunday. Jan Byyny was honored with the Sportsmanship Award at the awards ceremony, an acknowledgement of achievement not only for placing in the top three, but also for having found the strength and hope to return to competition after a career-ending injury. A year and a half ago, at an event in Georgia her horse fell and she suffered a traumatic brain injury. Coming back from that fall required that she learn to walk and to talk all over again, then learn again to ride a horse. She has said that re-learning to speak was as hard as re-learning to ride.
The second fence on the course Sunday snatched away her chance to win the 3* but it is almost beyond comprehension that someone could achieve that level of competence in a scant twenty months. She just hammered away at the rehabilitation until she got back to the start box. She says she takes everything “one day at a time”. When she said that it was like hearing the phrase for the first time. It will forever take on a new meaning for me.
To her, I send a Valentine.
“I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat
But always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted ….
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
I hope you dance” ***
***Song by Lee Ann Womack – “I Hope You Dance”