There are lots of ways to become a Princess. You could be born one, you could marry a Prince, alternatively, you could PROCLAIM yourself to be one as you pitch your dressage whip across the tack room BUT as Zara Phillips has shown us, there’s only one way to become a four-star eventer, and that is to RIDE. It’s Melbourne 3 Day Event this weekend so TALLY HOH BITCHES!
The first three-day event I ever attended was the Sydney 2000 Olympics and I had put my name, along with the names of my relatively un-horsey family in the ballot and hoped for the best. We received tickets as follows; 4 x tickets to day 2 of the eventing dressage, 4 x tickets to the cross country and 0 x tickets to the eventing show jumping. I vividly remember the cross country day. It wasn’t just HOT, it was HOT HOT. Blistering, sizzling, Australian HOT. So, anyhoodle it was HOT and the jumps were HUGE.
The horsey world I lived in at the time was small, miniscule even, Centennial Park, Randwick Racecourse, the Royal Shows. Seriously, think about it, back in 2000 we barely even had the INTERNET. So, when I watched those riders gallop past, I promise you, I’m not exaggerating when I say, I had never seen people ride like that IN MY LIFE. It was on this day, that I had like a total HORSE EPIPHANY. I saw a rider approaching, she was burning up the distance like a scud missile, as she came closer, I heard the rhythmic thrum of her horses’ hooves as they struck the ground, her two-point seat was balanced perfection, her stare was unwavering, the crowd didn’t exist for her, we were invisible, for her, there was nothing, nothing but her horse and the jumps. This was the moment I had my epiphany, the moment I realised that women like her existed, that riders like her existed, this was my MARY KING MOMENT.
Luckily, for me, the excitement didn’t end there. At the very last minute, serendipity intervened and I managed to buy a single ticket to the show jumping phase and well, we all know how that ended. So there I stood, a lone hackie in the crowd, tears rolling down my cheeks, my chest swelling with admiration and pride as I heard our national anthem, watched our flag fly and saw our riders, Andrew Hoy, Phillip Dutton, Stuart Tinney and Matt Ryan standing on the centre podium, gold medals glinting in the afternoon sunlight.
Then it was over. I remember riding a wave of emotion and floating to the bus stop as I was jostled by the crowd exiting the stadium. If I was writing a book, this would probably be the point at which my heroine would realise that three-day eventing was her DESTINY and the ensuing pages would be filled with THRILLS and SPILLS and maybe even a bit of ROMANCE. Sorry to disappoint, but I really wanted to become a VET, so instead of all of that, I went to University. Fast forward eight years and the next time I attend the cross country day at an Olympic Games, it’s the Beijing 2008 Olympics, I’m volunteering in the FEI Veterinary Clinic and on this particular day, I’m stationed at the very last jump on the course at Happy Valley. Yeah, I know. FOR REALZ.
It was a different kind of hot in Hong Kong, the humidity was 100%. I remember my sunglasses fogging up whenever I went outside, as though I was standing in the middle of a hot shower. So much had changed in eight years and I stood, not in the crowd, but now, on the other side of the fence. I remember the sweat trickling down my back and each sigh of relief I breathed as I watched another horse come home safely and trot into the misting tent.
I spent five or maybe it was six weeks behind the scenes in Hong Kong and it was during this time that I had another, different kind of epiphany. The first time I went to the Olympics, was the first time I saw what it meant to really RIDE. The second time, I went, I saw what it really meant to ride as a TEAM.
It was during the team show jumping that I had what I now refer to as my GEORGE MORRIS MOMENT. Let me tell you, the Americans were tight and George Morris was their ratchet. There was a sand warm up directly behind the main ring and from a distance I remember watching George literally huddled by the side of that ring with Mclain Ward, Laura Kraut, Will Simpson and Beezie Madden. George was strategizing, the atmosphere was palpable. Then Team US of A RODE and then Will Simpson came out and finished off with that AMAZING ROUND and then they won a GOLD MEDAL and they were like an ABSOLUTE TEAM and GEORGE MORRIS IS A FREAK OF A COACH and it was LITERALLY THE MOST AMAZING THING I HAVE EVER SEEN, EVER.
At the Beijing Olympics, our eventers were most certainly a team, they were actually a SUPER DOOPER, SILVER MEDAL WINNING TEAM. Back at home, it has been my observation, that when the eventers aren’t a team, they are a COMMUNITY. They are the kind of people who will lift you up when you’re down, who will tell you to get out there and do it and who will cheer you on whilst you’re actually, you know, DOING IT. I’m not sure what it is that makes them such a great bunch of people, but I suspect is has something to do with the fact that they all spend half the time utterly loopy with adrenaline and adrenaline makes you feel GOOOOOOOOD. When I think about it, my favourite dressage coaches have all been, seriously, wait for it, eventers or at the very least, ex-eventers.
In fact, it was a video of local event rider, Amanda Ross, busting out a ‘Bloody hell that looks AAAAAHHHHMAZING’ whilst giving Imogen Tutton a dressage lesson that inspired me to sit down and write this afternoon. Let me just say, that I love any instructor who can get pumped about dressage like it’s the FOOTY. Amanda might have dubbed herself the Bogan Queen of Teurong but I think she’s selling herself a bit short because this weekend, she is going to get out there and ride that black Bat round the 2* like she’s DAENERYS MOTHER OF DRAGONS!!!!! YESSSSSSS!!!!!! GO AMANDA AND KOKO POPPING CANDY!!!!
So, here’s my suggestion, let’s all go out to the Melbourne 3 Day Event this weekend, watch some great sport and cheer like it’s Grand Final day because we have a TEAM to support. Good luck to all the riders representing Australia as part of the OCEANIA TEAM. Andrew Cooper and Rob Palm, I know you both and you are LEGENDS. Your team mates Stuart Tinney and Hazel Shannon. The junior team Olivia Barton, Taya Andrew, Shenae Lowings and Gemma Tinney. To all of you good luck.
I’ll be there with a little boy. Oliver’s first 3 Day Event. I wonder whether he will catch the bug. Whether this will be the first page of his very own story…………