Rolex Reflections

by | April 30th, 2014 10:03 AM | Comments Off on Rolex Reflections

The “High Holy Days of Eventing”.  That is what I jokingly call cross country days at Rolex Kentucky, Badminton, and Burghley 4*s. They are the three days of the year when all people who are either totally consumed or minorly aware of eventing flock to any available type of device to watch hours of live-streamed video of their friends, idols, and heroes.  Facebook, Twitter,  and Instagram feeds are flooded with photos of those who make the trek to be there in person.  Eventing fans are rabid for their sport!

This year’s Rolex Kentucky was a spectacular weekend for all.  The conditions were perfect for cross country.  The footing was awesome, the course was very well designed, a cool breeze was blowing.  Dressage days were a bit cool and a few poor horses and riders got soaked by a passing shower.  The trade fairs were humming with shoppers and autograph seekers alike. A record number of horses started the weekend and I have to say it was a rather impressive group of individuals.

I have been as a rider a few times now, and I can assure you it is a nerve wracking experience.  The joy of being there to compete combined with the anxiety of the actual task at hand makes for sleepless nights and hand wringing days.  Little known fact… most of us are scared out of our wits and sick to our stomachs before getting on our horses.  We flock to the TV to watch the stream and sit in absolute silence studying the rides.  When it is time to go is when we feel the best —  actually getting on and getting to work.

Derek Di Grazia’s cross country course was so well designed this year, I was wishing I was there riding.  The questions were tough for certain, but the horses could see the lines they were presented with very well.  That doesn’t mean it was a ‘gimme’ by any means, but it was fair.  Horses looking for a reason to not jump had ample opportunity throughout the track to stop.  Those ridden forward and that look for the flags made it look easy.

My experience at Rolex this year was a new one.  I was there as a coach for the first time. As a coach, it is a whole different thing.  I do have to say I slept much better this year!  But it was my job to instill confidence, keep morale high, and maintain everyone’s focus.  To quash self-doubt in my rider Dana Widstrand.  To keep Rover, aka Relentless Pursuit, on his job and behaving in the dressage schools.  I lost count of how many times I said ‘You can do this’ or ‘You both are READY to do this’.

Rover surveying the stadium at Rolex.

Rover surveying the stadium at Rolex.

Dana and Rover came to me in January and I will always be proud of the amount of work we got done improving their flatwork and jumping.  When they were on a 64.5%  two-thirds of the way through their test on Friday I was so thrilled.  The flying changes are tough still, and they brought the scores down some, but still so much better than they were just a few weeks ago when there was bolting and rearing involved!  I think we crammed a years worth of work in three months, a testament to focus, tireless effort on all parts, and the wonderful mind of a wonderful horse.

Sadly for my rider, the atmosphere and daunting task of a 4* track got to them a bit.  Rover is a very forward fellow, a bit over confident at times, so he usually steps up and goes even if Dana isn’t sure she wants to!  But they got to Fence 2, a huge picnic table, and realized they weren’t in Kansas anymore.  They lost their mojo there and never got it back.  Where Rover usually steps up and says ‘I got this’ he was behind her leg.  His jockey was a bit shocked by this and froze a bit and their day ended at the second water.

I was in the tent that shows the video feeds, talking to the screen hoping somehow it would get across the wire.  “Kick Dana, Kick!” …  “Come on Rover, go”.  I was powerless.  So then my job switched from confidence building to damage control.  To keep all of the hard work that they accomplished from being washed away by tears of sadness, frustration, but mostly disappointment.  Rover has been Dana’s only upper level horse, and she made him!  He is an OTTB that she bought right of the track, did Young Riders on, their first Advanced, 3* and now 4*.  It is my job to remind them of all that they have accomplished and keep them focused.  Onto Jersey Fresh, what is done is done, now let’s fix it and get ready for Rolex 2015.

They can do it, they are READY.  Let’s get to work.

About the Author

Heather Gillette is an upper-level event rider who owns Heron’s Landing Eventing Team, based out of Merrywind Farm in Pottersville, N.J. She has competed extensively at the three-star level, and has a strong client base of young riders and adult amateurs who remain loyal to Heron’s Landing thanks to her passion for the sport, her dedication to her students, and her ability to make an analogy out of just about everything.

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