It has been some time since completing my first CCI4*, and I continue to look back in awe at how fortunate I am to have competed at Rolex, and also sad that it came and went so quickly. My first Rolex will forever be a highlight in my life. It was truly one of the most thrilling, stressful, and inspirational weeks of my existence. And every single moment of hard work and tension was so very worth it. I learned a lot about what it is like to compete at such a prestigious competition. I think of myself as still new to the upper levels. Yes, I have been so lucky to be competing for almost 15 years now, but there is a large difference from national levels to international levels, and even from a 3* to a 4*. I still have so much to learn, and I hope to continue to absorb as much knowledge as I can.
I arrived in KY the Sunday before, and was able to stay at Joanie Morris's beautiful barn not far from the Kentucky Horse Park. It was perfect to be able to let Ari have some turnout and relax after her trip while we got the equipment moved into the Horse Park. Leslie Law helped make this possible for me, and I was able to have lessons with him on Monday and Tuesday as final prep. Being a part of the Emerging Athletes group has helped me so much, and I am so grateful to be apart of this list. I always come away from the training sessions with great things to work on and am inspired to continue to better myself and work to learn as much as possible. After our lesson on Tuesday, we packed up and got Ari moved in. The rest of the day was just figuring out everything and getting settled. By Wednesday, we were ready for the first jogs. Ari had been on lots of walks and I had ridden her in the morning to loosen her muscles. We got to the jog strip, and all I remember is how many people there were! I think I was more shocked by it than Ari was; she trotted super, and we were accepted.
Ari turned 16 on July 1st, and it was a great learning experience to maintain a horse of her age and mileage at the 4* level. I was so grateful for the team of vets and farriers who helped me make the right decisions to keep Ari feeling her best, and that she is. There isn't a word for how phenomenal Ari is. She is an elegant fighter, a fierce and opinionated mare, and an extremely sweet little horse who loves her job and would do anything for me. She's my partner in crime, may that crime be jumping solid obstacles bigger than she is into water. I know she would do anything to keep me safe, and my love for her is so great...even when I ocassionaly come out of a dressage ring having been run away with sideways while rearing. What can I say? She is a very special horse.
Dressage at Rolex went much better than I expected. I think it really helped having been able to compete in that very ring before at the Young Rider Championships. I know Dressage is not our strong phase, but I was so pleased with how well she listened to me and stayed focused, which is not always the case. I came out of the ring all smiles. We scored a 59.5, and I think it finally hit me that I was at Rolex when we left the arena. Having been 16th to go, and riding on Thursday, the crowd was't huge, but still having all the applause leaving the stadium and being on the screen made it real. I wasn't planning on it, but there were definitely tears as I got off and hugged everyone.
After dressage, we had Friday off. Ari went for a hack in the morning, and went on many walks throughout the day. A majority of the day was spent going over the cross country course. Missy walked it a second time with me after dressage on Thursday, going over more details than we had the first time around. I also walked the course with Leslie Law and the other Emerging Athletes on Friday. Having so much great advice and knowledge from two very experienced eventers was vital in creating a solid plan for my ride. I walked the course a total of 5 times before leaving the start box on Saturday. My mom also went around with me and I was able to go over my plan once again, and talk with her to help ease my nerves. She knows Ari and me so well, and I was so grateful to have her there for support. On Friday, I was invited to participate in the Prince Phillip Pony Club mounted games. There were 3 other Rolex riders there, all who had been Pony Club members, and we all were given a pony and put on teams. I have never played games before and my lack of experience got the best of me when I tried to mount after getting off to pick up a ball and the pony did his job and took off back to the line. I tried to slow him as I was still getting on, and he threw in a little buck and I just couldn't stick it. Good thing he was very small and stopped on the spot, and I quickly got back on and finished my round. Luckily we were all able to have a good laugh...silly to fall at Rolex, but at least it wasn't from Ari! After the games, I went to the GLC Direct booth for an autograph signing. This was unlike anything I had done before, and it was really nice to meet a lot of the spectators there and take pictures. GLC Direct /Actistatin have been a wonderful sponsor and set up a great signing with pictures. Afterwards, I walked my course again. Friday was a very busy day, but it was good to be busy. With the biggest cross country course of my life less than 24 hours away, I was happy to have lots to do. I think I focused enough to solidify my plan without overthinking too much.
Saturday morning was humid with the possibility of a little rain. I was up early to go walk my course once more, while my amazing friend and groom for the week, Grace Simpson, fed and took care of Ari. I could not have gotten through the week without Grace. Grace is studying pre-vet at Otterbein, and she took impeccable care of Ari, monitoring her every move. Not only was she there for Ari's every need, she also kept me organized and handled me and my nerves. I don't know how she did it all, but couldn't have asked for better support. Emma Ciafone (named to the 2017 Eventing 18 Program) was also in the barns and helped with taking care of Ari. I have known both of these girls for many, many years, and I was so happy to have them there. They are younger, but so incredibly mature and have very knowledgable eventing backgrounds thanks to Pony Club and Pendragon Stud Equestrian Center. Now it was just down to waiting to get ready for Cross Country. Ari went on walks to keep her muscles loose, and finally the time came to tack up. The footing was fantastic, so it was nice to not have to worry about slipping too much. Still, Ari got some medium sized studs and we wrapped her legs up in my awesome Majyk Equipe cross country boots. The nerves were building, and Missy, my mom, and I went into the show office to watch the first couple of rides. That made me even more nervous, and I couldn't wait to just get on. Ari warmed up well, and before I knew it, it was time. There was a slight misunderstanding at the start box, and I left the box 30 seconds late, but thankfully they took away those penalties. Having realized I was starting late, I left the box speedily, and was able to get right into a rhythm. Ari was just fantastic around the whole course. Overall it ran quite smoothly other than the two angled brushes later on in the course. I wasn't accurate enough, and Ari saved us from having a runout with her cleverness and quick action. She was so game around the entire course, even when she began to tire after the Normandy Bank. The last few fences I helped her as much as I could, and she kept searching for the flags and doing her job. Crossing the finish line was the best feeling, we finished cross country only adding some time to our score. I had a great team at the vet box to help cool Ari out. She recovered nicely, and we were able to take her back to the barn and begin post cross country care after the vets checked her. Ari was iced many times, got fluids to replenish her body, and lots of walking and liniment in between. We also gave her some time to relax alone in her stall, fed her dinner, and left her to rest for the night in poultice, her Draper Therapy Recovery wraps, and hoof pack.
Sunday morning came very quickly, Ari was a little stiff coming out of her stall, but Grace helped wash off her poultice and get her moving. Dr. Copenhagen and Dr. Manring were there for Ari, helping her recover from her great effort the day before, and we passed the 3rd Horse Inspection. Dr. Copenhagen has known Ari for many years, and helped me learn how to maintain Ari in the best way possible. Not only is she a phenomenal vet, she is also super supportive and cheered us on in each phase. Ari was even awarded the Equus Boutique best presented horse award thanks to Grace for her immaculate care of Ari. Then it was time for the riders parade and to walk the Show Jumping course. Missy and my mom walked it with me, and Leslie was there if I had any more questions. We headed back to the barns to get ready, and walked to the stadium. Ari felt a little tired, and I didn't blame her at all. As soon as we started jumping, she woke right up and went to work. Feeling ready, we walked to the main arena, and started our course. Ari gave her all, and jumped around adding a rail and some time to our score. Looking back, I could have managed my turns better to take up less time, and the rail was due to my shoulders falling forward throwing Ari off balance, but we completed our first Rolex! There were so many people in the stands, and the applause was huge. I couldn't have been any happier. The rest of Sunday flew by, with the victory gallop and the awards ceremony. There were so many great awards! Then we quickly packed up, and I took Ari back to Joanie's barn. Joanie Morris was very nice in having room for Ari, and it was great for her to get a little turnout before the drive home to Colorado. We left on Tuesday, with my friend Colleen Collins to help keep me company. We made the drive in one long day, and got home happy and safe.
Just a huge thank you to everyone involved. I was so fortunate to have so many friends and family come to watch, and all of the people who helped offset the costs through my bake sales, my gofundme page, and even raising money. It still feels like a dream, and I owe everything to my amazing family for their support, all of my friends for cheering me on, my sponsors for keeping my horses and myself in top form (please go check them out on my sponsor page), and all of the generous people who reached out and helped get me to Rolex. There is no way I would have been able to do it without you all. The week of Rolex was set off with many surprises from my Colorado group, they had made team shirts, and banners, and even a hat and jacket for Grace and myself with my logo on them. It was all very special, so thank you for all of you who organized all of that!
For now, it is great to be back home with my amazing family in beautiful Colorado while I continue to bring along some more horses and work toward my next set of goals. Ari is feeling great, finishing in second place in the CIC3* a my favorite event, Rebecca Farms. I will be finishing off the season with my younger horses before traveling to Florida to end the year of competing at the Jockey Club.