Reflecting

I’ve been writing another blog about Kaylin’s riding to keep family and friends up to date on everything. I’ve written that blog for close to three years.

It really didn’t dawn on me until last fall that the blog is really becoming more of scrapbook/written documentation about Kaylin’s riding adventures. I came to that realization after I wrote an entry about Kaylin’s fall season not shaping up to be the way we had planned.

I’ve shared that blog entry with only a handful of people, but now, I feel that I can share it with everyone else who cares to read it. It is, (I feel) a great illustration on what eventing moms witness and experience alongside their kids. A peek inside the excitement – and the heartbreak – we all go through at one point or another.

Here it is:

Them’s the Breaks Kid.

Posted on September 27, 2011

Fall 2011 started out with great anticipation, giddiness, happiness and a little pressure to get the job done. Kaylin was finally on track to make her big debut at Training level, and she knew they could do it.

Let me recap. The spring didn’t turn out quite like we had planned. Set backs for various reasons kept Kaylin and Harley from going Training back in March. This began to worry Kaylin that they were now so far off schedule she would never catch up. Everyone told her to slow down, that she would get there. She didn’t like that answer.

Fast forward a little to summer. After leaving the trainer she had for over four years, (Susan) to train exclusively with Rebecca Howard, plus having multiple joints injected on Harley, they were finally back on track. Rebecca allowed them to move up to Training level and helped plan the fall competition season with one end goal in mind: The November Training 3 Day Event in Florida.

The Training 3 Day Event is the “classic long format”. It includes: dressage, cross country, stadium jumping, roads and tracks (a timed walk/trot/canter along a prescribed track), and steeplechase. It is also the first time a young competitor is expected to present their horse for inspection (jog), and have in barns (vet inspections) done. It’s a pretty big deal and a right of passage for many. This would earn Kaylin a 1/2 star beside her name.

Now that I have you throughly confused, just know that the Training 3 Day Event was to be the icing on the cake. It would round out a year that has had a few ups and downs, and get them back on Kaylin’s self-prescribed schedule. A grueling, tight schedule that she seems to be Hell bent on keeping.

In order to qualify for the Training 3 Day Event, the governing body of the sport has given a set of standards that each competitor must meet. While it isn’t hard to achieve, it can be exhausting and a lot of pressure if you have a deadline looming. She had to get four qualifications by October 4th in order to compete at the Training 3 Day Event in November. Going into the season, she had exactly ZERO qualifications completed.

The season officially kicked off at Waredaca (Maryland) in August. The drive one way is 8 hours. We were gone a grand total of 36 hours. It was a crazy, hectic weekend, but one that had to be done. You see, we don’t compete any more than two weekends in a row in order to be fair to Harley. That means, when you’re trying to qualify for something, you have to make crazy decisions, drive long distances in short amounts of time, and compete every chance you get just to give yourself enough chances to qualify. She had exactly FIVE chances to earn four qualifying results.

Waredaca did not earn her a qualifying result.

The pressure mounted. That left four competitions to get four qualifications done. I worried it was too much pressure. I tried to convince Kaylin she could just pace herself and do the Training 3 Day in the spring. She refused. Rebecca worried that if something should hold them back the disappointment would be too much for Kaylin to handle. Kaylin assured Rebecca that she would be fine and that this was something she had to TRY to achieve, otherwise she would spend the rest of her life asking, “What if?”

Full Gallop (South Carolina) was next. Since we knew there were only four chances left, and no way to add another event, we knew if she didn’t get a qualification here there would be no reason to carry on with such a huge season. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a 14-year-old kid! She thrived under it and received her first qualification without hesitation. She even placed fourth out of 15 in her division. We seemed to be off to a better start. Who knew that extraordinary pressure could push someone so young, that far, without hindering them?

Five Points (North Carolina) was up next. Five Points is located in Southern Pines, NC and really is a second home to us. Kaylin and Harley spend so much time there that it’s quite a comfortable environment. As a mom, I felt better about the pressure I was allowing Kaylin to put on herself because this event is very low stress for them. But again, we knew if she didn’t get her second qualification here, no reason to enter the next two events because the goal would no longer be a Training 3 Day Event in November. They placed 6th out of 30 and earned their second qualification.

Kaylin was determined. Focused. Organized. Everything was pointed to Florida in November. The next month was organized into training sessions with Rebecca. It was all planned and ready to set into motion as soon as that fourth qualification was earned. They were ready.

The third go was this past weekend at Middleburg (Virginia). It was a rainy, miserable weekend. I worried over the long grass, the mud and the slippery conditions. Kaylin spent a lot of time with Harley discussing their strategy and going over the course map. Yes. She does talk to her horse. I think he listens too.

Dressage day was wet, but thankfully the rain stopped. They managed to pull out a 37.3. Not the greatest score they’ve had, but certainly not awful. We had come to just look for the requirements for the qualification and not worry about the placings. She needed a 50 or less on dressage and she earned that. Time to move on.

It rained all night Saturday night. I began to worry that they would call off cross country and this horse trial wouldn’t count. Her goal would be shot out of the water because there was no time to make it up. That didn’t seem very fair to not even have a chance! Then I began to worry that they wouldn’t call off cross country. It was wet, muddy, and slick. The perfect recipe for disaster even with studs on Harley’s feet for traction.

Kaylin suited Harley up with appropriately large “mud studs” for the day’s work. Stadium jumping was just prior to cross country. Stadium was being held in a grassy, slightly downhill arena. I didn’t dare watch their warm-up as I was afraid I would see them slipping and sliding and *I* would lose *MY* nerve. Instead, I watched for Kaylin and Rebecca to come back from warm-up and I read the expressions on their faces. Both were smiling and chatting. Kaylin had that determined look on her face. Harley was concentrating and listening for Kaylin to speak to him. You can always tell when he’s waiting on Kaylin’s voice to come to him – his right ear is turned towards her, his left is pricked forward listening for danger coming their way.

Kaylin and Harley stood outside the arena gate waiting their turn and watching the competitors go before them. Several competitors were having a hard time due to the slippery conditions and tightness of the course. I knew that Harley would take care of Kaylin, and Kaylin would take care of Harley, so I didn’t worry as they made their way into the arena.

Kaylin made the wise choice to trot Harley past the obstacle decorated with huge purple butterflies. Harley doesn’t like decorations. In fact, we still need to have a word with those pink flamingoes in Southern Pines from a couple of years ago!

Anyway, the whistle blew and they started their round. They cleared the first three obstacles with ease. Kaylin balanced him well through the turns so he wouldn’t slip, and Harley rewarded her with a lovely arc through the air, over the jumps. Fence number four was a combination fence. That means there were two obstacles labeled 4A and 4B. You have to jump one, cover the distance between the two by cantering, then jump the second one.

I’m sure Kaylin will forever curse jump 4B. Harley cleared 4A without any trouble. 4B was slightly downhill in that slippery, wet, grass arena. Harley slid in the mud, lost his balance and crashed into the fence. Kaylin fell off onto the fence. It was everything Harley could do to keep all four feet under him and not fall down, or on top of, Kaylin.

Thankfully Kaylin had her air vest on. It deployed like it was supposed to and kept her from getting hurt on the fence. Because it deployed though, she had some trouble getting up in the mud with the vest blown up. The arena crew and spectators thought she was hurt. Once Kaylin was helped to her feet and was helped out of her air vest, we could all see that she was fine. Very angry, but fine. The fall eliminated her from competition. She would not earn her third qualification. This, in essence, ended the season.

As Kaylin was walking out of the arena, several spectators applauded her, several called out, “It’s OK Kaylin!” She smiled and said thank you, but as her mom I knew. That kid was mad. Mad at herself. Mad about the rain. Mad that her season’s goal was no longer attainable. Disappointment colored her face and seeped a little from her eyes. Harley hung his head in shame and disappointment too.

By the time Kaylin came out of the arena (which was no more than 50 yards long), she had recovered enough to look at Rebecca and say, “I’ll get it done in the spring! I’ll get it done and we’ll be better because of it!” Rebecca smiled down at her and told her they would not only get it done, they would go and win it. (The Training 3 Day Event)

After a couple of choked back sobs, a few more tears, several smiles and encouragement from Rebecca, Kaylin patted her horse and led him back to the barn. She carefully took care of him herself. She didn’t want any help from Jason or I. She wanted this time to be alone with her thoughts and alone with her horse. She checked him all over for any injuries, gave him a bath, and gingerly wrapped his legs to make sure they didn’t swell. He tucked his head against her cheek as if to say, “I’m sorry”, and Kaylin reached up and patted his face telling him, “It’s OK Harley. It’s my fault, not yours.” She reached in her pocket and handed Harley a homemade treat she had bought him earlier from the Pony Club. Harley hesitated about taking the treat as I’m sure he didn’t feel as though he deserved it. After eating the treat, he snuggled against Kaylin’s cheek one more time. They both closed their eyes for a moment, then they parted ways. Harley to munch hay, Kaylin to start packing up for the long journey home.

I wasn’t sure how Kaylin would take the disappointment of a “lost” season. She had been so determined they would make it, I don’t think she left any room for thoughts contrary to that. She was quiet for the first part of the drive home. She napped some, texted a few friends. Mostly listened to music and kept her thoughts to herself. Rebecca texted me to ask how she was doing. “Unusually quiet,” I responded. Rebecca asked me to tell Kaylin how proud she is of her. Not just for her riding ability, but for her grace and humility under pressure. I shared that with Kaylin. I got a half-smile and caught a glimpse of a tear as she looked out the window away from me.

By the time we stopped for dinner, Kaylin was acting more like her old self. In those hours she had reconciled her feelings and her disappointment. She was beginning to regroup and reformulate her plan. She texted Rebecca about some of her ideas and they’re now putting them into motion.

It’s always an upward battle in this sport. Just when you think you’re doing great, the rug is pulled out from under you and you come crashing down. It truly is a wonder anyone makes it to the top in this sport. I know I don’t have that kind of determination and drive. Kaylin is driven to succeed, driven to excellence, and driven to prove to the world that her little gray horse can, and will, make it to the top with her.

I found a quote by college football coach, Joe Paterno, that I think fits the bill nicely:

“What counts in sports is not the victory, but the magnificence of the struggle.”

I shared the quote with Kaylin and she nodded her head. She looked up and said, “But I’m still disappointed.”

I won’t share everything Kaylin and I spoke about as I feel that isn’t fair to her. Few people get to see her raw emotions because she’s private that way. She takes everything she does seriously and with attention to detail. When things don’t go quite like she planned, she blames herself even when there’s no way  it could be her fault. She takes to heart, “Everything has a reason.” She’s the one that reminded us long ago that if something should ever happen to her while she’s riding, to always remember that she was doing what she loved and that everything happens for a reason. She’s wise beyond her years and has the heart of an angel.

I did tell her, “Yes, you’re allowed to be disappointed, or frustrated, or mad even. But them’s the breaks kid. This is what makes eventing so exciting. You never know what will happen until it actually happens. What makes you, YOU, is the fact that you love your horse unconditionally, you love what you’re doing, and you can accept the difficulties that come along with this sport.”

Jason and I have never coddled our kids. We don’t mince words when it comes to serious matters. This particular matter is serious for Kaylin and it wasn’t the time for fluff. It was time for a, “brush the dirt off, put on your big girl pants and move on,” talk.

She nodded her head in agreement and fell asleep.

What’s next? Well, we were already slated to go back to Virginia this coming weekend for Morven. We’ll be heading there and hopefully earning a third qualification towards next year’s Training 3 Day Event. Rebecca leaves for the Pan American Games next week, so she’ll be out-of-town for most of October. We will still use this as an opportunity to work on dressage, and use this as an opportunity to polish up some aspects unique to the Training 3 Day Event.

Kaylin’s schedule may be out of whack for now, but I think she achieved an even bigger lesson in life: Patience, humility and grace will get you everywhere.

Kaylin still maintains that *THIS* is what she wants to do with her life. *THIS* is what she is passionate about. *THIS* is how she exists. *THIS* is a God given talent that she has to see through to the end. No matter what happens, Kaylin is doing what she loves. She knows what she wants to do with her life. She’s already living her life. How awesome to be only 14 years old and already be living the life you want!

That kid and that horse are true heroes in my book.

Patience, humility and grace. Life lessons we could all stand to learn.

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First Post

Eventing moms are a unique breed. Some of us had the horse bug carry over from our own childhoods. Some didn’t get “bitten” until our own children showed an interest. We’ve come to this world in different ways, but we all share a common thread – our children love what they do, or they wouldn’t do it.

When most people think of riding horses, they envision a leisurely trail ride once, maybe twice a week. Eventing soooo isn’t that! Eventing is a triathlon. Dressage, cross country and stadium jumping make up an event.  (http://useventing.com/start.php?section=eventing)

While our kids are out there doing what they do best, eventing moms are on the sidelines doing what we do best: cheering them on, praying, pacing (guilty as charged!), worrying. “Riding” the test or course with them, giving directions under our breath and choking back tears as we witness the exhuberant smile, the goal achieved or even the defeat. Eventing moms will tell you they do it for the love of their kids, and that IS true. However, eventing moms do it for another reason as well….they’re living vicariously through their kids.

How many times have I heard from a mom, “I wish I could just ride a beginner novice course. Just once!” I’m guilty. A lot of my eventing mom friends are guilty. But most of us don’t. We are content to sit on the sidelines watching every move, counting every stride, holding our breath as they leave the start box and only remembering to breathe again when they’ve crossed the finish line. We’re content to hold horses, give a leg up, wipe boots, clean horse noses and walk around all day with green horse slobber all over our shirts. We’re hot, cold, wet (from sweat or rain), tired, achy and hungry. But at the end of the day, when your kid says to you, “Thanks for all your help mom!” You forget ALL of your own discomfort and vow you’ll be there every single time they saddle up and head out.

Eventing moms are indeed a unique breed.

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