You’re 23 years old at one of the country’s most important shows, last to go during an 11-horse tiebreaker in the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Washington for the coveted President’s Cup trophy. A packed house at the Capital One Arena is watching your every move.
The mission (which is a lot like Mission Impossible) is to improve on the jump-off time of 2007 FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals winner Beat Mändli of Switzerland, who is leading with a clocking of 32.07 seconds and the USA’s 2017 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals champ McLain Ward (32.30). Now this is pressure!
Luckily, in only her third season at grand prix, Catherine Nicole Tyree is up to handling the challenge with her trusty partner, Enjoy Louis.
How does she keep a cool head in such a situation?
“I really just try and remember I wouldn’t be jumping these classes if I wasn’t capable and didn’t have the horses for it,” said Cat, who cited the support of her parents and her trainers of six years, Missy Clark and John Brennan, who “know how my brain works.”
She has exactly the right mindset as she passes through the in-gate.
“I go in and just remember that I do this because I love it and try and be there for my horse,” she said.
She was thrilled to be riding against Beat and McLain, noting, “they’re riders that I look up to. Going in, I wanted to push myself a bit more than normal, but still trying to leave the jumps up because I am newer to this level. I hope someday to be half the rider that Beat and McLain are and try to copy their smoothness in the jump-off. But for now, I couldn’t be more thrilled with how things went.”
She wound up third with a clean round in 33.83 seconds, ahead of Nations’ Cup veteran Allison Firestone Robitaille (34.57) on Ace.
Recounting her strategy, she said, “I definitely lost from one to two (the Longines oxer followed by a 225-degree turn to a vertical) and that’s something I’ve tried to be working on. When I realized that was happening, I tried to pick up on it. Louis is a bit of a slower mover, and right turns are a bit more difficult. He can lock his jaw a little bit and if I’m not there and on it and looking, he can get a little stuck in the turns. So I ended up doing two more strides than Beat and one more than McLain and I’m already a lot slower than them, so I took a lot more time.”
While she won’t have her name engraved—yet—on the golden trophy that has been won over the years by such legends as Joe Fargis, Kathy Kusner (inducted into the show’s Hall of Fame last week) and yes, McLain (four times), Cat earned her share of glory. She was the Under 25 champion and also the Leading Lady Rider.
Is she thinking about the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals in Paris next year?
“We’ll see,” she said, explaining the welfare of her horses comes first because she never wants to over-jump them.
Asked if she had a tip she could pass along to others who find themselves in a high-tension jump-off at whatever their level is, she said, “It’s really important to remember what the strengths of your horse are and think of where you can take a little bit more risk and where you might have to protect yourself, and play off of that. Remember what you’ve worked on and what your horse is really great at, and maybe you can take a little bit of an edge on your competition.”