There’s nothing like it, really. I’m sitting on my mare in the start box listening to the countdown for cross country with butterflies in my stomach. I can feel her vibrating under me because she knows she’s about to have some fun.
The dream I had as a young girl to event has become a reality, complete with a lot of ups and downs and lessons learned along the way.
My story’s beginning is not unusual. I grew up riding and always wanted to event but never had the opportunity. I recorded the 1984 Olympics eventing competition on my VCR and watched it over and over again, thrilled at the thought of racing over the cross-country jumps at full speed. I watched the 1978 movie “International Velvet,” about a young orphaned girl who achieves her dream of riding on the British Olympic eventing team, until I wore out the tape. Once out of my teens, though, I found myself without horses and didn’t really get to put my butt back in the saddle until I was 40 years old. Immediately, I knew I was hooked again.
I bought a young off-the-track Thoroughbred who I thought would help me reach my eventing dream. But two years later I realized I was sitting on too much horse and probably would never feel comfortable outside of the arena, making eventing difficult.
When I finally came to terms with the fact that I had made a mistake in my choice of horse, I decided to actually listen to what some of my more experienced friends and trainers had recommended. I am on the short side, so many of the people I spoke to recommended looking at Connemaras. I opened my laptop and Googled “Connemaras for sale.”
A few months later we found a perfect owner for my elegant, spirited 5-year-old Thoroughbred and I stumbled upon the ideal horse for myself. Cricket Song was a 5-year-old, 14.3-hand Connemara/Thoroughbred and was just as brave as she was sassy. While she was admittedly still green, she had been started correctly and already had the makings of a point-and-shoot horse. She gave me the confidence I needed to live out my childhood dreams but perhaps on a smaller scale.
Becoming more involved in the eventing world, I’ve learned that it’s one of those sports where you get to see every shape, size and color horse. There are draft horses and ponies. There are Appaloosas and Saddlebreds. At events, I see every age of rider competing, from Pony Club kids to grandparents.
As eventers we spend countless weeks schooling for that perfect dressage score. We jump through grid after grid, perfecting our timing and striving for that flawless show-jumping round. But let’s face it—we are really there for the cross country. The galloping, the jumping, the chance to splash through water and leap over ditches. Nothing beats the feeling and the only way to make it happen is to take the time to find the perfect partner.
Last year I decided to see if Cricket Song and I could qualify for the 2016 USEA Nutrena American Eventing Championships in Tryon, North Carolina, because they were so close to my home in Georgia. Cricket Song and I qualified in two events and started the quest for the ultimate adult-amateur eventing goal.
Once at the championships, I realized there is truly nothing like them. Where else do mere mortals get to rub shoulders with Olympians? The special competitors’ dinner that the organizers put on for us made us all feel like stars. Standing in a food line behind Boyd Martin and bumping into Kyle Carter and Buck Davidson in the on-site gym were just a few of the perks. The best was spending almost a week with my horse girlfriends watching, riding and caring for the animals who make us feel like kids.
So in the start box, as the countdown nears its end and I hear “one,” I literally get choked up. My mare gallops out of the box, her tiny white ears perked forward, looking for that first jump. Once over it I feel like I can do anything.
None of this would have been possible if I had not crossed paths with the perfect horse at the perfect time. What started as a dream as a young girl has finally become a reality 40-something years later, and it is even better than I ever imagined.
Editor's Note: Amber and Cricket Song finished 17th in the nation at the 2016 AEC and then returned a year later to clinch the 11th place position in the 2017 event.
This story was originally published in the July 2017 issue of Practical Horseman.