Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Reflections on My First WEG Experience
Boyd Martin and Neville Bardos finished tenth individually and were members of the fourth-placed US team at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky.
Today I’m back to work here at True Prospect Farm in Pennsylvania. I woke up yesterday morning and headed out to the farm and rode 14 horses, of which 13 of them jumped, and rode Remi in preparation for Maryland this weekend, where I’ll be competing seven horses from novice to intermediate.
I had a good trip home from Kentucky with the WEG horses and had plenty of time to think about what I’ve achieved: the biggest thing I feel is a huge sigh of relief. I suppose that revolves around having achieved my lifelong dream of competing at the WEG; it’s a goal I’ve been striving for in the last 14 or 15 years and when Neville crossed the finish line of the show jumping I was ecstatic not only with his round but with the completion of my dream. It’s taken many years of hard work and endless disappointments but finally I’ve done what I set out to do.
The reward in the WEG, it seems to me, is that I got my best possible performance out of my horse when it really counted. Representing my country at an event like that sent shivers down my spine; I worried not only about letting myself and my horse down but the country behind us. That said I really got to the start of the WEG feeling like I’d left no stone unturned in my training and preparation for the event. By cross-country day I’d lost 17 pounds of my normal body weight: I quit drinking for the past two months and dedicated my life to getting Neville going the best he could. If it did not work out, I knew that I could not have tried any harder.
The decision to qualify for and compete at the WEG was financially crippling because I had to walk away from months of income and leave paying the bills to Silva, who’s been grinding away while I focused on training my horse. In hindsight I think the US Federation needs to come up with a financially supporting system for the riders that dedicate their lives to performing their best at these championships. They need to work out a system that supports the riders that are doing the business at the top level, horse after horse, year after year.
The Federation spends tens of thousands of dollars in funding riders that have never done a three-star in their lives, sending them on trips overseas accompanied by an entourage of coaches, managers and selectors, which adds up to a lot of money being funded toward Young Riders having their first crack at a high level event in another country. Instead the USEF could be supporting world-class events like Rebecca Farm, Jersey Fresh, Galway Downs and Fair Hill, which for me is ten minutes down the road. Remember that Neville Bardos, who was the highest-placed horse at the WEG is a product of the Fair Hill three-day event: he placed fourth there in 2007 and won in 2009.
I feel like the strong, proven riders desperately striving to bring glory to their country at the world championship level are neglected financially in their bid to be all they can be. In my opinion, the only combinations that should receive travelling grants are the ones capable of a top-ten finish in 4-star events. Anything else can be achieved here at home at the world class events we already have! We have to learn to be champions in our own back yard before we can take on the world.
Obviously America was heartbroken after looking like we were going to get a medal and then watching it swiftly disappear. As riders we have got to have the heart and chin to stand up and take the blame ourselves. None of us can sit back and blame the vets or coaching staff, competition standards or anything else. The fact is, we weren’t good enough on the day and we’ve got to become better riders. It’s important that we don't come up with excuses! We need to look back and work out the mistakes we made in our preparation and at the competition and make a change. It’s as simple as that.
The last month at the training camp leading up to the WEG was an amazing experience for me. I’ve improved my riding so much with the coaching of Mark Phillips, Oded Shimoni and Katie Prudent. All three of these equine geniuses did their best possible job giving us the chance to do all we could do, but it just wasn’t our day. What I learned during this month of intense training has improved me as a rider more than I improved over the entire last year. It just comes down to focus!
Looking forward to London 2012 I feel like one of the big changes I need to make is to improve the quality of my horses. To win medals I feel like I have to go on a quest to find top quality horses and to try to pair them up with enthusiastic, exciting owners to bring glory back to America. I know this is a tough challenge as good horses are as hard to find as good owners. I also feel like my riding still needs to improve to do battle with the Michael Jungs and William Fox-Pitts of this world and I plan to dedicate my life to raising the quality of my riding to reach the same level of riding ability as these eventing medalists.
I want to make a special thank you to the Juvonens, who own Remington. After competing in and completing the WEG I feel with all my heart that Remi would have had an equal or better chance as Neville. Neville was fit and ready to rock and the selectors went with him, but Remi was in lightning form in the lead-up events. I take my hats off to Ron and Densey, who never showed disappointment over their horse getting overlooked. It felt like they were also the owners of Neville at the WEG, and it is a huge positive feeling as a rider to have people like that behind you.
There are a couple of key people in my life that made a huge difference in getting me to the starting line with Neville: they range from the man that taught me how to work hard and ride in Australia, Mr. Heath Ryan; Phillip Dutton in America who’s treated me like a son since the day I got here and has guided me on my path in this country; my wife Silva who has not only tried to help me with dressage but who has put up with me when I’ve been unbearable, dealing with the stress and tension of these events. There’s also a huge support structure around Neville including the grooms, vets and blacksmith. Hundreds of hardly paid, un-thanked hours were put into the preparation for the WEG by these pilgrims but without any one of these people I would have never got to do what I just did.
I’d also like to thank everyone that’s had anything to do with me since coming to America. The amount of support I’ve felt as an American rider through all avenues has inspired me to give a personal best experience. I’ve felt no other feeling in my life compared to galloping around the course at Kentucky with tens of thousands of people cheering me on. The feeling will stay with me til the day I die, so a big thank you to everyone.
Last but not least I’d like to thank my wind-sucking, wild-eyed horse Neville. I’ve spent my life complaining that he didn’t have a big enough trot and was too hot to do dressage and never really realized how much heart and “try” this horse has showed me. He’s probably not the most talented horse I’ve ever ridden but he’s the gutsiest horse, who’s never given up, one day in his life. It shows that a horse with these characteristics is worth his weight in gold - he did everything with ease. So to Neville, thanks for everything! In hindsight, it was the best $800 bucks I have ever spent!
Posted by Amber Heintzberger at 10:54 AM