Hello, thank you for coming, it’s good to see you. I thought I might get a visitor or two this summer.
Although I’m living a quiet life now, away from the the crowds and the stresses of competition, it does me good to see new people from time to time. Walk with me for a while; I may be getting stiff in my joints, but gentle exercise is good for me, and I can tell you what you want to know as we stroll.
I heard stories of great equestrian competitions from when I was very little, and through my family I got to know many riders and horses who were legends in their lifetimes. I was eager to be part of their world and to do as well as they had done, so as soon as I could I began to learn, and as I progressed from the simple to the bigger and harder jumps I loved the sport more and more and became very serious about my training.
As time went by I conquered the complexities of doubles and triples, the tight twists and turns of a show jumping course, and the varied challenges of cross-country courses. Although it was hard and often unrelenting work, and there were days when I’d far rather have spent the day relaxing away from the training barns, the jumps, the steep hills and the water, my trainer’s pleasure and praise together with my own sense of achievement kept me motivated.
You see it isn’t just strength and skill you need to succeed, there’s a lot more to it than that, and finding the right partner is essential. Horse and rider must have the right temperament if they are to work together successfully. There has to be a strong mental and emotional connection, and no amount of technical ability can replace that vital unspoken understanding which alone brings success. You’ll know yourself that although two people may give you the same piece of advice, you may choose to ignore one and take notice of the other – and not be able to explain why. It’s the same with horses and riders. It took several years of trial and error before my perfect partner was found, but once Brown Girl and I met we quickly grew to understand each other and knew we were set to become a medal winning partnership.
In those early years it wasn’t clear precisely where my future might lie. I always knew racing was out of the question, my family had never been part of that world, although I did sometimes wonder what it felt like to pass the post with the crowds yelling you on. Eventually the question resolved itself into a choice – should I compete only in the show jumping arena, or did I have the stamina and concentration for three-day eventing? A huge range of skills is needed for eventing, from the slow, controlled movements of the dressage, to the speed and strength of the cross-country ride, and finally the calculated precision of the show jumping combined with the ability to beat the clock. Not everyone can do all three well enough to succeed – it’s a hugely challenging thing to attempt. However, as my skills developed, my trainer decided I should give it a try.
I found the strange and unnatural skills of the dressage the most difficult, and at first I often became angry and frustrated, asking myself, ‘What’s the point of it?’ It seemed to be such old-fashioned nonsense, there was no fun in it, no excitement, and it was hard to remember all the movements, the changes of pace, the almost unnatural poses and awkward changes. Remembering the counts almost defeated me, but thanks to my trainer’s patience and encouragement, and my deepening communication with Brown Girl, it slowly came together. She helped me most, and that mysterious connection between us became stronger as we worked through the difficulties and brought the dressage to life. Eventually it was the key to our success. I can say now that in all my years there’s been nothing better that our shared joy when we’d completed a dressage with no errors – at least none we bothered to count; the judges were another matter, a cold and calculating bunch, sometimes they seemed hardly human!
However, it’s not just what the horse and rider do which affects the results. We’ve slipped and scrambled round so many muddy cross-country courses, or had our teeth shaken in our heads by rock hard ground in a drought, that I’ve lost count of them. The show jumping has its difficulties too, with the distractions of the noise of the crowds, and the waiting around. I never liked jumping inside with the sawdust and the lights, I always felt more at ease outside in the fresh air.
Then there’s the matter of the weather – trying to complete a successful dressage in the middle of a thunderstorm can leave one almost mindless with fear. To this day I don’t know how in 2012 we managed to keep the count while being soaked through and wondering if we were about to be burned to a crisp.
But although we won lots of awards, and broke a good few records, that final success shines brightest in my memory. I’ll never forget it – the memories come surging back whenever I see the gold medals hanging in pride of place on my wall.
Apart from the storm during the dressage, the sun shone warmly, and a brisk breeze kept us fresh and cool. I’ve never seen more beautiful and challenging courses; the crowds cheered our every move, and at the end of three days we’d defeated all our rivals and won the Gold Medal at the 2012 London Olympics! What a day that was! What singing and waving of flags, what glory and praise! Every time I remember it my heart swells, and I feel as if I could go right out and do it all again!
Ah well, perhaps not. I’m too old now and the risk might be too much.
Thank you so much for coming, it’s been a pleasure to relive it all, and do pass my good wishes on to this year’s Team. I must say I think Rio might be rather hot for them. But all the best to them anyway.
And thanks for the apple and the sugar lumps . . . don’t tell Brown Girl; I’m supposed to be on a diet!
I think I’ll just go and have a good roll and then lie in the shade under the chestnut tree. Goodbye, and thank you again.
I wrote this after London 2012, but now seems a good time to get it out, re-edit it, and use it to wish our riders – and especially their horses – luck.