CCI*** Awards ceremony at Fair Hill International, Sunday evening

Perspective is sometimes gained when you step back and look at things from outside the fence. Learning that is worthy to work for.

Sometimes just doing the one, simple thing that gets you where you want to go. The Fair Hill International Three-day Event for 2011 was such a competition for many — and not just the riders.

Any Fair Hill volunteer could learn a few useful things by example, this year.

The first thing I learned, on a bright sunny Saturday afternoon out on the cross country course, a week before the event, is that THIS year, Course Designer Derek di Grazia was NOT kidding.

Normally to decorate the big table, I just step up on the bench part and step up to the table part to get the decorations up there. This year…grunt, groan, PULL myself up — wow. It was big! And set on the hill after the water and looked even bigger. (Fence 17 on the CCI*** course.)

Fence 17 - photo by the Fair Hill International facebook team

The second thing I learned, is that in October, the sun is not kidding….when it starts to get dark, it will be too dark to work very quickly — so get those stakes in and the string out on them, and the cones set NOW before it’s too dark to see the warm-up field for cross-country.

Watching many, many upper level riders prepare their horses in warm-up does help you to see your own failings as a rider, and gives you a lot of information about how different styles of horses can be ridden. It is fun to see big and small, pretty and more workmanlike types of horses, all doing the same courses.

Some horses come out very proud of themselves and prance about, showing off, and take the warm-up jumps quite happily and are not afraid or appear to be nervous.

Others get more and more anxious as the warmup progresses, and hop about, anticipating the coming task, getting more and more nervous, winding themselves up until by the time they are heading over to the start box they are barely under control.

The best, at the end, were calm. Almost all the eventual winners walked to the start box. Perhaps they were calmer or knew their jobs, and weren’t worried about what was ahead.

Allison Springer and Arthur, dressage FHI 2011

“Stepping up” is a concept that applies to Fair Hill competition each year. It’s a step up from other competitions with just intermediate, or just advanced courses.

It’s a step up in terms of expectations, too, and it’s a step up in the process of maturity from horse and rider, and not just younger riders. You could watch horses and riders actually progress from the first day to the last day at Fair Hill, and it was an amazing thing to see.

It is also fun to learn about fellow volunteers, talk with old and new friends throughout the three days. There are many, many volunteers at Fair Hill that almost have nothing to do with upper level horses.

Many are local neighbors to the Fair Hill NRMA (Natural Resource Management Area) and just like the festival. Many have ridden there in the horse trials and enjoy the Sawmill Field cross country course and love the once-a-year chance to see the “International side” up close.

Those of us that are regular Fair Hill riders get the most out of the competition, because we can see our favorite national riders and horses on our home turf, get to see a lot of fun stuff, (including the famous Shetland Pony races) and even help out on the course on cross-country day or for stadium and dressage days.

The third thing I learned, is that you must never say never, and you must never believe you cannot do something, and you have to keep trying and not give up.  I think this lesson was just hammered home by every single performance.

Jan Byyny (who finished 3rd in the CCI***) had a bad accident that resulted in a stroke two years ago, and she worked herself back, saying learning to speak again was the hardest thing she had ever done.

Jan Byyny and Inmidair win Sportsmanship Award, FHI CCI*** 2011

Boyd Martin lost half his barn in a terrible barn fire earlier this year, and lost his father, and he won the whole thing.

Becky Holder had the disappointment of an injury to her other big fancy grey, Courageous Comet, at the WEG. And she’s successfully fought a weight problem that makes the rest of us who also have weight problems proud to say we can ride, too. (And gives us plenty to aspire to!)

Even though Peter Atkins did not have the ride he wanted in stadium on HJ Hampton and was mad at himself following the round, he was honored as Leading Foreign Rider and accepted it with grace. HJ Hampton survived colic surgery last winter, and Peter the well publicized ownership dispute.

Thailand’s Nina Ligon rode several horses throughout both the two and three stars. While she did not get the result she wanted with all of the horses, she and her mother were smiling when they left stadium warm-up, warmly thanking the volunteers.

Karen O’Connor was riding a lovely first-time three-star horse, Veronica, without the benefit of her husband David O’Connor there, as he was involved coaching the Canadian Pan Am Games Three-Day Team. She’s bounced back from the crashing fall with her top horse Mandiba at Badminton in the spring.

Allison Springer and Arthur redeemed themselves after the disappointment of Montana, and had a solid stadium round that left them in the top ten after it was all over.  And there were more stories of “never giving up“, all the way down the order.

And the biggest “never give up” story of all, show jumper Marilyn Little-Meredith, who watched from BEHIND the gallop lane roping last year and said, “I’m going to do that,” and went right out and did it — placing eighth with RF Rovano Rex in the three-star, as she said she wanted to do – BETWEEN the ropes, in one year!

So the Fair Hill International wrap up story comes down to this — you can do it. Never give up!

Holly