Rolex always brings with it the absolute certainty that great riding, and great riders, will present their very best, and this year was of course, no exception. Andrew Nicholson and William Fox-Pitt, two of the greatest eventers of our generation and time, put on beautiful displays of riding on all three days of competition.
To an eventing fan, it’s fun to watch the best go at those big fences, then you get home, and think, “Why did I ever think I could event? I can’t ride like that!” Well — very few people can; and I think it’s fun to see how these great riders came to where they are. (I’ll let you in on a secret — it’s two four-letter words: HARD WORK.)
Andrew Nicholson wanted to event so bad, he practically stowed away to get to England in a transport plane from New Zealand with some racehorses, then took jobs riding whatever nasty, incorrigible, bucking menaces of horses that anyone would give him to ride. One of his first jobs was grooming for another top rider, Mark Todd, at Badminton.
William Fox-Pitt had it tad better in his youth, with the pressure of both parents being eventers and Badminton and Burghley competitors, but he’s had the handicap of his height, from the time he was a teenager, to fight every time he sat on a horse. His yard in England has a very high quality of horse in it, and the pressure to keep these horses sound, competing, winning and making money for their owners is also very high.
He’s one of the most successful British eventers of all time, (read his bio here), and with that comes a lot of responsibility. None of his extensive accomplishments help him when he’s galloping down to a gigantic table, or trying to get a horse to listen to his aids over a complicated combination.
He broke a finger in stadium jumping on Seacookie on Sunday and got right on the plane back to England to get ready for Badminton this week. They put themselves out there, and they accept the pain that comes with great winning. Read this great article about William by The Telegraph in 2007.
These guys are tough and they are still hard workers despite all of their wins and accolades. At home in the U.S. and Canada, we have a couple of really superb riders to look up to. Buck Davidson doesn’t make a lot of waves and doesn’t have much time to update Facebook but he obviously geared his whole season to Rolex and competing all of his horses well there and he accomplished it in spades, getting three horses around cross-country and through to stadium, and once again being the highest placed American rider.
Hawley Bennett overcame a devastating injury sustained at the Olympics, when she had a crashing fall off her inimitable Gin N Juice and suffered a broken pelvis. She rehabbed herself just in time to get Ginny ready this spring at the California CIC’s, and came to Rolex determined and showed the world how the truly great can be – having an exemplary if bold cross country on her bright and happy mare.
And there’s Lynn Symansky, who couldn’t even ride her own horse a month ago due to the broken finger on her right hand, then suffered a back injury and still had the Rolex of a lifetime on her own horse she’s made from scratch.
Boyd Martin is between four-star mounts and brought a green horse and rode on a shattered ankle. Phillip Dutton brought two horses to his umpteenth Rolex event, and while he didn’t have the outstanding result he wanted he still signed autographs and spent time with fans and sponsors and will go home and work just as hard riding and training and teaching as he did in the months leading up to the event.
My point is these guys make it look great because they work hard to be great. They all ride with someone on the ground pointing out their flaws and telling them how to improve. They seek greatness, and try for perfection, and allow themselves to rest on their laurels for about five minutes while they have a few minutes of private peace, then they get up and answer the phone and emails and jump in the car to get out to the barn and get on a horse. Just like you, and me.
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