Hi everyone!! This week I have been reflecting a lot on my experiences this summer, particularly the Adequan FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships (NAJYRC), so I decided that I would share my experience of representing Ontario and Canada on a team.
Most of us think of the sport of dressage as an individual sport. Just you and your horse, out there in that big ring, all by yourself. You, competing for you, and only you. Generally, you’re marked on your own and you compete against others on your own.
For me, that’s how it was until the 16th of July 2014. I always considered dressage completely on an individual basis. Every test I rode was for myself and I tried to do the best that I could.
But on July 16th, my whole vision of the sport changed. That was the day of the team test at NAJYRC. The day team Ontario came together, to do ourselves, each other and our province proud. I realized that it wasn’t just about me anymore; it was about the four of us. It was about Liza, Vanessa, Sophie and myself, all striving for excellence, for a common target: the podium.
It scared me, naturally. I’d never felt that kind of pressure before, and the fact that my ride directly affected the other girls was daunting. When you’re riding on a team with other people who are depending on you, the fear of letting your teammates down is unparalleled. I knew that they were counting on me, just like I was counting on them. And I knew that even though they reassured me that everything was fine and that it was okay if we didn’t win a medal, I was really hoping that we would.
Because of our province’s rankings leading up to the championships, I was the anchor rider for my team, and was therefore riding quite late in the day of the team test. And I have to say, above everything, that was what made me the most anxious. I was able to watch many riders go before me, and although it was an amazing experience to see all these great young equestrians from all over Canada and the USA, it made me very nervous because they all created some intense competition and I wasn’t fully confident that I was ready to take on this challenge. Also, I have to say that waiting around all day for my ride and having basically nothing to do but think was one of the worst feelings in the world. It was really too much time to think, and all I could think of were all the things that could potentially go wrong. What if I can’t handle it? What if I choke under the pressure? What if I let everyone down and it’s all my fault? These thoughts were just a few of the nightmarish conceptions that swirled around my mind on that day as I waited and waited…. and waited.
This anxiety kept building and building as I prepared Iliado and myself for our ride. My hands were shaking as I braided his mane and I felt faint and weak as I lifted the saddle onto his back. As I sat down in the tack stall to clear my head and mentally ready myself for one of the most important rides of my life, I couldn’t help but feel overcome with panic and fear.
But as soon as I mounted Iliado and rode down the chute into the Rolex Stadium, I knew it would all be okay. For some reason, the moment we entered the ring was the moment I started to believe everyone when they said that not winning a medal was fine. I started to believe that what was important right now was Iliado and I, out there together, partners, striving to do our absolute best in tandem. As soon as I stopped clinging to the idea that we had to win a medal, both of us could relax and complete our test without any negative emotions hindering our ability.
We had a few mistakes in our test, which were careless yet costly errors, but still had a good score that would definitely help our team towards the podium. On that day, the mistakes that would have normally had me in tears did not stop the pride and satisfaction in what we had achieved. Iliado and I had tried our best for the team and that was all I could ask for. And even though I knew a medal was not the most important thing anymore, I was still so overjoyed that my teammates and I were able to secure the silver for Ontario, and Canada!!!
The experience of being on a team is something so special, and all that anxiety was worth it. The feeling of your teammates cheering you on as you exit the ring, or Liza, Sophie, Vanessa and I waving to the crowd in unison with those silver medals hanging round our necks is like nothing else in the world. Even though we were acquainted before NAJYRC, the team experience brought us so much closer, and I am forever grateful for the chance to get to know those girls because they truly are incredible riders, athletes and friends. I am grateful for these girls because of their support and their enthusiasm, but mostly I love them for what we did together, for the fact that even though we were all new to NAJYRC we still managed to bring home a silver medal for Canada.
And on July 16th 2014 I not only realized that being part of a team is something so incredible, I realized that I had always been part of a team: Iliado and I. We have been a team since day 1, and I am so grateful for everything he has helped me achieve because without him, without the other half of my team, guiding me through the FEI ring, I would have never been able to be part of the amazing group of girls who I shared the NAJYRC experience with.
Thank you so much Liza, Vanessa and Sophie for being the best teammates I could ask for!