I’ve been dreaming of Barcelona since age fifteen, when Woody Allen’s film “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” revolutionized my adolescence. Once finally there, I honestly did not expect a horse show to provoke the same existential crises as Vicky and Cristina sustained. Yet somehow my time in Barcelona turned out to be as much of a learning experience as theirs. This volatile weekend epitomized what I’ve been told is the true nature of a championship competition. It is the reason why the sport of showjumping is so uplifting and then so incredibly humbling.
The learning experience that I talk about started on day one: adjusting to the team environment and the expectations that accompany a five star show. However, the true test came on Friday, when team USA ended in ninth place and out of the final on Sunday. When competing on a team, one has to walk the line between depending on others and being depended on.
Personally, this foreign experience of trusting and relying on others in the ring is enough to drive a control-freak like myself off the edge. It is also the beauty of team competition. Team USA put in a solid effort on Friday, especially our anchor Beezie who put in a flawless clear round under extreme pressure (the woman has ice in her veins). Unfortunately, our nine fault score was the slowest of the nine faulters when compared to those of Ukraine and Canada, and ended in heartbreak for our team.
Total respect must be given to Eric Lamaze though, whose perfect clear and fast round for Canada put them ahead of us at the last minute. Eric’s absolutely clutch performance proved to us young American riders that we have so much more to learn. Though devastated that I would not get to ride the final, one never wants to do well just because someone else screwed up. Eric’s round was, it pains me to say, nothing but inspiring.
After properly grieving our Friday result with some jamon and croquetas, it was time to focus on the next task at hand. The format of this competition allowed all five USA riders to get a chance in the ring, as Katie was substituted for Reed the second day. I think that this is an awesome twist to a normal Nations Cup because it gives each team a chance to bring in a fresh horse and rider.
Team USA came into Saturday with a vengeance. McLain started the ‘mojo’ going with a flawless clear and Barron and I had no choice but to follow his lead. Katie’s super four-fault round put us tied with Switzerland as the worst-case scenario. If Beezie were to go clear, then we would win. But alas, horses always keep you on your toes. When Beezie and Simon stopped at the sixth fence, it was time for a jump-off and for learning experience number one-thousand of the weekend.
After a solid clear in the first round, Barron and I had a mildly horrifying ten faults in the jump off. Though excited and confident to do our part, we faced some miscommunication in our anxious attempt to help the team. This jump-off not only highlighted the value of experience in the ring, but also of experience in a high-level, high-pressure competition. Luckily McLain unshakably delivered a two-fault round to assure that my mistakes would not cost us the win. And so we won!!
When asked to write a reflection on the week, I didn’t think of the stunning facility, the incredible arena, or the incomparable competition. I could go on about how well the show was run, how fair yet challenging the courses were, and how absolutely picturesque the weather was each day. I might have talked about how great this Nations Cup Final is for the promotion of the sport and how I hope that it sees positive development in the future. I should have thought on all of these things, but what I thought about were these couple of incidents that highlighted just how unpredictable and exciting horses are. I’ll remember these incidents because they proved that one always has more to learn in this sport. I will prize these incidents because they made my week in Barcelona just as inspiring as Vicky and Cristina’s.