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Dreams Come in Three Phase

Cassie Frederick

Everybody dreams. Some dream small and some people dream big. As a rider, dreams come easily; however attaining them is a whole new ball game.

My first introduction to 3-Day Eventing came when my family took a trip to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, GA. I was in awe. For the two years prior to that trip, my sister and I had competed rather successfully on a local hunter/jumper circuit, coached by our mother. Jumping 2 foot in a ring and being judged on style and grace paled in comparison to the speed and all out guts of cross-country. Less than a month after that fateful trip, I announced to my mom, on the way home from yet another show, that I wanted to quit showing, join Pony Club, and become an "Event Rider." I think I scared her. With a little help, we researched local clubs and off I went to Pony Club camp. By the third fence on our cross-country school, I was hooked. And I haven't looked back since.

My trusty hunter pony became a lean mean eventing machine. We started small, at "Super Chicken" no less, but soon moved up to Novice and even Training level. By this time I had outgrown my pony and moved on to a leased hunt horse. Then I started looking up. I wanted to go Preliminary and ride with the big dogs. My mother was still coaching me and was starting to feel a little out of her realm. Then I met Mike Hillman.

We only went to one or two recognized events each season and I still had a lot to learn. Not knowing any better, I entered myself at MCTA, which is renowned for having one of the toughest courses in Area II. I came off of cross-country with no jumping and no time penalties. We were parked next to Mike, and like all good event people, he asked how I had done. He was suitably impressed to hear that I'd gotten around alive, let alone clean. Maybe he felt a little sorry for me, with my borrowed horse and shoestring budget, but he offered me a chance to come down and take a lesson. My mom and I walked into his immaculate barn (managed by his wife Audrey) with it's fresh-scrubbed aisle, pristine white fencing and square muck heap, looked at each other and decided this was a class act.

Unfortunately, my reliable hunt horse was very limited and years of hunting had taken its toll; he pulled up with navicular changes and I had to start over again with my young horse, Irish (a.k.a. Littonian). Even as a 5 year old, Irish was still very gawky and had a lot of filling out to do. But he could jump. He could jump well enough to win his first event at Novice and 6 months later to win again at Training as a 6 year old. And I started looking up again. One year to the day from his first event, Irish and I went Preliminary, and placed 8th. But I still had my dreams.

To most anyone in eventing, dreams come over a 3-day period. We all hear the news. Who's won at Rolex, Fair Hill, Foxhall, Badminton, Burghly… and the list goes on of the big international 3-Day competitions. And then the smaller ones perhaps not quite as well known…Radnor, Camino Real, Morven Park, and Virginia…the CCI* and ** that introduce young and new horses and riders to the 3-Day level. One of my dreams was to go to a 3-Day, and this year, on May 15, that dream came true.

Last fall, we aimed for the Morven Park 3-Day, but it wasn't meant to be. Now, in the middle of a year off from college to train with Julie Gomena in the heart of horse country in Virginia, it happened. Months of preparations, of riding in 0 degree weather with snow on the ground, of trailering 7 hours to Southern Pines for an event, of conditioning, schooling, drilling dressage and grilling Julie, come down to a jog up and back in front of five very important people and the interminable wait for those oh so welcome words: "Number 95, Littonian, owned and presented by Cassie Frederick, has been accepted for competition." Finally, now we can get down to the real business of competition.

Now, they call it a 3-Day, but they really should call it a "4-or 5-Day." With nearly a hundred competitors, dressage stretches over two days, followed by speed and endurance day and finally show jumping. Myself being number 95, I was nearly the last ride. By that time, the judges were just plain tired of watching the same test over and over. So, in spite of a beautiful test that wrung tears from my eyes, I only copped a 60.22, which (according to Julie) was not nearly the score I deserved. But, I can't really complain, it was good enough to land me in a tie for 6th place in the Young Rider division. And now we can go on to the fun stuff.

After helping Julie and another of her students, it's my turn for Phase A, roads and tracks. Note to self: fresh horse + cool windy day = spooky. We followed our plan and came into the start of steeplechase 30 seconds early. Frankly I was worried about this phase. I had heard that the footing, with a morning rain, had gotten a little slick on Phase B. Not to mention that Irish and I had never made time at Prelim, let alone another 120 meters per minute faster. As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. Steeplechase was a blast! Irish finally figured out that yes, he is a Thoroughbred, which means he CAN run when he puts his mind to it. He came off still ready to go around again.

One of the concerns Julie had voiced was that our horses, having never done a 3-Day before, would be very confused about the 10 minute hold on Phase C and the vet box before cross-county, or even worse, would think they were done. Irish handled it like a professional; calm and cool in both boxes, a little rev-up and he was ready to rock and roll on Phase D.

He was a machine, never questioning, never doubting, and no hesitation. Fence after fence rolled by and, in order to keep up my pace, we were as Julie puts it "Jumping and gettin'." She had warned us that about fence 15AB (a tough downhill turning combination) that our horses might be getting tired. Just after this was our five-minute marker, and I was 15 seconds late. That may not sound like much, but with the scores as close as they were, 15 seconds is 6 time penalties. I asked Irish to run; we had a long uphill to a very gallopy feeder fence. He took off. I still had gas in the tank. The tight single stride in between two forts didn't stop us. Neither did an ugly jump into the water, nor hitting the cedar tree on the landing side of fence 21. One more fence and we were home free. And there was still gas in that tank when I crossed the finish line with 5 seconds to spare.

My mother joined us in the recovery area to give me a hug. I don't think she could have been prouder even it she'd ridden it herself. My dream came to fruition with the completion of Show Jumping the following day. Unfortunately, we dropped two rails, which was completely rider error.

Our goal for the weekend was to finish, but Irish and I topped that, taking home forth place in the CCIY*. Words cannot express the intensity of emotion that swamped me as we took our victory gallop. I know that there will be other horses, and most certainly other 3-Day events, but I know that weekend will live forever in my memory as that one moment in time when one of my dreams came true.

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