Yet, there was also a poignancy. The Badminton and Burghley tapes I must have watched a hundred times each as a little kid (I'm not joking; I wore spots in the tape of my 1997 Burghley VHS because I played and rewound it so many times!) were one of the main reasons I fell in love with eventing in the first place. Finally getting to experience the event firsthand felt somehow like returning to an origin place despite it being my first actual physical trip. It made me spend a good deal of time reflecting about who I am as a rider now and who I had dreamed I would be when I first watched those tapes 15 years ago.
Today, I'm proud of my ability to live in the moment and be happy (no, thrilled!) with the realistic goals I try to set for myself and the small, untrackable joys that come from forming a deep partnership with a horse. This is the part of riding that I love, and that partnership is never something that I would want to compromise no matter what the competitive stakes. There is still a part of me, however, that has also always wanted to compete at this highest level very, very badly. It's so strange for me to even acknowledge this high-dreaming part of my sub-conscious, because the bossier part of my brain (the part the talks with sternly knitted eyebrows and a depressingly authoritative voice) is quick to list off the well-worn reasons why I could never get to that level: I struggle with pressure, I lack that fierce competitive nature required to "get 'er done" at that level, and worst of all I struggle hard with fear. I had a young rider career that could only be described as average at best, and I really can only thank Dually's generosity more than my own riderly élan for the results we did manage to achieve.
And still, coming to Badminton awoke that small, persistent voice in my head that fights against all those reasonable conclusions about my character and skill-level and wants more. Indeed, I realized that I want it more now than I ever did when I was eight years old. I want it so badly that it tore me up a little bit watching every day, contemplating in wonder the sense of accomplishment that must come with the successful completion of a four star while also feeling so acutely how very, very, VERY far I am at the moment from ever getting to trot down that center line or gallop through those finish flags. As happy as I was to be there and amazed at the incredible opportunity that Emily at the USEA provided for me by getting me accreditation, the weekend also reminded me of how big the gap is between who I am and who, if I really let that deepest and meekest part of my subconcscious find its voice, I'd someday wish to be.
The good news is that, while this all sounds very heavy, I hardly left the weekend feeling down or defeated. Instead, I feel the hunger that I talked about at the end of WEG last autumn but increased triple fold. I'm going to get better. Not just in the saddle, but also as a horseman and as a competitor. It's an absurdly long road from here, with the ultimate dreams mostly lost in a hazy horizon line. But the end is there, and it can only be reached if I keep moving forward, one step at a time. It may take five years, or ten, or twenty (and even then I'd still have a few years before I overtake 46 year-old first-timer this year, Joy Dawes, who had a wonderful weekend and was a true inspiration), and will almost certainly require good healthy doses of luck along the way, but if I stay committed to improving, I'll keep slowly moving down that road. And then, perhaps someday I'll have a Badminton weekend of my own.
I'm sorry to get so personal. I don't usually like to even acknowledge, let alone discuss, these more outrageous hopes and dreams of mine, so I apologize if my thoughts aren't particularly well-formed. Tomorrow we'll be back to more regularly scheduled programming, with (LONG OVERDUE!!!) photos from an amazing and inspirational cross-country day at Badders. In the meantime, and as a lame explanation for why my recaps on this blog are so late, check out the galleries I did for the USEA over the weekend and the Show Jumping recap I did for Eventing Nation on Monday (a gig that a blog reader got for me! Thank you again!!):