Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Give Kisses When You Can

So keep your heart strong,
Love long,
And give kisses when you can--


So I've been feeling in a pretty low mood these past few days: school has been really taking it out of me, my foot is still bothering me (though I had a great swim today! Not all hopes are lost), and I've really been missing riding and feeling mopey about not having competed in so long. I was surprised by how emotionally draining I found Tattersalls; I had a great time, but I really left feeling out of touch with where I want to be competitively. There was a lot of grumbling going on in my head.

But then this afternoon I read about the horrible barn fire that destroyed Boyd Martin's barn and took the lives of six horses stabled there, and I realized how incredibly petty I was being. How can I complain about not being able to compete at Preliminary when I have two amazing, sound, and healthy horses waiting for me at home? Even more than that, when I have an entire farm that I get to call home, where there are a dozen horses and ponies that I love dearly all safe and sound? I miss them so much and really wish I could be there in person to give them a hug on a day like today, but I still feel incredibly lucky that they're in my life at all: talk about blessed.

(Lillian Heard and Ariel, one of the horses that was lost in the fire - I always thought Ariel was a good role model for Kiki and really loved watching her go)

All my grief and sympathy go out to those affected by the fire. My family lost our house to a fire many years ago and it's still sad to think about the losses that resulted, and they were only things; we were so fortunate that everyone made it out safely. I can't even imagine what it must have been like for the people who were there and tried so desperately to get as many horses out as possible. I knew the owner of one of the horses personally, as she groomed for a girl on my young rider team, and she was not only incredibly sweet but also loved Finn without limit. I also knew most of the horses fairly well, at least through the fairly indirect means of watching (and admiring!) them at shows. One of the horses lost was Summer Breeze, the horse that beat Kiki at Milbrook last year.

(Boyd and Summer Breeze, who I spent a long time ogling at Pine Top this spring)

(=( - What a gorgeous mare)

So remember to be strong, love long, and give kisses when you can - you never know when you might have to say goodbye. If you are interested, you can also find ways to help Boyd and the TPF team here.

Monday, May 30, 2011


Phew! What a whirlwind of a weekend! I had a wonderful time at Tattersalls, just north of Dublin, this past weekend, but must say I'm also pretty glad to be happily back in my bed at Oxford - the bad weather and considerable stress of getting all my gear over international borders (especially given Ryanair's incredibly draconian luggage policies - grr!!! NEVER. AGAIN. So worth paying a little more for an airline that lets you carry a bag bigger than a purse and treats you like a human being) definitely made for some sleepless nights and a very exhausted me when all was said and done.

(Probably the coolest jump on the CCI*** - the trakehner on the mound)

Those few more stressful factors aside, it was AWESOME. I enjoyed Ireland right off the bat, from the green fields (though this was hardly new) to the friendly folks I met (including a man who was working behind the counter at an indian restaurant and offered to drive me to the show grounds when I said I was heading there!) to, of course, the horses. Tattersalls is an absolutely gorgeous facility, and my heart ached to be out galloping around those courses myself.

(Kiki look alike???)

It was definitely a little bittersweet to look at the CCI* course, and realize that in November it will have been THREE YEARS since my last successfully completed FEI event (not counting Rebecca Farm in '09, where I had to withdraw in the 10 minute box) - where has the time gone??? To say that watching the competition made me a little (or a lot) crazy to get back to that level of competition myself was an understatement. It was even worse than at Badminton, because I've never competed at four star before, and so competing there is as much of a dream as it ever was. I was so lucky to get to do six one stars with Dually, as well as a few Intermediate HTs. To have reached that level, and now realize how much it's slipped out of my grasp, is maddening. I'm so deeply in love with the horses I have now and wouldn't want to rush them or ask them to do something they can't do, but at the same time I'd love to be back at the FEI levels again!

(I WILL get to do this again!!)

The cross country ran for almost 10 hours on Saturday, making it the longest day of nonstop FEI competition I've ever witnessed. The CCI* alone ran from just past 9 (if you don't count the ponies, who also ran over the same course though their class was technically called a CCNP**) until past 1:30 in the afternoon. The course looked like a blast, with some big fly fences, airtime-inducing drops, and interesting technical questions. There were a few bogey fences (the sunken road being one, the first water another) but in general rode very well.

(Big air time coming out of the first water!!)

I was super impressed with the ponies, who (along with their pint-sized jockeys!) made the horse-sized course look easy. One of the things I've been trying to quantify since coming to Britain/Ireland is what makes their system so much better at producing good young riders than our own is, and I think the pony divisions are part of the answer. These kids are jumping full-sized CCI* tracks while under the age of 16, all on ponies that certainly make the jumps look bigger. By the time they move up to horses, the CCI* already looks easy and they're well-prepared for CCI**. I wonder why the pony divisions haven't taken off in America; I certainly would have ridden in them!

(Pony mega cuteness)

The CCI*** was up next, and it was pretty awesome. I was really interested to see how two fences, 13abc/14 and 7, would ride. 13 and 14 was the Mound Complex, and involved a big bounce bank up, three strides to a huge trakehner, then another three strides sharply downhill to a huge brush corner at 14. I walked in on Friday night, and was pretty sure it was impossible. It definitely didn't ride smoothly for anyone I watched, but was doable. There was definitely some impressive defensive riding on display!

(Lucy Wiegersma at the drop into water - she would later fall victim to the Mound)

(nice and neat over the big big trakehner!)

(Francis Whittington flies!!)

(William Fox-Pitt looking good...)

(...and goes straight out, but has to ride a bit defensively!)

(the man is a god)

Fence 7 was a huge open corner over what must have been a 5-foot deep ditch filled with water. There was no way to even walk around it when I was walking the course; I had to walk all the way down to the end of the field and then cut back up again. It was so old fashioned it looked like it could have come out of a video of an olympic games from the 80s, and I was really eager to see how the modern horse and rider would take it on. In general they flew it without hesitation, though it did cause one of the notable crashes of the day when Andrew Nicholson's horse tried to leave a stride out and ended up reducing the whole fence to kindling. Fortunately they were both fine, but it caused quite a hold as the jump had to be entirely rebuilt.

(The Jump Jet uses an unorthodox jumping method through the big brushes in the second water)

(The big corner at 7)

The CCI** followed the CCI***, and I had to admit that even my insatiable appetite for cross country action was getting overloaded. It was windy and freezing, I could barely feel my hands anymore, I was getting a pounding headache, and I had probably walked in excess of 6 miles over the day as I'd traversed each course in turn. I watched about 3/4 of the CCI**, but had to call it at about 6:20. It ran until almost 7pm, meaning well over 10 hours of continuous cross country action! And I thought the days at Groton House were long =D


(Cute as a button into the coffin)

(Down the bounce bank)

(Up onto the mound!)

(So. Much. Pink.)

(focus coming through the second water, which was a double of offset houses)

(an uncharacteristically awkward moment for William!)


I got absolutely no sleep that night because it was so windy that my tent almost collapsed onto me several times, and made such a loud noise that even with headphones in and music on (which I can't sleep to anyways) it was still overpowering. So, I was definitely a little foggy on Sunday morning for the show jumping. I only got to stay for the morning divisions, but got to ogle the ponies one more time (they could really jump!!) and watch William win two of the three horse classes (he would win the third that afternoon!). It's hard to describe how amazing he is, and how easy he made such an impressive feat look. He's in a league of his own.


(Spider monkey child)

(tsk tsk, such a lazy pony ;D)

(If I had children, I'd want one just like this)

(William Fox-Pitt = Legend)

Hard to believe, but in just a few short days it's off to Bramham!!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Dream Deferred

So as I've been hinting on and off over the past month or so, I've really been struggling with some pain in my right foot and leg. My foot bothered me a little after my first fourteen miler, but I was too exhilarated with what I had just done to take much notice of it. Over the next week, however, it became progressively more painful earlier and earlier in each run I took, and when I tried to run twelve miles at the end of the week it got worse and worse until it became too excruciatingly painful too continue at around mile 10.

(The current bane of my existence)
Over the next few weeks I pulled my hair out trying everything to make it better, resting, icing, elevating, taking NSAIDs, getting new inserts for my shoes, getting chiropractic/massage done and going to the pool to try to keep my fitness alive in the meantime. Nothing worked. Even as I type this, sitting in bed, there's a small, dull, thudding pain on the bottom of my foot. It never goes fully away, and if I try to run on it it immediately becomes unbearable. The pool was going well, but a few days ago my foot started to bother me even while swimming. I decided to grit my teeth and head to the doctor to make sure nothing was seriously wrong.

(the weirdly quaint clinic the Stanford program uses, which my camera decided to capture in a greenish pallor - fitting, given my feelings/fears about doctors offices)

Well, I didn't have a particularly productive trip to the doctor (she spent most of the time trying to write me a prescription for a £55 three month fungicide treatment for my ugly toenails that I absolutely did NOT ask for while admitting that the course was both grueling and not particularly effective), but she did admit that I had large amounts of filling in places that would suggest a pulled or even partially torn tendon over the top of my foot. Since she didn't even examine the bottom of my foot (like I said, not super productive), I'm assuming that there's some similar stuff going on there. So, there are some actual issues. My foot probably isn't going to shrivel up and fall off, but it's not very responsible (or helpful) to keep trying to train when it's been consistently painful for over four weeks now.

So, I've had to delay my marathon dreams temporarily. I refuse to say that I'm canceling them, because I'm not. I'm still training for a marathon and I'm still going to run one. It just isn't going to be the one I originally planned. I've requested to move into the half-marathon division at the Midnight Sun, which I think is still a doable goal even if I give myself a total rest period over the next week to try to jumpstart some healing. The dream is deferred, but it certainly has not diminished at all. If anything, I'm even more hungry to do one than ever before!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pony Stalking

I've been sadly pony-free these past few weeks, as I haven't been out to polo or any shows and my foot has been hurting me too much to go on my normal horse-dotted runs. Today, though my foot hasn't been feeling exactly better (I'm going to the doctor on Tuesday, but that's a story for another day), I decided I was feeling thoroughly stir-crazy cooped up in my room studying, and I went for a nice walk around a shortened version of one of my running routes. On the way, I snapped a couple photos of my favorite sassy ponies, like this one:

(looking especially artsy thanks to my new iPhone app)

The next two weeks are going to be extremely exciting, with Tattersalls CCI*/**/*** this weekend (in Ireland!! Eeeee) and Bramham CCI*** the weekend after that. I've got an explosive amount of work to do in the meantime, but am getting really pumped. The pony drought will be over soon!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Piggy Photos!

First off, I'm sorry the blog has been such a ghost town of late. I haven't actually died, but rather have been so incredibly busy with work that it's reaching 'this must surely be a cruel joke' status. It turns out that writing 20 pages of originally researched material every single week (split between two completely disparate topics) actually takes a fair bit of doing! I'm now half way done with my art history tutorial and will be halfway done with my world war II tutorial as of Wednesday (if I can manage to read six books between now and then... and you think I'm joking).

I've been hitting some snags with my running due to the persistent nag in my right foot, but have been hitting up the gym. It's weird to realize that on Wednesday, it will have been two weeks since I ran over 5 miles outside - not a great feeling going into a marathon! But I know that I'm still getting prepared, and that that block is more mental than physical. Hopefully I can resolve my foot pain and hit the roads again soon for the last few big runs of the training program!

In the meantime, here are some ADORABLE pictures of Suzi and Kiki from King Oak, courtesy of Hoofpix Photography:

Just less than six weeks until I'll have her back!!

Monday, May 9, 2011

King Oak, Cantering, and Crawling

Kiki is such a champ!! Yesterday was her first outing of the year, going Novice at King Oak under the expert guidance of Suzi Gornall. Pa drove out to watch them and reported that they looked fantastic! They had a good test to score a 28 in the dressage (good girl Piggy), then jumped two super clear rounds (barring a single time penalty in the super twisty show jumping) to finish something like 5th or 6th overall. Apparently the course was pretty straightforward but did include a fairly sizable ditch in the woods combined with a little rolltop and a twisty canter through the water. Kiki, being the cross-country MACHINE that she is, took it all in fine stride. Star!! I soooo wish I could have been the one riding her, but feel so good to know that she's in such good care. She'll now go Training at GMHA in a month and then it will be just a few short weeks until I can get my paws on her again! Goooo Piggy!

(The flying Piggy is back! Thank you Pa for the excellent photos)

(Look at that hind leg step! What a fancy girl)


(Too. Cute. As in I actually can't handle it.)

In great news, Ringo has also started cantering!!! According to Suzi all is still going smoothly, though he has had a few unplanned days off as she's shifted her operations home to Massachusetts for the summer. Fingers crossed all will continue to go well; I had a dream a few days ago where I was riding him at Rolex (hahahahaha) and despite the utter lunacy of such a notion, it definitely reminded me of how much I miss him. The best part is that now that he's started cantering he can safely move into a slightly larger turnout, which I know he'll enjoy.

(Ringo getting ready to move back to Massachusetts, courtesy of Suzi's son Jamie)

On my training front, I've been slowed down by what has become a rather nasty case of plantar fasciitis, which basically means that the entire sole/heel area of my right foot is excruciatingly painful to walk on, let along run 16+ miles continuously on. Not to be deterred, I googled the nearest pool, grabbed my tatty old polka-dotted bathing suit, and hit the water for some cross-training.

I can't even remember the last time I swam in a pool, or actually did more than just float around in the water for that matter, but it has to have been at least since before high school (7+ years). I felt pretty rusty and was by far the slowest person there (minus the two ladies who were learning to swim... but even then I think they could have taken me if they'd tried), but still had a great time. I swam for 3 hours and (hopefully) got the equivalent of my 16 mile run for the week out of the way (I certainly was exhausted enough by the end to believe that it was equivalent!). Though man, 3 hours of backwards crawl with your ears underwater (and so basically taking in no sound) definitely feels like a long time! There's only so many old dressage tests and cross country courses I can ride through before I think I'm going to die of boredom. It made me appreciate how much more stimulating running is!!

My foot is still bothering me, but it's been feeling better. I've got some new orthotics for my shoes on the way and, with them, hope to start running again by the end of the week. Until then, it's more pool time for me!!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

(Me n Ma in Egypt this past Christmas)

Happy Mother's Day!! I'm so lucky to have such an incredible and supportive Mom. Mom was the first horse-lover in the family, and it was her old horse books, Breyers, and statues that she had around the house growing up that first kindled my love for them (her riding with me in the womb probably didn't hurt either!). Even though my go-to horse show parent has most often been Pa, that's because Mom has always been working so hard to be able to make my riding passion a reality. She's the real driving force behind the farm, and her love for each and every animal we have is inspirational (even that damn pig!! A love I will never understand ;D). I also feel so lucky to have such a role model in my life: my mom is one of the most intelligent, driven, and self-confident people I know, and she has accomplished an incredible amount in her field of business, mostly at a time when women were still heavily discriminated against. I know that I wouldn't be where or who I am today without her.

Plus, now that she has a new horse, I'm super excited to get to ride with her again!!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Fitness Update

Oooff, it feels like I must have been operating under some sort of post-Badminton protective shield, because seemingly the instant I hit "send" on that last post I fell miserably ill. I'm currently lying in bed with the blinds drawn, trying to slog through a paper while fighting off a fairly substantial fever. Well, professors often think I'm too rigid in my essays; perhaps the fever + loads of medicine will serve to loosen me up a little bit (or make me even more crazy incoherent than I already can be... we'll see).

In the meantime, remember the USOC fitness challenge I took back in February? Well, at the time there was talk that the Developing/A/B list riders were going to have to redo the tests just before Rolex to measure their improvement, and I decided to commit myself to doing the same.

While there hasn't been any official re-test as far as I can tell, I decided to do mine in any case (a few days ago before I got sick! I've just been waiting to post about it until I was through Badminton stuff). I admit that I've been a little remiss lately in my prep, especially in the plank exercises (which I hadn't done since Spring Break - whoops!), but I was hoping that I could still show some improvement from all the work that I did up through the middle of April.

Previous - 1:00
Goal - 2:00
Actual - 1:30

Well, I didn't reach my goal, but I think a 50% improvement is also nothing to scoff at. I was surprised at how difficult I found this exercise, and it really made me think more seriously about my core strength (or lack thereof). I've never considered myself weak in my core, but I definitely realized how much stronger I could be! I found it hard to make appreciable improvement (I got stuck in the 1:10 zone for what felt like forever) but discovered that doing multiple sets of :45-1:00 in a row on one day and then giving myself rest days in between to recover (because I actually did get sore!) helped. I'm still no Tiana Coudray, who could go for 7:00 at her testing, but I'm getting better! I'd definitely like to keep trying to get to that 2:00 threshold by the end of the term.

Previous - 100
Goal - 150
Actual - 150

Score! 150 was pretty tiring but I think I could have done even more (if you'd really REALLY pressed me to!). I actually haven't been practicing these at all, but getting to do a lot of two point and riding over spring break, plus all the running I've been doing, I'm sure contributed. My legs are pretty impressive right now: they're the definition of thunder thighs, in that they're both very substantial and VERY strong. I've passingly always wished I could have naturally skinny legs like some girls (even when I was super slim in high school I still could never find pants that would accommodate my ass-kicking thighs), but I'm feeling pretty proud of these beauts at the moment. I'd be interested to do this again at the end of the marathon and see if I could get over 200!

Previous - 1.5 miles max
Goal - 3 miles max
Actual - 14 miles max, and getting further every week!

So the running ended up being the one goal I really focused on, for fairly obvious reasons given my marathon goals for the end of term. It's unbelievable how much my feelings toward running have changed over these past few months. If you had told me when I arrived in Oxford in January that I'd run 14 miles continuously at the end of April and find it FUN and not terribly difficult, I would have laughed. And laughed. And laughed. I've been having some foot pain problems that past few days which have been a huge bummer, but I couldn't be more excited to tackle the next few big weeks of training. Bring it on! ... Well, when I can actually get out of bed.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Badminton Show Jumping

So here we are. After months of waiting and dreaming, four amazing days of experiencing the best eventing on the planet, and over a week of trying to drag it all out so I don't have to admit it's really over, I'm at my last installment of Badminton 2011. Words can't really describe how thankful I am for this amazing opportunity, to my parents for making this all happen for me, to the Stanford program for being totally supportive and understanding of my random and extended absence right during the crucial first days of term, to all the amazing people I met at the event who made me feel welcome (not least the kind lady who lent me her blanket and officially kept me from freezing!!), to John from Eventing Nation for letting me make a guest appearance on his awesome site, and of course to Emily Daily from the USEA who got me my press pass and officially transformed an awesome weekend into an unbelievable one. I'm writing a recap article for the USEA magazine's next issue, so if you subscribe be sure to check it out!

(Lauran Shannon managed double clears from both of her horses - not bad for a first timer!)

(Hawley and Ginny looking sprightly as always)

We got cleared out of the ring from the press course walk by the first horse literally cantering into the ring to start their round, and because I had to use the facilities I unfortunately missed the first few rounds, including Selena's. D'oh! Fortunately I managed to hike around to my seats by the third or fourth horse in, and from there had a very good view given the £6 nature of my tickets. They did also let photographers into the main arena for the first session, but since I knew I was going to be in the ring for the conclusion and had already bought grandstand tickets, I decided to take advantage of being able to sit while shooting for a little while.

(Emily Llewellyn, who's another one of those incredible 21 year olds who have already been Badminton two or three times - how do the Brits produce so much great young talent??)

My first impression of the course was that it wasn't going to be super influential. With very few exceptions, everyone was making time, and there were a pretty big number of double clears right from the start. It was pretty darn inspirational to watch so many horses ping around like they'd just come off holiday and not an 11 minute cross country course the day before, and even the ones who did look tired just turned themselves inside out to get over the fences - a reminder of how wonderful horses truly are.


Having ridden both a very tired horse and a very fit horse in the show jumping at a three day, I can say from personal experience how much easier it is sitting on the latter. That being said, it was a great learning experience to watch some of the riders on wearier horses adjusting their ride and making as easy as possible for their horse to jump a good round. Being fluid and able to adjust my ride, even forgetting the obstacles of having a tired horse and dealing with the pressure of jumping in the main arena at Badminton, is something that I'm always working on improving, so it was a good opportunity to make some good mental videos of the best of the best!

(Buck did a great job guiding a somewhat tired Reggie to his first Badminton completion - though you'd never suspect he was tired from his jumping form in this photo!)

(Trying very hard!)

I was super impressed (slash head over heels in love with) Roma ML, ridden by Fiona Hobby, who was a tiny dapple grey mare (sound familiar??) that I'd watched attack the Colt Pond the day before. She jumped like she had a secret jet pack hidden under her saddle, and they had one of the more fluid clears of the morning set. I think I'm going to print out some photos for Kiki to tuck under her pillow for inspiration =)

(Kiki: take notes.)

After the morning set I rushed back to the press tent, scarfed down one last free lunch, chugged a last bottle of water, adjusted my panama hat and whipped off my jacket to reveal my dress beneath (in accordance with the main arena "fancy dress" regulations... really), and joined the lucky twenty or so photographers chosen from the ballot to stand in the main arena as we headed down en masse. When we arrived we were assigned to specific locations around the ring (I got a spot right near the first fence in the middleish) and were told in no uncertain terms that once we'd been posted we were NOT allowed to move under pain of getting our publication banned from the main arena for life. Yikes! In a classic Kate Erickson moment, of course, as soon as I got to my position, I realized I had to use the loo... really, really badly. Perfect.

(Poor silver fox! 31 Badminton completions and never a win!)

(LENAMORE!! 18 years young, finished on his dressage score - LEGEND)


I managed to push those thoughts to the back of my head as the horses came in (mostly... I think the other photographers I was stationed with must have thought me an odd bird what with all the walking in tiny circles and awkward shifting from foot to foot I was doing) and really got down to enjoying the drama unfolding literally right in front of me!!

(Mary giving the crowd a wave after they EXPLODE following her super clear round)

Interestingly, the course was much more influential for the top twenty than it had been for the morning group - definitely a case of nerves coming into play! I was rooting for Laura Collett and Rayef, who were one of the unfortunate 4-faulters, but was still blown away by her round (and her performance all week in general) - she'd had to come into the ring right after Mary King had jumped a clean round and made the crowd go INSANE. The level of concentration and poise she showed was incredible. And that horse can really jump!

(Rayef made the jumps look almost insultingly small)

(Nicola Wilson must have been a disappointed 4-faulter, as she's almost expected to finish on her dressage score these days, but it's safe to say that Opposition Buzz still had a healthy fan base at the end of the weekend, yours truly very much included!)

When Mark Todd came into the ring, it got so quiet you could literally hear a pin drop: however many thousand people there were in that arena were all absolutely silent, still, and on baited breath. I was most definitely one of them, and I don't think I took a breath through their entire round. This man is the eventing heros to end all eventing heros, I grew up with his memoir literally on my pillow beside me, and when he retired in 2000 I'd grudgingly accepted that I would never get to see him ride in person. When I got to watch him go from 20-deep in the crowd at WEG I thought I'd thought my wildest dreams had been answered, and was content that that was probably the closest to him that I'd ever get. Now here I was, literally cantering by a few paces away from me. If I'd been ballsy (and stupid, and armed with the wish to become the eventing version of this guy), I could have run out and touched him. When he got to the last few jumps, my heart was pounding so hard in my chest that I was fairly certain that a coronary episode was imminent, and I didn't care because if I had a heart attack I was going to have it WATCHING MARK TODD WIN BADMINTON!!

(NZB Land Vision certainly wasn't giving the jumps the sort of disdain that Rayef did, but he got it done)

(The MASTER, just one from home!)

When he cleared the last fence, it was like a bomb had gone off in arena. The sound was deafening, and I totally lost all last appearances of professionalism (let's face it, I probably wasn't fooling anyone) by leaping around, fist-pumping and giving my best rebel yell. He cantered right by us on the way out, and the look on his face was one I'll never forget: pure magic.


After that it was all a blur of awards, victory gallops (getting to watch Mark Todd literally cry with happiness), wrapping things up one more time in the press office, packing up, and heading home. Had that even happened? I was on such a high the entire way home that I was dazed, almost forgetting my things on the train and very nearly letting my (shoddily not-quite-packed) rainfly for my tent blow away on the walk home. I got back to my room and was so tired my entire body was buzzing, but I couldn't sleep for hours as the whole weekend washed over me one last time. Finally I drifted off (in a real bed for the first time in four days!), and Badminton 2011 came to an official close.

(Tears of joy! Todd, who is the FEI Horseman of the Century and a double Olympic gold medalist, said that this was his most special victory - what a fairytale ending to a fairytale weekend!)

Good news? I'm off to Tattersalls CCI*** in Ireland in just over three weeks - yay!! But how could anything possibly compete with Badminton?? Hopefully the Guinness and the cute Irish accents will be enough to make the trip worthwhile in its own right =D

(I also got Mary's autograph which, given her 1-2 finish at Rolex last weekend, is suddenly seeming a lot more valuable - win explosion!!)
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