This One is for Karen & Jeff

My grooms, best friends, biggest cheerleaders, and parents, all in one- I could not have done any of this without them. Last night was the last round in the Maccabiah Games, the last time I would wear my pinque coat, ride Chin Chinello, and represent the United States in Teddy Stadium. I was so excited to go back in the ring one last time.. until I saw how big the jumps were. I thought they would be 1.25, which is still gigantic, but they were 1.30, which is bigger than the highest level in eventing! Neither Chin Chinello, nor I, had ever shown that high, so I guess you could say I was nervous.

I don’t think I said a word during the course walk. As we passed jump 6, Kate looked at me and goes, “after this jump, you can pull out, you don’t have to do this.” Kate has only known me for a week so I don’t think she realized how hard I’ve worked and that I definitely am not going to quit the competition early when I have made it this far.

The course was technical and huge. We had a triple bar into a triple combination. I’ve never seen or jumped a line like that. To further explain, it was a very wide jump, 3 rails in width instead of the normal 1 or 2, then two strides to a tall vertical, to two more strides to another vertical. After the rider, hopefully, jumps through that line, you have to sit up, reorganize, and kick on to get the forward 7 strides to a huge oxer. Chin Chinello, being the huge horse that he is, was going to have trouble with this line if I didn’t jump in perfectly. The jumps were two big to screw up- Kate and I both knew that. I have never been so nervous in my entire life.

I got into warm-up and immediately felt better. He’s so big, so the jumps looked a little smaller from my “birds eye view.” I warmed up, jumped huge jumps (a vertical that was 1.35!!), and went into the stadium that was filled with the biggest crowd yet. I took one huge breath, gave Chin Chinello a pat to calm both of our nerves, and started my course.

The first jump was great, I turned to the second and the cheers from the crowd after I jumped it clean made Chin Chinello buck. I lost my rhythm and knocked #2, kicked him on to leave a stride out to clean the huge oxer with water under it. I jumped 4, 5, and 6 well, barely hitting another one down because he was tired, and then I turned to the huge triple bar combination.

I JUMPED IT PERFECTLY!

I jumped in, sat all the way back to fit in the 2 strides between both verticals, then kicked on to the huge oxer- it was amazing! I jumped the last 5 jumps, finished the course, and galloped around the ring patting him and hugging him because I DID IT!

As I galloped out of the ring, I see my mom running from her hiding spot (she’s so weird), tears in her eyes, kissing Chin Chinello, hugging me, until I cried. It was the highlight of my trip.

My mom, who was my groom (thank you again), took Chin Chinello so I could talk to the coaches about my round and go see my dad who didn’t have the credentials to be down at the ring and had to watch from the stadium seats. Everyone was so excited and impressed, and I honestly have never been so proud of myself! I finished 25th, and I couldn’t be happier. To my knowledge, there was only one rider on a pool horse that beat me!

My teammates all put in great rounds. Syd rode her horse, Cheese, perfectly and finished 22nd. Cloe and Haley cleaned up and both were in the top 5! I am so sad that the competition is over. It was the best week of my life.

I stay in Israel until the 18th when I leave for Australia. I had to say bye to my amazing parents yesterday, which was really hard since I won’t see them until November. I am counting down the days until they visit!

For now, I am just hanging out in Israel and going to watch the other sports who still have games left. Thank you to everyone who cheered me on throughout my preparation and competition. I can’t wait for my next adventure, and will keep blogging until you guys get sick of me!

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Silver is the New Gold

I can’t believe that the team portion of the competition has concluded, and I also can’t believe that I jumped a strange horse that I had only jumped twice over a 1.20 meter course (equivalent to the highest level in eventing) successfully!

Yesterday was the second round in the team competition; it counted towards our individual score as well. I walked out to the stadium before my coach, Kate, got there, and immediately felt ill because the jumps were massive. 

The wall on the course wasn’t big enough, so they even put rails on top of it! (A photo of the wall is below)

I was the 15th rider to go into the ring, the first for team USA. I was so nervous I had to call my trainer from home, Julie Richards, to calm me down. Thank God I called her, because I think she’s the reason I didn’t get physically ill.

I was most nervous about jumps 3 and 4 ABC. Jump 3 was this huge triple bar (photo below) in a line to jump 4 ABC M, which was a triple combination (three jumps in a row). Since Chin Chinello is so big, I didn’t know if I could get him organized after the huge triple bar quickly enough to get him correctly into the combination. The coaches, Kate, Angel, and Brianne, all talked through my plan with me and as long as I stuck to the plan, I would be okay.

Of course, the nerves kicked in and in the first round, I wasn’t reactive immediately to the huge jump in and got too close to the first element in the combination and had the rail down. Despite having a few jumps down, I jumped the last jump and through the finish flags with a huge feeling of relief that I completed the biggest course I had ever jumped.


My teammates are such amazing riders, and it’s such an honor to be on a team with them, cheering them on during their rounds. Syd rode a very difficult horse better than anyone could have, having a few rails that were caused by the horse’s inexperience at the level. Cloe and Haley both put in beautiful, accurate, and clean rounds to close the gap a little more between the USA and Israel.

Before I got on for the second round, I called Julie, talked to all the coaches, and Kate and I decided that I should leave a stride out in the line from 3 to 4 ABC to give Chin Chinello and I more space before the jump and to also save time. I could sense that Chin Chinello was getting a little tired. My second round was very rhythmical and ridden much more accurately than the first. I completely “took a nap,” as Kate said, to jump #2, but the rest of the course felt great. We had a few down due to my error at #2 and Chin Chinello’s tiredness, but I felt that even though both he and I are very inexperienced at this height, we fit in with the jumpers!


The two rounds in one day is not easy for the horses. Syd put in a nearly foot-perfect round, with just one rail down. Cloe was next. She also had a great round with one rail down and one time penalty. Haley was the last for the team, and per usual, put in an awesome round, but hit the second to last fence down. The course was really hard, and they made it look easy!

To say the course was hard is an understatement. One team didn’t have any members finish the course, and over 25% of the competitors did not get through the finish flags. There were multiple falls, eliminations, tons of rails, and even some tack malfunctions.

The Israeli team members were the last to go in the second round. Their top rider experienced some equipment malfunction when jumping over the 2nd jump on course. His rein snapped, and it was impossible for him to complete the tough track with only one rein. Since he was not able to finish the course, our team almost took the lead, falling just 2 points short; I couldn’t be happier with how team USA performed.

Silver looks better with my complexion anyways!!

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If you told me last year that I would be walking into Teddy Stadium, in a pink coat, with the best team I could ever ask for, to get a silver medal around my neck, I would laugh right in your face. Why? Because, this time last year, I was riding a horse that shouldn’t jump, ever, and I lost all of my confidence because of it. I would tremble in fear when going up to any size jump, even cross-rails, because he was so unpredictable.

I thought that I would never get back to being the rider I was before I bought him.

I spent the past 12 months working on gaining my confidence, and breaking down the psychological fear with jumping; I can proudly say that the hard work has paid off. The emotions I felt walking back into the stadium to receive a silver medal at the Jewish Olympics is a dream that I still am not able to wrap my head around. I cannot thank everyone enough for helping me fall back in love with the sport, build my confidence back up, and get me to where I am today (you know who you are) and I can’t wait to put on my pink coat to do one last round tomorrow night to complete the individual portion of the Maccabiah Games.
(Photos and braids done by Anna Sylvan Jaffe)

My Life is Made

The opening ceremony was the coolest, craziest, and most surreal experience of my life. We were shuttled from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem at 2 PM and for 3 hours we walked around the hockey stadium right next to where the ceremony was held and met all of the other countries. We were supposed to bring our pins so that we could trade with other countries, but of course, my whole team forgot so we had to get creative. We gave away our Snapchat usernames, phone numbers, and flat out begged for pins from all the other countries.. it worked great even though it was a new level of desperation. I got pins from Australia, Brazil, and South Africa; it was so cool! At 6 PM we were herded (like cattle) into a tunnel where we waited for another 3 hours until we actually got to march out. I have never chanted so loudly, sweated so much, or felt so much pride for my country in my life. It was unbelievable.

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We were the second to last to march into Teddy Stadium; Israel was last. The entire equestrian team walked out on stage in front of the 15,000 spectators, arms linked, chanting USA as loud as we could. The spectators were pushing each other to get to the front just to give us all high fives- I felt like a celebrity! I didn’t stop jumping up and down until the security guards came up to us and told us we had to sit down. We sat with athletes from all over the world who we started trading our tracksuits with the other countries. I did take my shirt off in the middle of the ceremony because I had to have an Australian polo.. yes, it was worth it.

The actual ceremony was interesting. There was a weird wedding, some history lessons, impressive performances, and, to no surprise, more chanting. I don’t think I stopped smiling despite the fact that we hadn’t eaten since 2 PM. If you know me, you know I am not happy when I am hungry, so that really says a lot to how amazing it was.

I cannot put into words what it was like to walk into Teddy Stadium representing my country with the best Jewish athletes in the world; I will say it was the best night of my life. The pride, excitement, and cohesiveness felt marching with my team was overwhelming. I am so lucky to be here and I can’t thank everyone enough for all of the support!

 

Culture Shock 

I’m experiencing some extreme culture shock. Not because of Israel, but because being a jumper rider is so different from an event rider.

They’ve never heard of a monoflap saddle. 

I am the only person here with a monoflap! I also thought that we were supposed to wear white gloves because that’s what we do in eventing and I think it looks professional. I was told that if I wore white gloves I would look like a “noob”. Thanks Syd 😊 They also don’t wear stock ties, trot jumps even during the warm-up, and some don’t even show in hairnets! 

We completed round 1 and I finally feel like I can relax for a second. It was so hot, but the jumper team felt that the decision to wear our pink coats wasn’t optional. I walked the 1.15 meter course with Kate, trying to calm my nerves and not puke everywhere. I got to watch a few rounds, including my teammate Cloe’s, while my mom so kindly put Chin Chinello’s studs in- thank you Mom. The course was difficult for some, but Cloe put in a great round despite her horse, Manny, being a little spooky. She came out clean with only one time penalty, which put her and the team in a good position.

I was the next rider to go for Team USA. I got on and immediately felt Chin Chinello’s freshness from the atmosphere in the stadium. I spent my warm-up trying to stay on all 17.2 hands of him, while he bucked after every jump. There were only 2 jumps in the warm-up that each coach had to fight over, since there were atleast 15 horses sharing the tiny space. I was honestly more nervous in the warm-up ring than in the actual ring because it was so packed! Once I cantered into the stadium, I walked up to the spookier jumps so Chin Chinello could see them and started my course.

I started out under-paced due to my nerves, which resulted in a rail down at jump 4, and then at jump 5, the jump causing the most falls and stops, Chin Chinello tried to refuse and I could feel the whole stadium behind me clucking while I smacked him over it. After that, I think we both got our act together and finished the last 8 jumps clean! We ended with one rail and 3 time penalties, which obviously isn’t putting us in the top of the group, but everyone was ecstatic including my team! It took me a second to realize that I should be happy about my round because it hadn’t set in that I finished my first round!

Haley was next, and put in an amazing double clean round! Haley and Harley made the course look so easy and didn’t miss a distance. Syd was the last rider for our team, and the second to last at the show. We saw falls, refusals, rails- it was a way harder course to ride than it looked and Syd was on an Israeli horse that she leased so we didn’t know how he would be on course just like Chin Chinello. She rode amazingly, with one rail down, to complete the first day for team USA! We are currently sitting in 2nd behind Israel who got to ride all of their own horses. Today the jumps are bigger and we get to do two rounds. There is live streaming of the event on the Maccabiah Equestrian Facebook page, and it starts at 5 PM Israel time.

https://www.facebook.com/Maccabiahequestrian/

 

Chin Chinello

FINALLY the day I have been waiting for since I was selected for the team- the horse draw. I cannot explain the amount of preparation that has gone into the anticipation of what horse I will be riding here. I spent my training for the Maccabiah Games riding as many different horses as possible, as much as I could, hoping that my hard-work and skill would allow me to adapt to whatever horse I drew.

I am so lucky to have such a supportive team and parents who all came to the draw, just as excited, nervous, and hopeful as I was. My teammates and I were holding hands up until I was called up to pick out my horse; I was shaking. I picked up the folded paper, handed it to the head of Maccabi Equestrian, and heard them announce the name, Chin Chinello. Knowing absolutely nothing about if the horse was good or not, my teammates and I cheered an annoyingly absurd amount; cheering not for what horse I got, but that the anticipation of the draw was finally over.

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I met with the trainer of the horse who also is competing at the games, Gal, and he assured me that the horse was very genuine and liked to jump. I don’t think I have ever seen my mom happier! I tend to have the worst luck with horses, and she assures me everyday, for the past 6 months, that she has a “feeling” I am going to get a really good horse out of the pool. At this point in time, I think, and certainly hope, she’s right!

My parents, Kate, and I took a van with other riders from countries all around the world (including one Australian woman that we are now best friends with and will be visiting when I move there) to the barn to ride our new horses. I was greeted by the trainer and another Israeli competitor and we got to watch videos of Chin Chinello which was really helpful because it is always nice to watch how the horse goes before getting on them. I could tell that he is a very good jumper, but is so, so big.

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We walked up to his stall and I truly have never ridden a horse that big. Standing 17.2 hands, this beautiful bay gelding walked right up to me and started licking me. Despite his size, it was obvious that he was a huge teddybear. I hopped on him, ready to ride the gigantic horse, and realized that just getting him to walk forward was a struggle. He is the laziest horse, ever. I had the best leg workout of my life just getting him to canter around the ring. I looked at Kate thinking “how the heck am I supposed to ride this horse over 1.25 jumps?” Once I started jumping him though, I could tell he loves to jump and is a saint. I was not perfect by any means, but I did jump 1.30 courses and had SO much fun. He isn’t the easiest ride, and it was definitely one of the hardest leg workouts of my life, but I am so happy and relieved that I picked a horse that likes his job and likes to jump clean, which is all that matters.

I cannot put into words how much weight is lifted off of my shoulders after today, and I can’t believe I finally met the horse I get to represent the United States on.

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Horses, Heat, & Hiking

The alliteration wasn’t even on purpose- these are the three issues we have been dealing with since our time in Israel.

Not that I haven’t been having the most amazing time of my life, but the constant travel has hindered our ability to train and ride most days. Even though everyone has been trying hard to get me on a horse since I have been here, I have only ridden two times since I have been here. I have gotten to ride 3 different horses- Chelsea, Casey, and Kansas… such unique names, I know. These horses haven’t been up to the caliber I have been used to riding at Julie Richards’, but I can’t complain since random Israelis are allowing a random American to ride and jump their horses. Kate, our coach, is my eyes on the ground and has really helped keep my confidence up on these horses that aren’t easy to ride. Oh, but on the bright-side, I am officially referred to as a “jumper” which is very exciting, and yes, I will go back to Eventing after the competition. 19718669_10212297692894142_748454624_o

The reason I haven’t been able to ride is mainly due to the heat. All of the USA teams weren’t able to practice for a day because it got up to 110 degrees! It’s insane. Despite the fact that we don’t have practice, we still had all the afternoon activities including: Masada, Yad Vashem, hiking various mountains and trails, and other activities with the team. I love all of the time we get to spend together, but not being able to practice because of the heat, and then spending the rest of the day in the heat was not easy. I have never chugged more water in my life!

For those who don’t know, Yad Vashem is the Holocaust museum. I had already been once when I came to Israel a little less than 10 years ago, but this time the museum was even more intense and powerful. I can’t put into words the exact emotions I felt during and after the museum, but everyone was silent, angry, upset, and moved for the rest of the day. The most impactful part of the museum was the last room when they had 600 pictures of some of the victims of the Holocaust. Our tour guide said, “Now imagine seeing 10,000 faces for every picture in here. That is how many people died in the Holocaust.” This was the first time I really felt I could possibly grasp the concept of 6 million people dying. I know that I have heard that number my entire life, but I have never been able to wrap my ahead around it. Focusing on one picture and imagining 10,000 faces behind it was very powerful and will stick with me for the rest of my life.

That’s all for now, but stay tuned for my next post about the wild concert the equestrian team went to, the horse pool, and more! I can’t wait to start the competition!

 

Language Barriers

Slowly realizing that I am overly confident in my non-existent ability to speak Hebrew.

Despite spending 6 years at a Jewish day school, I cannot understand 99% of Hebrew. I know how to sing all the prayers, say “I love horses,” and that’s about it. The other night at a bar in Tel-Aviv, a boy around my age came up to me and said “ma shlomech?” (meaning how’re you). Trying to think on the spot, knowing that I should know the proper response to such a short and easy question that I know I’ve heard a million times, I responded with the only Hebrew sentence I could think of off the top of my head… As soon as I opened my mouth, I knew I was about to embarrass myself. I answered with “Mah nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleilot?” which is a famous prayer recited at Passover by the youngest child of the family.

I sang the first line of the prayer as if I was leading my family in the Seder. I thought that my pitch and pronunciation of the prayer was perfect, but I don’t think the boy was as impressed as I was. So, my teammates being right next to me for the entire interaction have put this down as one of the funniest moments of the trip so far. Lesson learned, I need to buy Rosetta Stone and not blurt out the first Hebrew sentence that comes into my head when talking to Israelis… Or anyone for that matter.

On another note, today we climbed Masada and floated in the Dead Sea. It got up to 110 degrees and I didn’t know if we would make it past the first 10 minutes of the tour, but we survived and were rewarded with an amazing meal with the Negev Bedouin tribe! It was such a fun day.

Apologies for the short post, I have been having too much fun to sit down and type! 19688628_10212277989441568_1193139440_o.jpg

Already In Love (With Israel)

Sorry Grandma, I haven’t found my Jewish husband yet, but I have fallen back in love with Israel since the last time I was here almost a decade ago.

On our way to Jerusalem, our poor coach, Kate Levy, got very car sick and dehydrated due to the long bus ride and 90 degree weather and was not able to participate on the trip after about an hour in, but she is feeling better now! Cloe Hymowitz’s Mom, Debby, took over as the equestrian team chaperone, photographer, and coach for the day (Thank you, Debby!) We rode on a bus with the men’s and women’s basketball teams, which was really fun. Yes, I did argue with the players about the whole UofL scandal about 15 times and I made my parents proud because they were very impressed by how much I knew about the Louisville Cardinals.

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The Old City is beautiful, and I finally got falafel! That’s when I was realized I am hooked and may never be able to leave. We got to put our notes and prayers in the Western Wall, shop, bargain, and go into an underground tunnel which turned out to be an old sewer system. We walked over 6 miles yesterday and were unbelievably exhausted.

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One thing about equestrians is that we know how to rally. We got back to the hotel at 9 PM and despite our desperate need for sleep, we knew we couldn’t miss out on all of the “extra-curricular activities.”

Haley’s friend is a local here and knows all the best places to go out. We took a bus and went to a really fun club filled with locals. Honestly, the equestrian team fit right in with the Israelis and it was such a fun night. I am currently feeling the aftermath since we got home at 4 AM and had to wake up at 6:15 this morning for a training session, but you’re only representing the USA at the Maccabiah Games once, right?

This morning, the dressage team, Kate, and I went to the barn that was nice enough to let us ride some of their horses. When we got there, we were greeted with 4 horses already tacked up (meaning grooms put their saddles, bridles, and boots on for us) and told us which horses jumped and which did just dressage, and that’s it. I was told to ride the leggy chestnut mare named Chelsea. Despite knowing absolutely nothing about the mare besides her name, I hopped on, warmed up, and started over the fences. It turns out, she was a green 6 year old that just started jumping less than a year ago (I found this out after I was done with my ride). I jumped little courses, and Kate was my jump crew and eyes on the ground. The mare was pretty scopey, and I had a good time jumping her!

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Next, I got to ride the pregnant looking, paint mare, that Hope was doing dressage on. She had the smallest stride and was so cute! I practiced some tight turns to jumps and lengthening and shortening her stride to a related distance (videos are on my Facebook page so you will understand what I mean). I had so much fun on her and felt that I gave her a really good ride to the jumps. I was told after I finished my ride that the mare is not very confident and frequently stopped at the last second before the jumps. Thankfully, I didn’t find her confidence to be a problem for me, but it would  have been nice to know what quirks each horse had so I would have been prepared for it! In the end, both rides went great, and it was so refreshing to be riding again after a few days off.

Before I get back on the bus to go explore Tel-Aviv, I’ll end the blog with a picture and direct quote from my teammate, Haley. Don’t get the wrong idea, she truly is the sweetest girl, but I can’t not share what she said (sorry Haley). Oh, and at her jumper shows, you can drop your dog off for a massage while you are riding.

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Tel Aviv, Israel: Day One

I have spent 10 of the last 24 hours waiting in lines, and that is no exaggeration. I took one flight from Louisville to LaGaurdia at 3:30 PM, then took a cab which took 40 minutes (because there was so much traffic) to JFK and met up with my teammate, Syd Schulman. We had never met before, and ended up having to wait in line with all of the other athletes for 4 hours before the line finally started moving. We had ample time to get to know each other and the other teammates! I met almost all of the squash players, triathlon athletes, and fencers.

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When we finally got through the check-in at 10:30 PM, and we had to sprint to security to wait in another line. In this line, I learned that my fellow teammate had her own business, string of horses and participated in the Olympic try-outs. So, I think I am going to learn a lot during my 3 weeks here!

After a little while longer waiting in lines for security and boarding the flights, we were finally on our way. I met my coach, Kate Levy, who greeted me with pizza for dinner at 11:30 PM, a dressage team member, Hope Cooper, who is on the U-25 and has an individual bronze medal from NAJYRC, and Rebecca Cord, another dressage rider, who I haven’t gotten to know that well yet, but is very nice! I sat next to a high school squash player who taught me all there is to know about the sport. The flight flew by (pun intended) since I slept 8 of the 11 hours, and after 2.5 more hours of waiting in line for customs and our bags, we were finally on our way! I met my second teammate, Cloe Hymowitz, in baggage claim for a few minutes, and then left for the hotel for orientation.

Upon leaving the airport, there was a huge wall on the road that was painted with “Maccabiah 2017” and paintings of athletes, and I ran over and had to take a video of it because it was so cool- Israel knows were here!

When we got to the hotel, Kfar Maccabiah in Tel-Aviv, it finally sunk in that the best Jewish athletes really were here, all in one place, and radiating their USA spirit. We were put in a huge auditorium for orientation and there had to be 1,000 athletes in there (masters aren’t here yet) and it was very, very cool. We are participating in the Israel Connect program for the next few days full of team work-outs, traveling to different parts of Israel, hopefully going to barns to ride some horses, and falafel!!!

I am in my room with my roommates, Haley Schaufeld, my 3rd teammate who flew in from competing in Treffen, Austria, and Leah Marks who is a dressage trainer from Atlanta!

I apologize for the more informative, and less amusing blog post, I haven’t really gotten to do much besides wait in lines, explain to athletes that I didn’t bring a horse on the plane, and meet everyone, but I promise the fun (hopefully) starts now!

Today, we have a team work-out this morning, then we are going to Jerusalem to see the Old City! Oh, and I just woke up and am talking to Haley; Mariah Carey, Lionel Richie, and Robbie Williams, all preformed at her horse show… So, that’s normal. (Chuck Norris and John Travolta were there as well, the featured image of the blog was taken from her program.) I am definitely going to try and groom for her one day.

I promise, my next blog will be interesting!

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