Nearly an Olympian

First training my horse, Miss Burgandy, in a Western Saddle.

From nearly the moment I could speak, I exclaimed “Luuuucky” at the mere sight of either a horse or a rider.  I was literally enchanted by anything equestrian and I badgered my parents incessantly to enroll me in horseback-riding lessons.  At long last, when I had reached the advanced age of 11, they gave in to the inevitable and I started lessons. For my 12th birthday, they bought me a horse—a fine young filly, just 3 years old and barely green-broke.  I had my dearest wish at long last.

Well, I turned out to be something of a natural at riding or, perhaps, even a prodigy. By the age of 13-14, I was showing in the Nationals, teaching riding lessons, and training other peoples’ horses. I once carried the state flag at a rodeo, galloping around the arena with that very heavy pole held high and proud, and I even saved the life of a student who had fallen, but whose foot was was caught in a stirrup.  In other words, I was doing just fine at my chosen sport.

Relaxing with Burgandy after a hard ride.

Then, when I was about 14 years old, my riding teacher held a “clinic” with one of her former instructors—a trainer for the US Olympic Equestrian Team. I was riding “English” at the time, which means that I had an English saddle (the little one), was showing in jumping classes, and doing everything that Princess Anne often failed to do correctly.  I was intimidated by the thought of being rated by such an expert, but excited nonetheless.

As it turns out, I was not only capable of surviving the “clinic,” but the US Olympic trainer was extremely impressed by my “independence”—which means, in terms of an equestrian, the ability to use one’s hands and feet independently of one another.  She was so impressed, in fact, that she came to visit my parents within days to ask that I be allowed to train, with her, for the US Olympic Equestrian Team.

Charcoal of Burgandy in our living room.

Well, my parents heard the news: I would be required to move to San Francisco—a drive of about 5 hours from our house at the time—but I would be provided with an Olympic-level horse, plus room, board, and an education.  Now, I have no idea what the cost of this move would have been, plus all of the training and the horse, but I’m sure that it would have been substantial.  My parents had money at the time, but probably neither the means nor the desire to put it all to use training a future Olympian.  So, the answer that I got was a simple “no.”  I was never given the reasons why or even a full explanation; I was merely told that I had been invited to train for the Olympics and that my parents had turned down the invitation.  My mother mumbled something about having me so far away—too much to bear—and that was the end of that.  I could not watch the summer Olympics for years without crying.

All's forgiven ... almost.

So, you might ask how I feel about it now.  I must admit that I still watch the Olympic equestrian events with some regret—with that ever-so-familiar “What if?” moment that most of us have at one time or another in our lives.  But, in fact, I have no real regrets. If not for my parents’ decision all those long years ago, I would not be married to Eric, and he is the love of my life. I would not have my daughter, step-children, and grandchildren.  I would not have a Ph.D. in Philosophy and be teaching at a fine university.  I would not have nearly everything that defines me now.  I might, or might not, have an Olympic medal, but, really, that doesn’t seem all that important to me today.  Yes, I still have regrets, but none that matter.  Yet, my 10-year-old granddaughter Emilia will never forgive my mother (long dead and someone Emilia never met) for making that decision.  And, perhaps, it is the child in me, like it is in Emilia, who will always have the regrets.  It is the child in me, not the adult, who never had the chance.

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