The reflection in thought of a past event can never fully encompass the full spectacle of the actual extravanganza.
Reliving a moment of time like the recent European Championship in Marloffstein, West Germany, is something hard to explain unless you can imagine the biggest grin and good time of your life, and you wake up the next day and the grin's still there.
Dancing on the tables at the Bavarian Beer Fest in Marloffstein will rate as one of the all time adventures of my life. It was like a cemented face of laughter was implanted into my persona. This was a good time. I mean, they played trombones with their toes!
For the first time International or National FEI competitor who hasn't gone thru the travail of getting a FEI passport, becoming an International Amateur, getting the proper innoculations, blood tests, Coggins test within 30 days, making sure you were a member of the proper organizations ( AERC and AHSA) all at a frantic express mail pace, the rest was a piece of cake. My friends- the cake, as well as the air was very, very good.
Hearing your National Anthem played for- of all reasons!- the fact you were a consistant mediocre finisher who adhered to the credo "to finish is to win", was and is a most humbling experience i will never forget.
Jet lag lugged us into their rainy camp on a lazy Sunday afternoon before the next Saturday's
ride. Immediately, we were met with courtesy and helpful assistance from Florian Smithaus, and his Father, Hans. Experienced of the Trail, they led us to the barn and fields to show us the facilities available for the horses, who were to arrive the next day. We were the vanguard- Larry, Michael and myself.
We were met by these tireless heroes who are owed congratulations and adulation for putting on a World Class Ride.
Florian Smithaus: a distance rider himself, always wanting to please and make things right.
Hans Smithaus: Flo's Dad- he was involved in all the behind the scenes, as well as front line duties of over-riding importance.
Jurger Hoepffner: the trail master, a most precise planner and attibutable asset,
Jane Hoonan: ran the command tent with multi-lingual fare that prevented obstacles to develop and confused all as to her nationality with her precision and usage of language.
Herman 'The German' Stricker: not only got us dancing on the tables but winding in and out of this slinky interpolation of fun and good times.
Anna Rosa Grim: the ride secretary. No matter where you go, the ride secreatry's job is unheralded and over-worked. She was a good one.
The weather was perfect for a race with cool temperatures, no humidity and a light mist falling. It was horse blanket weather, while at home the States were basking in 100 degree heat. We would have been able to cope with the heat better than the Europeans. The advantage was theirs.
The course was muddy over most of the route, Record rainfall had been falling for months. We knew we had to watch our step, as it was sloppy and slick at times. There was no rocks to speak of, but tree roots and muck were treacherous enough of an obstacle to warrant close attention to the trail at all times.
The course was like a trip through Germanian lore. Towns and countrysides passed in blur of a surreal scape. Farming techniqies passed down thru the ages made the land utilized to the maximum. They showed their respect for the land by that most obvious of man's presence- litter - there was none.
I was convinced I was going to finish this ride and rode a frantic first part and slowed down for the longest hills I have ever seen, which was the second part. Death would have had to manifest itself to have stopped me from finishing.
At 1:28 AM , we did. It was exilirating, for we knew we were the first to finish a three member team. All we had to do was trot out the next day. We did what we came to do.
The race itself was intense. High drama unfolding throughout the day. I am convinced we had the best organization and direction of energy of all the people there. We or our horses weren't, to my impression, any more superior to other horses or riders. We had a game plan and followed it and had the best Crews I could ever imagine assembled.
We were ecstatic. The Germans were stunned. At 50 miles, Herman said the Germans were falling out like popcorn. They finished a 2 member team. It is always the host country's opportunity to win. They didn't.
The Italians were unattended en masse. Something about rules. They didn't show up.
France won the Individual Gold, but only finished a 2 member team.
Great Britian- the one I'd have picked to win team gold- only finished a 2 member team.
The Spanis blew out- finished 1 0f 5. But watch out-they have a most competitive spirit. They'll do better next time.
Iran showed up and rode a little bit.
Belgium- what a story for the team silver. They started only 3 riders and finished 3. At 4:50 am when their last rider completed, tears of joy and pride were abundant and freely flowing. I was glad for them.
Austria sent a team and smoked long cigars and did OK.
Portugal sent the highest stepper from the table top dancing party, Idalina Graca, to ride a fine sire to the tune. "I had to eat her dust." A small story- at the Fest, bravado had taken hold of me and i told her the next day, "She would eat my dust." She, never hearing this before before was amused at American slang and countered it with, "Was I who would eat her dust." Well, I ate HER dust and was glad it rained a lot so there was more mud than dust.
The Swiss and the Swedes were there as well bringing good horsemen from all of Europe. They are most serious at this sport.
France, Great Britian and Germany all had the capabilities to outshine the USA, but whether it was riding strategies or just bad luck on their part, we got the team gold and they will have to reflect upon what went wrong. Next time it may not be the same outcome, as they are all good horsemen and tough competitors.
Lee Wittle: Chef D'Equipe. Precise, knowledgeable and a joy to ride under his direction. His goal to finish all riders and provide team orientation were given his best.
Robin Waldron: Team Veterinarian. There when questions needed to be answered and medical strategies needed to be discussed and analyzed.
Jeff Benjamin: Farriar, his expertise gave us feelings of confidence that our wheels would keep turning.
# 40 Mike Marino riding Sun Walt, a District Attorney freshly elected who came to ride and did.
# 41 Tom Sites riding BayMar. I was glad my son could share the joy.
#42 Viki Varley riding Miss Lexa. Unfortunately didn't finish but gave it a real good shot.
#43 Jeannie Waldron rode Brombe or Cher Habu as the Europeans know her. She gave us our credibility.
The Crew Members
Melody Booth-Coull: She has paid her dues as a rider and crew member. We were fortunate to have her along.
Paul Rodino knew his German and got us out of some binds.
Larry Lewis another distance rider from Kansas we were fortunate to have. I, the most because he helped me. Thanks Larry, I'll never forget your enthusiam and support.
Michael Sites had the experience of a lifetime. I was glad to share it with you, Michael.
Athale Evans: Vikis sister came from Hong Kong to assist half a world away..
Mark Varley: Always a cheer and joy to be arround. Ready to assist at all times.
Sue Riggs had a heart w/out limits and a spirit w/out bounds.
Curtis Hyatt showed up to help because he is an American living in Germany. He knew the trail and brought friends.
The turquoise finger and silver handed lady-Thanks for the coffee and all your help and encouragement. Your hands are a work of art.
Mike Robertson and friend- We knew we were all right when the Special Forces showed up. The USA was represented very well. It was not just us 4 riders. We had good support and dang good support. THANKS!!!
And where does Matthew Mackay-Smith fit in? He was on the veterinary control and sharing his wide area of expertise w/ other cultures. The President of AERC had to be impartial but we all knew where his allegiance lay.
Last year in Rome at the World Championships, even tho we came in 1, 2, and 14 with a BC, we only got the Team Silver. This year there were 8, 9, and 16 place finishers for the Team Gold. There can't be any better example ever of a team win.
"To finish is to win" can never be said any clearer.
I was honored beyond any expectations I ever comprehended to be a part of this team. It will always be one of my greatest honors in all of life to be associated with such a group of people who came back to America as the Champions of Europe.
Thanks Lee, Jeannie, Mike, Viki, Robin and all the support we received from the CREW. We couldn't have done it without you.