Like most Sydneysiders, my holiday plans are derailed. Again. This time its thanks to the Northern Beaches hotspot, right on the door step of my safe space. My sacred place. Where I’ve trained to train the horses that in turn taught me so much. The very horses that held the tenuous threads of my life together through the sudden death of my dad and demise of my marriage and the turmoil of a year that turned life on its head for all of us.
How completely and utterly infuriating. And yet, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that there’s very little we can actually control on this third rock we inhabit.
So all that’s really left for us is to choose is our response. We can choose to get back up and go on. And we will.
If at this point you’re thinking “I just can’t”, I get it. And so, I present for your inspiration one Gillian Rolton AM riding the magnificent Peppermint Grove at the Atlanta Olympics in Team Eventing.
This was the second Olympics for Gill and Peppermint Grove following on from their successful gold-winning campaign at the 1992 Barcelona games. And it’s a ride that not only fueled my love of horses but showed me what true courage and grit and teamwork really looks like. With perhaps a dash of insanity, for good measure.
Eventing is an equestrian event where a single horse and rider combine and compete against others across the three disciplines of dressage, cross-country, and show jumping. This event has its roots in a comprehensive cavalry test that required mastery of several types of riding.
At the Olympics, team eventing pits teams of horse-and-rider pairs, one country against another. Men and women compete equally for a place on the team, the three highest scores counting towards the medal tally. No gender segregation. Only talent determines who makes the team. Gill was the first Australian female to win an equestrian medal at the Barcelona games in 1992, and the only woman on the team in 1996.
Coming out of the dressage, the Australians were on the brink of winning gold when Peppermint Grove skidded during the cross-country phase. Gill remounted (as the rules allowed back then) unaware she’d broken her collarbone and ribs, but found herself unable to use her left arm.
The next jump was one of the most challenging on course: a massive down-bank into the water then up onto a bridge then back down into the water. Peppermint Grove stumbled off the bridge under the dead weight of his rider who fell again, this time into the water.
At this point Gill had a split-second decision to make: “Do I get up and go on? Or do I give up?”
Team Eventing is just that. A team sport. Giving up means relinquishing a medal not only for oneself, but also for the team.
Gill was all in. She got back on the horse, and now had trouble breathing as her lung was punctured. But Peppermint Grove carried her home, across the impossibility of another 15 jumps for an excruciating 3 kilometres, and all the way to the winner’s podium.
Taken to hospital afterwards, Gill refused painkillers in case she had to ride again the next day. She didn’t have to, but her ride proved an inspiration to her team, which went on to win gold.
Gill was later heard to say “You don’t go to the Games to be a wuss, you don’t go to the Games to be a wimp, you go to the Games because you’ve got to get through those finish flags no matter what.”
I get it. 2020 sucks. And, we’re going to make it to the finish line. Together. No matter what.
Merry Christmas and see you on the other side!