Moving Up to the AECs

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By Allison Gill

After dabbling in hunter/ jumpers and fox hunting, as a beginner I attended my first eventing horse trial in 2018.  Once I experienced that equestrian sport, I decided that eventing was what I wanted to devote my equestrian career to.  That fall we went to our next horse trial at Beginner Novice and won!  Coming out after a clean stadium round, my trainer, Meredith Tipton, told me I had qualified for the 2020 AECs.  I had no idea what that was, but I was excited.  I soon found out that AECs are the American Eventing Championships.  The annual eventing championships where riders from every level – from beginner novice through advanced – compete at the same venue at their particular levels.  Unfortunately, the 2020 AECs were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  

In the next year we successfully moved up to Novice level and, in the fall of 2020, my pony Teagan and I did our second recognized Novice event and won, qualifying us for the 2021 AECs!   We worked very hard for the next ten months leading up to the event.  Knowing it was not just another horse trial, going into AECs I really had no idea what to expect.  When I looked at the stall list and saw some of the people I had just watched at the Olympics, I knew this was a big deal.  I also learned that out of over 1,000 competitors throughout five divisions, I was one of just a few riders from my home state Mississippi to even qualify for this event. 

We headed out bright and early on August 31, 2021 with my mom and me, my trainer Meredith Tipton, two dogs, my trainer’s a baby, and of course, the pony who’s done it all, Teagan.  Pulling in to the Kentucky Horse Park, it really hit me. I was at AECs!  It felt like just yesterday I had done my first ever event, but now I’m at the national championships!  
Once we arrived and unloaded, I put in a short hack to get some familiarization with the venue, and just that little ride around the Horse Park was such a cool experience. It felt like I was the real deal. This show was unlike any other in so many ways.  We even had a competitors’ luau the first night.  It was such fun seeing all my friends, as well as meeting new ones.  

The next day we rode our dressage test and performed the best test Teagan and I have ever done!  I was so proud just to be there, but after that test I felt so accomplished, and I know Teagan did, too.  

Our favorite phase, cross country, was next.  After walking the course, I was even more excited. The whole time I was warming up I was trying to contain my excitement.  The volunteer at the start box counted me down to go, “3, 2, 1, have a good ride!”  We left the start box and rode an incredible clear course.  It was definitely the most fun course I’ve ever ridden. My trainer always tells me whether your best is last, or first, it is still your best and there’s nothing you can change about it.  

Going into the show jumping phase I knew all we could do was lay down our best ride and have fun, which is exactly what we did.  We’d worked so extremely hard to get there and, just being there, I just wanted to soak up every moment.  Walking down the Rolex chute into the stadium arena was so exhilarating.  I’d watched all my idols walk down that lane and then, there I was, in that same place.  On course, we dropped the first rail, but the rest of the course was a dream ride.  Knowing I was riding on my little pony in the same ring as the Olympians I’ve watched for years was just unreal.  Leaving the Rolex arena after our round was another wave of every emotion.  Teagan and I have gone through and done so much in our career together already, and this experience made me realize that wishes made on shooting stars really can come true.

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