Happy summer, everyone! Dane and I are back in Petoskey enjoying the weather and into the swing of lessons. Soon we’ll start going to shows.
To wrap up my previous two blogs, I might as well start by saying that Dane and I will not be returning to Albion College in the fall. I, along with my Mom, will be living in Tarbes, France working and training with Benjamin Aillaud, the equestrian director of Odysseo Cavalia. I still can’t wrap my head around the idea!
Here’s what happened:
After I left Miami, Benjamin and I became friends on Facebook and, about a week later, I woke up on a Saturday morning and jumped on Facebook to start my day. (It’s sad, I know.) Benjamin had written that he had something he wanted to discuss with me and that when I had the time if I could call him. When I did, he told me that he will be returning to France in the summer/fall to start finding and training horses for the 2014 World Equestrian Games. He then asked if I would be interested in coming over to work and train with him. In exchange for this wonderful opportunity, he also asked if I would be interested in working with his three and a half year old son, Nuno. (Ben wants to keep his son immersed in the English language and had been looking for an American girl to work with him.)
I was in complete shock as he told me all of this and I remember thinking to myself, “Why me? Why did he choose me?”
I thanked him and told him that I would talk to my parents about it and get back to him as soon as possible. Well, when I called my mom, I thought she might have died because she didn’t say anything, but I was soon reassured when all I could hear was her screaming. After much discussion, we came to the conclusion that this is an opportunity I cannot pass up. I have always been passionate about riding and it is truly the only thing that makes me happy. So while sitting next to my parents, we called Ben to discuss even more about what this opportunity entails.
He estimated that I would be over there for a year to two years working with him and also working with Nuno. He told us that I could live with him, his wife, Magalie, and his son and go from there. As I am not the bravest person in the world, my mom offered to come over with me to help me settle in. Benjamin said that was fine and made it very clear to me that this is not a contract and that nothing is set in stone. If I feel like I am not enjoying it or if he feels like we don’t work well together, I would just get on a plane back home and there would be no hard feelings. Benjamin made it so I, along with my family, would be the most comfortable with whatever ends up happening.
Since I had never met his wife or son, he wanted me to come back down to Miami to meet them and see how we interact together. So the next weekend, my mom and I hopped on a plane to Miami to go visit them at the Odysseo site, where we spent all day with not only Benjamin and his family, but also the actors and crew of Odysseo itself. We were behind the scenes of the show for three days and Ben even got my mom and I free tickets to the show, which we saw another three times that weekend.
My mom and I also got to spend some quality time with Nuno. We took him to the pool that was at our hotel and there is no sweeter, more polite boy than Benjamin’s son. The way he speaks to you, it’s like he has interacted with Americans his entire life. He knows to only speak English to English speaking people and to speak French to French speaking people. He is a genuine boy who I know is going to teach me more than I am going to teach him.
The biggest highlight of that weekend came to me within 20 minutes of being with Ben and his family. We were in the tent where the actors get dressed and ready for the show when Benjamin said, “Did you bring your riding pants?” My jaw immediately dropped and I felt so stupid. I didn’t bring my riding pants on this trip because I didn’t want to assume that I would be riding so, feeling like an idiot, I said, “No, unfortunately I did not.”
But he said that I could borrow a pair from one of the girls along with a pair of boots, so the next day I rode! I was expecting a ten minute ride around the warm up arena, but no, as I got on this purebred Spanish stallion (I had no idea was a stallion until after I got off of him) with all of the actors already riding. Benjamin came to the middle of the arena and started speaking in French – and I have no doubt in my mind that I looked like a deer caught in headlights. I had no idea what was going on, so I just simply followed someone on the rail. As I looked up, I noticed that everyone was doing shoulder in, so I did shoulder in. Ben would say another command in French and everyone would reverse, so I would reverse. Then everyone trotted, so I trotted. I just played follow the leader, but every now and then he would look at me, smile and tell me what to do in English. (I liked that a bit better.) When we took a walk break, I looked around at the other riders and I was all smiles.
I rode with the group for two days and they were the best two days of my life. I also met three nice young women who helped me bathe the horse I rode (whose name was Atila). Two of them were American twins and other was a French girl name Majolie. They kind of took me under their wing for a bit, which I really appreciated.
To add to all of this excitement, my parents and I are flying out next Tuesday to France to go visit Benjamin and his family and to also find our future “home.” We will be there for three days touring their farm and the little city I am soon going to call “home.”
Some of you might be asking, “What are you going to do with Dane?” He will be living with my previous trainer, Alicia Byberg-Landman, in Nashville, Tennessee. She was the one who got me truly hooked on dressage and the world of natural horsemanship, so it seems fitting.
I have learned in these past two months that dreams really do come true and I have also learned what it means to have a family and friends who will support me in whatever I decide to do. This was not an easy decision for me to make. Obviously hearing an opportunity like this, your gut instinct is to jump up and say “Yes!” but it was definitely hard for me. I am not the gutsiest person on earth, but with the support of my hometown and my family, I know that this is an opportunity I want to take and cannot pass up. I owe Benjamin and his family so much for asking me to come work with them and I can’t even imagine the things that I am going to learn while over there.