Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bunnie Sexton Could Kick Your A--

Just in case any of you woke up this morning thinking, "Wow, Kim really has it all together," let me relate that after I spent about an hour yesterday looking for my Tennessee High Tennis sweatshirt, to wear to my daughter's match, my daughter came home from school, spent a few minutes looking for her tennis uniform, and said, "Mom, did we leave all our dirty laundry in the closet of the hotel?" That would be the hotel in Lexington, Kentucky, where we were last weekend, and, um--yeah.

I called the hotel. The chipper desk clerk said, "Ma'am, I'll check Lost and Found. What exactly did you leave?"

I said, "Two Tennessee High Tennis sweatshirts, one THS tennis dress, a pair of khaki pants--maybe two pairs--a white polo with "Lauren Kieffer Eventing" embroidered on the back, a pair of pink sweatpants, two white sportsbras, a black sportsbra, a purple sportsbra, a bunch of dirty socks and underwear and probably a whole lot of other stuff."

The chipper desk clerk said, "That's not going to fit in Lost and Found. I'll check with housekeeping."

Housekeeping had it--of course they did, who would steal somebody else's dirty underwear?--and it's being sent to us.

Meanwhile--well, never mind. We just don't quite have our schitz together this week. The thread is starting to unravel. We carry on.

Today I want to tell you about Bunnie Sexton. I don't know her personally. Before last weekend, I'd never even heard of her, and no, I can't explain why she is called Bunnie. One presumes that's not the name on her birth certificate, but it's really none of one's business, is it?

Bunnie Sexton is 53, 6 years older than me. She is shorter than me, thinner than me but not disgustingly so, and wears more makeup than me, which most women do. She lives in California and primarily competes there, which is probably why I'd never heard of her before last weekend--I really don't know the west coast eventers very well.

This year Bunnie Sexton rode at Rolex for the first time.

Eventing is not really a sport for the very young, the way gymnastics is. You can't even attempt the advanced level until you're 18, which means it would be very difficult to qualify for Rolex (uber-advanced) before you were 20. The Olympians in this sport tend to be in their 30s or 40s. But at the advanced level eventing requires tremendous fitness from both horse and rider, and also tremendous courage. This year only one amateur, veterinarian Kevin Keane, rode at Rolex. It's very rare for someone to come out for their first time in their 40s, let alone their 50s.

On Thursday, the first day of dressage, I was working on the ramp that lead from the final dressage warmup to the main arena. Most riders trot or canter down the ramp with their Game Faces firmly in place. They are concentrating with every fiber of their being, and it means that their faces look cast in cement. They could be death masks of themselves. If, say, a volunteer on the ramp says, "Good luck, Phillip," as the rider passes, Phillip might respond with a very small, short nod, and the volunteer wouldn't expect anything more. The riders are Concentrating, and no wonder. They're about to do something quite hard on a super-fit and sensitive horse in a large and intimidating arena in front of witnesses. And they're raging perfectionists, every one of them.

Bunnie Sexton stood out from her fellow competitors: she went down the ramp grinning from ear to ear. When a volunteer said, "Good luck, Bunnie!" she turned her head and said, "Thanks!" She went into the arena like a kid rushing down the stairs on Christmas morning, because at age 53 she finally had a horse that could do Rolex, or she herself was finally ready for Rolex, or because somehow the stars had all aligned and here was her chance. Her dressage test put her in 71st place out of 73 riders, but was, as we say in eventing, that's a number, not a letter (E for elimination or W for withdraw. One rider was eliminated in dressage, another, the Queen's granddaughter Zara Phillips, withdrew in warmup.). Bunnie got to keep going.

I saw her again on Saturday, riding cross country in the pouring rain, coming through a very technical part well, smiling before the jumps and laughing as she galloped away. She finished without jumping penalties, pretty damn remarkable given the circumstances, and good enough to vault her all the way to 31st place. On Sunday she took a single showjump rail down, so that she finished her first Rolex in 24th place out of 75 official starters. The crowd cheered wildly--eventers love persistence--and Bunnie grinned and grinned and patted her horse, galloping a small circle in the arena, and then she put her gloved hand to her eyes and bawled.

I wear shirts in support of my friends who ride. I've got "Lauren Kieffer Eventing," and "Go, Obie, Go!" (Ellen Doughty-Hume and her horse Sir Oberon) and "Proud Member of Amy's Tribe" (Amy Barrington) and some O'Connor Event Team polos from the 2012 Olympics. Next year I'm wearing a Bunnie Sexton shirt. With bells on. You bet.