The Race to Le Lion: 'It's Been The Journey of A Lifetime'

The Race to Le Lion: 'It's Been The Journey of A Lifetime'

Authored by Judith McSwain

Fleeceworks Royal leaving the start box. Photo courtesy of Judith McSwain.Bonjour! It is the last day of this amazing event so I want to make sure I stay aware and pack in all the scenery and atmosphere. One minor difference today: the weather. We woke up to a brisk 38 degrees, wind and dark skies. We put on our warmest clothes, grabbed the umbrellas and scurried off to the final jog.  The atmosphere at the barns was all business, very quiet with grooms walking the horses in coolers with the flags of the many nations represented here. Rory is quietly walking with Shannon, proudly sporting the American flag. Lynette and I gave greeting, hugs and wished good luck. Then, we went to find our spot.

Rory came out and trotted up looking like she was ready to go again. The magic words came over the speaker, "accepted.” I swallowed hard and trembled with happiness and relief.

We had some time before the 6-year-olds started. We went back to the village, stopped in the bakery, made a great breakfast and looked for warmer clothes. Somewhere in this time the rain started, and a damp wind picked up. Umbrellas in hand, we headed back over to the show grounds.  A mental note to myself, a wardrobe must for all seasons in Europe is long underwear.

Tamie had made arrangements for us to hang out ringside in the Devoucoux booth. It provided shelter from the wind and rain and a glass of champagne. We were dry, grateful and yet still cold. I was thinking about the European wardrobe must again. The 6-year-old division showed a great deal of movement, rails were falling everywhere, it was wet. The ceremony that followed was different as the top placing riders were driven around the arena in a sponsored vehicle and awarded the ribbons on a platform. My first thought was, “where were the horses?” I learned today that I really love when the event awards means ‘dressed’ horse and riders "Ride for Ribbons."

The break was next. I go back a day to explain the show. The morning of cross-country we noticed the very large groups of people in white and black cowboy hats. Two locals explained that many Europeans love the American cowboy and all that goes with it. Today we realized that these folks were the entertainment between divisions. We had a group of French men and women in levis, workshirts and cowboy hats line dancing in the grass in the showjumping ring at the international FEI World Breeding Eventing Championships in Le Lion France. I loved it. Several people inquired is this was really how it is done in the United States. I smiled and replied, yes and it looks exactly the same. They were quite good and the crowds in the stands cheered, clapped and loved it. The French cowboys finished. It was time for the 7-year-olds to jump.

We watched the 7-year-old division and finally it was time for Tamie and Rory. I was freezing and my hands were numb. It didn’t matter as I stepped out on the patio to watch. We were here in France representing USA. Rory and Tamie put in a beautiful round. She ended up with some rails, but I was still very proud Her. She, a U.S. bred horse, had come to Europe and held her own with the best Europe has to offer.

Tomorrow we head out to the beaches of Normandy France to pay our respects. I sincerely hope that I have given everyone some insight into my experience of a lifetime through this blog.

I want to thank Dr. Tim and Cheryl Holekamp and Christine Turner for the grant that made this all possible. A big thank you to Tamie Smith, the most awesome pilot on the planet, for nurturing and developing Rory through all the ups and downs of the last three and a half years. Shannon the super groom for such amazing care. My dear friends Lynette Bowman and Barbra Egan for coming all the way to cheer for Tamie Rory and the USA.

The USEA Young Event Horse Program, and to all who support and participate. My wonderful supportive husband, Dick McSwain, who stayed home with the horses and all our little foster pups waiting for homes

Ownership of a young event horse has given me great joy, has expanded my horizons. It has pushed me beyond my comfort zone. It has provided amazing travel opportunities. It has introduced me to so many new faces. It has given me priceless memories forever etched in my mind and drives home to my heart the bundle of emotions that come when “leaving the box" is finally announced at an event.

It has been journey of a lifetime. I am in tears as I write this.

I would encourage anyone exploring possibilities to join in such a journey whether it be by single or syndicate ownership. I would encourage U.S. event horse breeders to continue to move forward. You see, I am already dreaming of Le Lion in 2019 and 2023.

Meet Fleeceworks Ghost!

Fleeceworks Ghost A 4-year-old Irish Sport Horse out of Rinealon Mist and by Shannondae Sarco ISR. She just won her first event at Beginner Novice this summer.







Meet Fleeceworks LE Sprout! My first homebred, born April 2016. (Go U.S. bred!)

Baby Sprout

"Sprout" is a Dutch Warmblood out of a mare Tamie competed through the CCI2* level, Fleeceworks Fernhill, and by Gaspar De La Nult.

I close with a thank you to all who shared our journey Go Holekamp/Turner Grant. Go YEH. Go USEA.  And most of all Go USA!

(This article originally appeared on

Previous Post Next Post

  • Elizabeth Howell