Welcome to part II of the Gina Miles interview. She talks a lot about McKinlaigh, what it felt like to win an Olympic silver medal, and the attitude that makes it all happen. Plus some more wonderful and exclusive photos from Tass Jones and Mark Hart!
Q. What’s McKinlaigh like?
photo by Tass Jones Photography
A. He really is a one in a million kind of horse. How blessed I was to have him at the very beginning stages of my career. He took me so many places; they don’t come along like that very often. He’s very gentle and very kind. Anyone can get on him and have a pony rider. He’ll canter around a course with just about any rider. Pony Clubbers get on him; he even went to an A test with a pony clubber. Around the barn he’s kind of aloof. He knows his people and he’s very sweet but doesn’t really like strangers. If someone comes to see him he pretends to be grumpy and pins his ears. He’s a big chicken. He doesn’t like clippers anywhere near his face and is a total baby about needles. You can do anything you want, but show him a needle and he’s quivering. He’s a great traveler and an easy horse to take care of.
Q. Where are you going with him now?
A. You know that’s a big topic of discussion. I think we’re probably gonna steer him more in a direction of lower stuff. He loves being part of the barn and the program. He doesn’t want to be turned out, he wants to stay active. The Olympics is a good way to finish out a career and a wonderful high note to finish on. It doesn’t get better than that.
Q. Can you tell me what winning a silver medal in the Olympics was like?
A. It’s a pretty impossible feeling to describe. It’s everything you would imagine it is. It’s a huge honor you stand on the podium and see the flag go up. For me it was a flashback of all the roads to get there. Obviously there were lots of success along the way but also rough patches so I was flooded with flashbacks and memories. I felt so proud of everyone in my family and everybody who played a role. Not just family members but supporters and friends and everybody who contributed. It wasn’t just one person and one horse. It takes a village, right? Everybody had a piece of it and helped in some way. It’s a huge group effort to get there. That’s what that American flag going up represents: all of those people who helped and their dreams too. It’s been really fun to come home and share that medal. I take it to clinics people like to hold it and get their picture taken with it. It represents so many things to so many people even outside of the horse business. I speak to schools or rotaries clubs and horse groups. The Olympics goes outside the horse world. Everbody is touched by it.
Q. How has the West Coast become such a force in 3-Day Eventing?
A. It’s definitely a shift and it’s a product of a couple of things. It’s the product of hard work and dedication involved in Area 6 like Robert [Kellerhouse] and the Baxters and Margie Malloy and Bill Burton and organizers committed to hosting quality events. The quality of the courses and competitions put on in California is exceptional. They’ve been really committed to that and Robert really jumped in there with what competitions need.
Also, California has a lot of horses! There are a lot of quality horses in San Diego, it’s a hotbed for Hunter Jumper and Dressage riders and trainers. So riders are able to get specialized help. That’s a big contributing factor. Part of it’s shifting in the sport over twenty years and becoming more specialized. Eventing has become more specialized in dressage and jumping though hasn’t taken away from the sheer bravery required of cross-country. In theatre you call them triple threats: someone who can sing and act and dance. That’s where I see eventers going. You have to be a triple threat.
One area we lack is you can’t event against twenty Olympians. But can go to a dressage competition and do that. You can watch Showjumpers jump around and say ok, that’s what my showjumping should look like! Goes to show the young riders we’re turning out have those strong backgrounds.
photo by Tass Jones Photography
Q. What does your husband think of all the eventing shenanigans? How does he support you?
A. He has logged a lot of miles in the truck and trailer! We have known each since high school. When we met I was into horses and he knew that was part of the package. He has been huge part of the team and has driven McKinleigh back and forth across the country, he’s flown with McKinlaigh. The questions I always who will travel with the kids and who will travel with the horse? He got the easier job most of the time traveling with the horse! He’s been all aboard. He’s excellent vet box crew. He grew up around horses doing western ranching. He’s an expert on the game ready system and is an all around super supporter. There are a couple of those spouses in the trenches. They’re a huge part of it.
Q. How would you describe eventers?
A. Of course they’re the best! The sport of eventing is so humbling you can be on top of the world then the bottom of the pack more so than other disciplines. Eventing is more extreme in highs and lows. The character of the eventer is you have to roll with the punches or you don’t make it. The others get weeded out. It’s a tough sport mentally so if don’t have the right attitude you don’t make it. Eventers are down to earth, do it yourself, get up and dust yourself off, kind of group. Those are great qualities. That being said when we competed at Olympics the other teams were also phenomenal. It was great to be team USA, we really pulled together. The dressage riders watched our dressage tests and didn’t make fun of us or anything! The showjumpers were a huge help too. We walked cross country to get the lay of the land. They got out early as spotters to report back how the course was riding. It was a huge team effort and there was great sportsmanship and camaraderie. We were in one crowded barn aisle and shared one tack room and one feed room. You can imagine how cozy it was. Everyone got along great and across disciplines we could all work together.
photo by Tass Jones Photography
Q. How do you describe yourself?
(below: photo via USPC)
A. My sister says I’m the eye of a hurricane. My life is pretty much tremendous chaos keeping all of the plates going. The people that are associated with me are spun into my circle of the hurricane. They have to learn to exist with my chaos. I get it all done somehow. How do you manage? It’s a little chaotic, you just gotta go with that and prioritize. You can’t do everything or the do everything the way you want to but you get on with it and somehow it all works out. Keep the positive attitude and a can-do approach and make it work.
We have one more part to Gina’s interview so check back for that conclusion. I hope you’ve enjoyed the behind-the-scenes looks so far!