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Excerpt from Still Me by Christopher Reeve, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Still Me

by Christopher Reeve

Still Me by Christopher Reeve X
Still Me by Christopher Reeve
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  • First Published:
    May 1998, 324 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 1999, 255 pages

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I got up early on that Saturday morning. My dressage time was 9:08. We did very nicely, though Buck was a little tense. I felt he knew that the cross-country was coming up next, and that's what he loves best, what he was born to do. He could see the other horses warming up to go cross-country. So there was a slightly distracted quality about his dressage, as if he'd been thinking: I've got to go through this and then we get to do the fun stuff. In spite of that we had a pretty good ride, and at the end of the dressage I was in fourth place out of twenty-seven. That gave me a good chance to move up. Somebody would probably drop a rail in show jumping; each rail means a subtraction of four points. So if you're in the top six after dressage, you're in a good position to win the event. I was happy. I cooled Buck down, put him in his stall, and went back to the Holiday Inn to spend time with Dana and Will, to chill out. At around one I changed into my cross-country equipment and headed back to the fairgrounds.

I went out and walked the course again. I had already done it twice the day before. But I walked it one more time. The first six jumps seemed very easy. Then they became more difficult until the two jumps that worried me, sixteen and seventeen. Sixteen was a water complex, where you had to jump in, change direction, and jump out of the water over a log. Then there would be a long gallop across a field to seventeen, a wide bench between two trees. By the time you got to it you'd be clipping along at a really good pace. Those were the two jumps I was concentrating on.

You walk a cross-country course to decide how you're going to take every jump. You literally write your plan down on a map of the course. You decide: Okay, when I pass that tree I'm going to slow him down. When I pass that second tree there, I'm going to sit up. When I get over that jump, I'm going to look left because I've got a sharp turn to make. You decide where you're going to gallop, where you're going to slow down and show-jump it.

You decide how you're going to do every jump, and you write the plan down and study it overnight. The cross-country course opens at 3:00 on Friday, and the ride is on Saturday or Sunday, so you always have time to think things through. Still, I walked the course again to be on the safe side. When I was plotting my strategy earlier in the day, I certainly wasn't worried about the third fence on the course, which was a zigzag. It was only about three feet three, in the shape of a large W. I was mainly concerned about sixteen, the water jump, because I hadn't taken Buck through much water. And in order to take the big bench at seventeen, we'd really have to have a good rhythm going. But Buck had been so brilliant two weeks earlier that I was feeling quite confident. Plus, I'd recently had a private clinic with Stephen Bradley, one of the top event riders in the country, and that, too, had gone well. He was impressed by my horse and very complimentary about our partnership. Buck and I were really settling into a groove.

When I arrived back at the stables, I ran into John Williams, an Advanced Level rider and trainer and a good friend. He had taken care of Denver when the horse was recovering from a tendon injury in 1993. He had just come over to say hello since he lived nearby. I told him that I liked the course and was glad I'd come to Virginia, that I had a great new horse and was looking forward to a good ride. He wished me luck. From that moment until I regained consciousness several days later in the intensive care unit at the University of Virginia, I have no memory of what occurred.

Later, as I tried to reconstruct the sequence of events, I was told that I finished suiting up, put on my chest protector and helmet, got Buck out of the stall, and headed out for the warm-up area. There were three practice jumps: first a crossrail, then a vertical, then an oxer-two rails with a separation between them. You have to take them all in the same direction, and you always warm up at a hand gallop; you don't trot because you want to let the horse know that now it's time to be aggressive. For vertical jumps you slow down and sit up, but because you're competing against the clock you have to move right along to make the time. Many of the jumps are wide but not very high; they're called fly fences. Those are the ones you take right in stride at a full gallop, staying well off the horse's back so that he can move freely underneath you. I was particularly careful of Buck's back, which was still somewhat tender, probably because I had been working him a little too hard to make up for lost practice time. This high position is easier on the horse but more precarious for the rider, especially a tall one, in case of a sudden stop.

Use of this excerpt from Still Me by Christopher Reeve may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright© 1998 by Christopher Reeve. All rights reserved

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