This is the moment that Brett Burlington has been preparing for since she began riding horses, at age 8.
The Coral Gables eighth-grader at Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart is moments away from making her run in the Nations Cup, an international equestrian event Thursday at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
The goal today is to run a clean round through the course within the allotted time, without knocking over any rails. Riders who accomplish that move on to a jump-off — a tiebreaker where they will try to run the fastest time through a new course to determine a winner.
“I don’t really get nervous, which is a good thing,” said Brett, 14, who is ranked No. 1 among riders 18 and under in the North American League’s Low Jr./Amateur Owner jumper standings. “I get excited to show.”
It’s a completely different story for her parents.
“Are you nervous?” Robert Burlington asks his wife, Alden, as the announcer calls on the children’s division jumpers to prepare to enter the ring.
“A little bit,” she said. “You know me. I always get nervous.”
The Burlingtons frequently make the hour-long, 77-mile long drive from Miami to Wellington so Brett can train during the week and compete on weekends. Her parents bought her her first pony when she was 9.
Now, the family owns four horses at Sweet Oak Farm in Wellington. They even bought a second home near Sweet Oak Farm so that Brett can be as comfortable away from home as possible.
“We’re all in,” her father said.
Sometimes, Brett has to miss classes because of her grueling schedule. Carrollton excuses her as long as she completes her work, makes up tests and attends tutoring sessions.
Her mother inspired her to get started, giving her riding lessons, but now she leaves the teaching to trainers.
“We’re with trainers that I have complete confidence in, and they’re really good,” Alden Burlington said. “I’m just a mom offering support.”
For this practice event, Brett has been waiting patiently as 14 other riders tried to clear the obstacle course. None have run a clean round.
She repeatedly clears the jumps with ease during warm-ups, occasionally glancing over other riders.
Brett is up next with her horse, Tina, a 9-year-old bay Zangersheide. Her parents move to get closer to the action and within shouting distance.
This is her chance.
She clears every rail on the designated path, including a triple jump where three consecutive rails are separated by a single stride.
She comes down the final stretch and has to clear one final hurdle.
Alden clutches Robert’s hand in anticipation and …
Tina’s back heel clips the rail, knocking it over and ending her individual chances at this competition.
“It’s not the worst thing in the world,” Brett says. “It was disappointing because you’re thinking you’re going to go clear and then at the last minute you have a rail down.”
She’ll get another chance at perfection Saturday when the team competition for 12-to-14 year-old riders gets underway starting at 4:30 p.m. as she will anchor team USA.
A dream is to represent the U.S. in the Olympics. But since she’ll be only 17 when the 2016 Olympics roll around, she may not be able to compete, since equestrian Olympians must be at least 18 years old.
Her trainer, Michael DelFiandra cautions that it is not easy to make one of the four spots each country is granted every four years.
“It’s a goal of so many young riders, and it just has to be your time,” he says. “The sun, the moon and the stars have to align for you to go to the Olympics…But if you keep working at it, everyone’s got a shot.”
Brett is taking in the experience one day at a time.
“I’ll cross that bridge when I get there,” she says.