Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eventing's Future!

As I sit here and reflect on 2012, it reminds me that throughout life we all have our tragic and triumphant moments which define us. Each moment is somewhat life changing… molding us into what makes us who we are and ultimately what helps turn us into champions if we allow it to.

I recently received my Eventing USA issue seven and had mixed emotions when I saw it lying on the coffee table. I couldn’t help but feel a bit melancholy. As everyone knows my last 12 months, although very educational, have been a bit rocky. I took a big gulp and decided to pick up the magazine to share in our nation’s successes—to hopefully become inspired and feel happy for other people’s successes. Unfortunately I was sadly discouraged.

I went directly to the playback of the Olympic Games written by Captain Mark Phillips to read about what we learned from our experience. I was surprisingly disappointed in the negative commentary.

I grew up riding in a three-day event barn where everyone loved our sport. We were a team, and there was a sense of pride to ride for the USA. Although Captain Mark Phillips might feel his brutal honesty will somehow wake us up and make us different, I can’t help but feel like it’s our support system that needs a wake-up call. Is it not so evident that with negativity comes failure? Use our recent results at Burghley as an example. Obviously I wasn’t there first hand to experience the feeling that our U.S. riders had going into Burghley, but I’ve had enough education and enough experience to know it was what they all needed to push them to excellence. They had a nation rooting for them, and specifically a couple of them.

I’ve had many conversations with friends about how we’re going to be better… why are we so far behind? And honestly I wonder if it’s much more simple than we make it out to be. We have great competitors in this country with super horses. We spend countless hours riding, practicing, teaching, learning, and traveling to competitions all to become our best, and just when you feel you are on your plan, someone comes over with a needle and pops your balloon.

Now, there are the sayings: Only the strong survive; Every man for himself. But when do we all just look at the tremendous talent we have and decide that a positive approach might go a long way?

I have a dear friend who completed her first Burghley in the top half of the field this year who has basically been told to quit riding her horse and give the ride to someone else. The sad part is that she actually thought about it. But she is tough, and when the going got tough she got tougher. Still, how tragic it would have been. It is her horse, her hard work producing it from a yearling, and their partnership.

Medals have been won by average riders and/or horses with exceptional partnerships and support systems. Medals have also been lost by world class riders and horses; some of the best in our country. So really what’s the missing link? Why can’t the USA succeed? In my opinion several reasons: Lack of teamwork and negativity!

I understand that everyone wants to win! I myself want to win at everything! It is what makes competitors competitive! It takes a special ingredient to be able to handle top level pressure for both a horse and rider. For me, that is what makes the top of the sport so much fun! That challenge of keeping it all together! But USA needs a leader, someone to guide and channel our talent so we can strive and accomplish great things. I’ve watched the European riders; they have some amazing horses and riders. And so does the USA! Sometimes it seems like we just don’t believe it. Do we not believe in ourselves, our programs, or our riders?

Today is September 11th. It is a great example of the USA coming together with compassion, teamwork, sorrow, hope, and triumph. We have all of those things in us; it is what makes us human. If we could stop pointing fingers at the person who didn’t step up to the plate or the person who was only “so-so,” or just plain no good, then maybe we would have half a chance to shine. Why does “home court advantage” exist? Because having a stadium of support creates extraordinary power. I believe positivity and teamwork can makes miracles happen.

So maybe someone could write about how great Eventing is in the USA and what a bright future we have. That we have people like The Broussard’s from Rebecca Farm supporting up and coming riders to put depth into the top level of the sport starting from the Young Rider program. We have organizers who continue to provide first class international events to help qualify our top riders to be able to better themselves for team competition. Or what about the companies and private owners who donate their time, product, and hard earned cash to help riders like myself strive to be on Team USA someday? What about the thousands of USEA members who compete for the love of the sport and do it for just that and actually have no clue who Mark Todd or Ginny Leng are, or even that Mike Huber was the youngest rider on the youngest horse to ever win a gold medal for our country. What about U.S. selectors who donate their time to watch, critique, and decide who represents our country knowing their heads are on the chopping block if it all goes wrong? And what about all of the people who donate countless hours on committees to improve our sport and our sport’s image? Look at what we have done to improve the image of eventing!

We ought to think about changing the way we operate our team or we might always have the same results. It’s not because of lack of talent or that we are too busy trying to run our businesses; I believe we are not having success because negativity breeds failure!

So maybe Mark Phillps’ column in Eventing USA should talk about what a bright future Team USA could have and how were going to improve, or maybe even that we are that much more bent on to kicking everyones’ butts in Rio! That might inspire the next junior to be excited about our sport and how wonderful it is, instead of making them feel like there is no chance because if Boyd Martin and Phillip Dutton couldn’t get it done then who can?

I learned a lot from receiving a grant from the U.S. Olympic Committee to go to Boekelo last year. I learned what it took to be a champion by rubbing shoulders with champions. I got to see Team USA have that positive teamwork at the Pan American Games, and they won by a landslide. I have hope for team USA’s future, maybe because I am hopelessly optimistic. I only hope that we turn 180 degrees and start becoming the champions we are capable of becoming. I don’t think that will happen until we start believing in ourselves, in each other, and start working together as a team.