Hold the reins of Ambition

I wonder if we talk about ambition enough. Where does it come from, how much does one need in the show world, when is there too much… What an incredible scale to have almost no ambition (1) that you can barely even bother to show up to show your horse, or so much ambition (10) you would go too far to achieve some title only a few people will even remember when you are gone, maybe even putting your own horse in danger.  Should we be discussing it? Is anyone talking to future riders about it? Is it recognizable enough?  The rules we have in place may be there because some people with too much ambition couldn’t contain themselves and put horses in jeopardy, yet other people might be criticized for never having enough ambition, and dragging their feet, or wasting a trainer’s time, which leads to unintended discontent.

As a young person getting into ponies for the first time, (maybe because your parents thought it was a good idea), how large a role should ambition play? A child should have enough to want to learn how to groom a pony, pick out the feet, tack up, post on the correct diagonal, correct lead, and even learn to jump. What is a good age to start seeing ambition? 5 years? I have no idea, but I do know most trainers gets pretty excited when they see real ambition at a young age, as well as real involvement. It tends to inspire trainers to offer more knowledge and help more while the ambition exists, regardless of what is in your bank account.

I reached out to quite a few people involved with horses for input on Ambition and Inspiration, since I can only really only know how ambitious I am alone, and the responses varied. Some people never responded. Some people responded immediately.

There is a lot of consideration taken as to the people I ask questions like this, and I am not likely to pursue people just because they exist or win a lot. I don’t need extra friends, I can assure you. (I now have at least 10!). I look for people who also make good role models, or set good examples, and even if their personal lives are chaotic, imperfect, messy, absolutely wonderful, or too good to be true,  their horsey involvement seems to be pretty healthy.

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Bethany Baumgardner being fierce 

Bethany Baumgardner races horses. She is from Maryland, I know her from watching her race around timber fences practically in my backyard (those are stationary wooden objects in a field, with no brush or groundline and met at a speed of oh, I don’t know,  30 miles an hour? give or take, and on a teeny tiny little saddle with two teeny tiny little stirrups). She wins a lot, and maybe most applauded for crossing the finish line in first place last year at the Maryland National Hunt Cup, only to discover her lead weights had tragically jumped off her pad mid-race which led to a devastating disqualification due to the weight requirements. Her name won’t be put on that trophy from 2015, but I am pretty sure she has her eyes on it for 2016. And I use the word devastating, because her fans were feeling the pain. Bethany knows full well where she finished in that race. She gave a very thoughtful view on Ambition. “I believe ambition is something you are born with. Throughout history there are the people who pave new roads, push boundaries,  leave their mark and this is not without mistake. Whether this person studies and has dreams of breakthroughs in science or an athlete who wants to break records, each will need the drive and motivation to put in the work to get there. Other people are quite content with getting by. They get through school, get a job, and they support themselves. Life is great, (it may seem uneventful to some of us) but it is great and exactly what they want their life to be. Inspiration, on the other hand, everyone can find in particular places in their life. Possibly even inspiration can bring out the ambitious side of a person. Either way, I believe in dreaming big, pushing your luck, taking chances, and never looking back”.

Makayla Benjamin is a college student at Sweet Briar University in Virginia. Her solid performances in college riding earned her a spot on the Student Rider Nations Cup team, which is kind of a huge deal. It is a World Final. Not only did she make the trip to Germany to compete, she won the whole dang thing! It took me a while to figure out the format, but I eventually found this…click this: http://studentridersusa.webs.com/competitions.htm….. Makalya’s response was no less thoughtful, she looked up the actual definition, saw the words ‘earnest desire’ and feels “that if you want to be great at a sport, you have to dedicate yourself entirely. My ambition comes from within because I always try and push myself to be better. When I see riders like Beezie Madden on Cortes C, and Tori Colvin on Way Cool, or even Harry de Layer on Snowman, I wish to have that strong of a bond with all of the horses I get on. These riders inspire me to seek out that bond every time I get on a horse, even if it is only for one round – I want to know how I can get the best out of this horse.”

Maybe it is just me, but she seems concerned with the connection of horses rather than the winning with horses. Interestingly enough Psychology Today popped this article out claiming “If your eyes are on the prize, they may not be on the ballhttps://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199711/athletes-blind-ambition

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Richard Spooner (you know that no hands dude who has represented our country multiple times on the International level) also thought about my question and came back with this. “To me Ambition is the spur in my side. It drives me to act and compels me to push forward when the path is unclear. Ambition has enabled me to accomplish things that I never knew I could, but be mindful of Ambition. Ambition isn’t synonymous with balance nor does it illuminate the pathway to happiness. Ambition is just a spur and it is up to you to hold the reins.”

He might have won the award for most clever response. Someone should frame those words.

And in case you haven’t actually seen him know when to drop the reins, here ya go – you are welcome >  https://youtu.be/gtv2sK6jbp4

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Emily Williams riding Strapless 

Emily Lynne Williams. Now, if you are too young to remember Emily Williams riding a special mare named Strapless, I truly feel so sad for you. It was like watching a magic show, the duo was just incredibly poetic in everything they did together. I don’t know how else to put it. If you are like me and did happen to watch Strapless and Emily win the class of a lifetime in Florida (2003 USHJA WCHR $100,000 Hunter Spectacular), you might have to give her credit for why you are riding hunters. Everyone aspired to be her. She also won as a junior in the Equitation ring, taking home the trophy in 1999 for the USEF Medal and ASPCA Maclay. So I asked her. I was curious if she thought about Ambition. I think she absolutely does……“To me Ambition is something money can’t buy. You either have it or you don’t. It’s that drive that continues to make you strive to be better no matter how much success you have already had. It is also what keeps you from giving up when the going gets tough. It reminds me that this life is a gift every day, and reminds me to keep pursuing my goals and to never give up on my dreams.”

I have a feeling she can attest for when the going gets tough, and I commend her for contributing to this piece today. It probably wasn’t easy.

If we don’t talk to students about ambition, will they end up taking an undesirable path to success? Yes, I mean cheating. Whose responsibility is it? Can you be a 10 on the scale but not put your horse at risk? Maybe every rider thinks he/she is really ambitious, yet walks up to the ring without having studied a course map. Does this rider not want to dedicate him/herself entirely? When you fail, or think you fail, do you have enough ambition to overcome rock bottom and push through, maybe earning respect from the next up and coming group of riders or even just your peers?  Can you think about the impression you are giving others?

I watched a rider at a local medal final last year so beautifully turned out, perfectly matched with her horse, lay down a lovely trip which earned her a spot in the top four to return for a test. She was a regular competitor in the junior division, and obviously had enough experience to qualify for this particular weekend class. She sat beautifully on a horse, yet could not perform the test very well that was asked from the judges. It happens. The exasperated trainer happened to be standing right next to me, and when I looked over with sympathy, he asked me “Why don’t they want it enough? They just don’t want it like we did. I have done everything in my power to get her here, but I can’t make her want it.” I knew what he was talking about, we have all been seeing the demographics change over the years, and it seems to be greatly impacting not only our aging trainers, but younger, less jaded trainers as well…. I wish we could find a simple solution, but we can’t, there isn’t one. If we want better horsemen for the future, we have to break it all down, take responsibility for ourselves, our kids, our future, and start turning it around to give hope for the next generation. Maybe really taking that hard look at the connection, not just the winning.

There isn’t really a requirement to be ambitious to be surrounded by horses, but the role it plays reflects on the industry in general. It reflects a variety of things like education, competition, performance, results, failures, and money.  Where are you on the scale? 4-6? Do you think it matters? It certainly matters to me. I want a better sport, I want a better horse industry, I for sure want everyone to experience some sort of healthy success in whatever area they are involved in, and I am ambitious enough to look for ways to see how we can make those success stories happen.

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