Arguing With Toenails And Team Coaches

Feb 26, 2013 - 7:05 PM
Despite her long history training with David O'Connor, Sinead Halpin needed some time to get used to the idea of him becoming the U.S. Eventing Team Coach. But as usual, she says, she eventually realized he was right all along. Photo by Sara Lieser.

We’re moving right along in team training session season, and as you may have heard or read on Monday, we learned some new information in the recent vet evaluations that’s altered our spring competition plan for Tate. While he’s still in full flatwork and continuing on with the training sessions, our previous plan to do Rolex again seems an unnecessary risk if it could complicate the big picture plan for Team USA and the 2014 WEG in Normandy. 

As I see it, this new veterinary process is already proof that the new team system is working. We hopefully stopped a problem before it even happened, as well as established an open level of communication between coach, rider, vet and owner. The individuals involved with the Tate and On Cue syndicate have been amazing and fully supportive of putting the horse first, and Dr. Revenaugh, Dr. Furlong and Team Coach David O’Connor and I have worked together to establish a new plan for moving forward.

“Coach David O’Connor…” I’m still getting used to that phrase. These past few weeks have actually been a bit of an odd experience, reading everyone’s reports of the training sessions and seeing him referred to as “Coach,” not just plain David or DOC or Larry (that’s another story)… Looking at pictures of him in a Team USA jacket in the middle of the arena coaching Phillip, Boyd, Buck and the new Developing Riders… And then showing up for my training sessions and getting a feeling of comfort and excitement…

This was all such a new and welcomed experience. I’m very lucky in the fact that I’ve not only trained with David for most of my professional career, but I also already have a great level of respect and friendship with our new leader.

But even David will tell you, when he first announced his intent for USA Team Coach, I was hesitant with my approval.

When David suggested he was interested in the job a year or so ago, I didn’t say much of anything. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what my reaction was supposed to be. He just raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything at that moment about my lack of reaction.

It was months later that he finally said to me, “OK Sinead, what is your deal? You obviously have an opinion about this coach role.”

At first I was surprised that he even knew I had any reservations, but I realized my silence had effectively made my concern obvious.

I’ve ridden with David since I was 19, and he’s helped me navigate through mistakes I’ve made in the tack as well as mistakes I’ve made as a young person in the small world of horses. I remember my mother constantly saying to me as a kid, “Oh Sinead, you would argue with your toenails if they would argue back!” And I’m sure David felt the same way with me at times. 

My mind—during lessons in the arena or lessons in life—would be spinning like a blender, and David would say one simple sentence that made everything make sense… Which could be very frustrating! ;) Even if I wanted to argue (which I often did), I simply couldn’t find an angle.

I remember David saying several times to me, “You don’t have to believe me now. We have time.”  

I left the O’Connor team at times to train in England or to work with other discipline-specific coaches, but I always felt like I was part of the OCET program, and the door worked both ways. David bases his teaching on depth of knowledge learned from years of studying, participating and watching. Because of this, I have an incredible amount of respect for him as far as his knowledge, patience and his unwavering consistency.

My hesitations about DOC for team coach kicked in a year or so ago when I was worried that our collective USA mentality was a little similar to my mentality when I wasn’t quite ready to listen. At the time, we were bringing in a new dressage trainer, new jump trainers and switching from one trendy eventing coach to another every season. I was so worried that people wouldn’t accept that knowledge, patience and consistency was what we were desperately needing… And I don’t think I was ready to accept that.

By the time this past summer rolled around, I had watched myself and people around me losing confidence as expectations were getting desperate. It became more and more obvious that David’s strengths would be welcomed by Team USA. As I read about the training sessions all over the country these past few weeks, I was glued to reports of growing confidence and knowledge and the overall excitement in our sport.

And as I walked confidently away from my lesson in last week’s training session, I had to laugh to myself, thinking about the concerns I’d had. I realized that that raised eyebrow I’d been given had just been David’s way of saying, “You don’t have to believe me now. We have time.”


Sinead Halpin Equestrian


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