While that other team equestrian sporting event has started across the pond, I was at Morven Park for my favorite competition of the year: the Region 1 Youth Team Championships. Every year I coach the team(s) from my local GMO, the Commonwealth Dressage & Combined Training Association (CDCTA), and not to brag or anything, but we come in First or Second every year. Just sayin’.
It’s actually a sweet gig for me. Every year I get a new group of very talented young people on very lovely horses and ponies, and after one coaching session and some coaching at the shows, I get to take credit for their home trainers’ 363 days of hard work. Sweet!
But seriously, folks. This year’s team was almost all riders I already coached, three riders (Kristin, Sydney and Megan) from a local Pony Club whose trainer I also coach, with the addition of Stella, who I’d coached at a different Pony Club’s annual camp, and whose trainer I coach as well. Stella has owned her horse – who’s not an easy fellow – for about a month, and she had spent the last 10-or-so days of that month on vacation with her family, so to say that we chucked her in the deep end without her floaties would be a bit of an understatement. But she rose to the occasion, learning from Day 1 to Day 2, making some very big changes between the two rides, and getting rewarded with a big upswing in her scores. She also handled a tough situation in the prize giving with a lot of grace, something that isn’t so easy to do.
The other three girls I worked with before the show, and I was so impressed by how they took what we talked about in lessons to the show ring. Every single one of them remembered what we talked about. Every single one was diligently prepared. And every single one then took what they learned from their first test and applied it to the second.
This all seems like just good riding, right? Good studentship? Here’s the kicker: Stella was the oldest, at I’m guessing 14. Sydney and Kristin are, I believe, 12. And Megan is a tiny 9. How many kids do you know that have that kind of focus?
What’s more, how many kids that age do you know who can speak articulately about bend and throughness and connection and accuracy of figures? And to top it all off, how many kids that age do you know who can think outside of their own butts long enough to really, truly want their friends to do well, even if it means beating their own performances? That was these girls. It was really amazing, and really inspiring.
In the face of the Olympics, the very model of the modern sporting egofest, four tweenaged girls lived Pierre de Coubertin’s motto for those games: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”
Turns out they fought well and also kicked some butt, which is the best possible thing. The team took Reserve Champion honors for their division, as well as an Individual Reserve Champion ribbon for Kristin, bested only by a rider one level below theirs (They competed in a mixed division). Of eight scores, half were above 70 percent. Sydney had a brilliantly-timed warm-up-ring-aha! moment (gotta love it when those happen in the warm-up) on Sunday and brought her score up from 65 percent to 73 percent. And yes, they fought well.
Another of my students, Kate, won her division and led her team to victory. Another rider from a previous team I coached won her division as well. And it seemed like there was just something magical in the air – in years past I’ve seen some less-than-desirable behavior from parents or riders or coaches at this show, but not this year. Perhaps de Courbertin’s Olympic spirit is contagious. Perhaps in frustrating economic times we’re all being a little nicer to one another. Or perhaps we’re evolving as a species.
I won’t hold my breath on the last one, but I saw the true colors of my four riders this year, and those of their parents and regular coaches, and as always, loved what I saw. And red, yellow and white look good on anyone!