As A Matter Of Fact

Dec 1, 2014 - 4:16 PM
After we got home from France, I was able to focus on my younger horses, including Grey Area, who won at intermediate at the Virginia Horse Trials. Photo by Mike McNally

I was in a field in Germany cursing myself for the wrong choice of shoes because the ground was very, very damp when I was introduced to a well known German eventer from times past. The greeting smile had not left her face when in perfect English she said, “I was there at fence 5 in France.”

I froze. She continued, “He was a bit fresh and in my opinion a bit fast.”

I stuttered something and then she proceeded in the same matter-of-fact tone to tell me the breeding of the horse I was looking at, and the friends she had in the States and how she was curious of their whereabouts. She was not being rude or judgmental; just stating a fact and then moving on to the next conversation point. I actually felt relieved hearing her comments. She was not judging me as a person or a rider; she was just looking at a situation and calling it as is.

Before the season even finished I personally started seeing things a little more this way. I cannot define myself by one disappointment; I can just see it as it is, learn from it, and then get the hell on with it.

I am feeling very matter-of-fact these days. Looking back on my season, I experienced some epic highs and lows. I got married, got named to the WEG squad, won the gold (as chef d’equipe) at NAJYRC, and acquired some new and exciting horses. But I also had a hugely disappointing result at WEG, struggled at times to keep my business above water because of the amount of time I was away, and finding time to enjoy my first year of marriage with my awesome husband was nearly impossible. (Enter violins….)

The one thing this season did give me was a hell of a lot to work with. I was fortunate enough this year to really solidify some fantastic owners, have the chance to ride with the best trainers, ride at the toughest competitions, work with multiple awesome vets, see and really analyze some of the best horses in the world, as well as troubleshoot with some of the best riders in the world.

I was able to take a step back and ask myself, “OK, how I am stacking up?” Honestly, my rating of myself competitively, on a global scale…not nearly good enough.

But on the flip side, I had a more positive (thank God) outlook on the rating of my potential. That rating is not based on talent, just the things I see that I can improve to get better results, consistently. And more importantly, these improvements seem achievable.

After the last horse show I sent a lot of horses south to The Fork for vacation and just kept a few for my viewing pleasure! I also slept for 48 hours straight, then proceeded to Canada for the Royal, and then took a right and ended up in Germany for a few days. We covered almost 1,000 miles and saw 11 horses in just over 48 hours.

In my efforts to improve, the first thing I am addressing is horse power. We all know it’s important, but to be good—I mean really good, globally good—you have to live in the tack, and most importantly, on good horses.

A good horse to me personally has changed over the years. I have learned I like a Thoroughbred feel, meaning they feel like they could gallop for days and they jump straight and bravely. I don’t like a horse that pulls. I don’t mind if they gallop into a contact, but they have to settle down just by using feel and timing, not strength. They have to have three very correct gaits, even when they are nervous or stressed. Because they will be nervous and stressed on the big day and that can’t show up in the gaits.

I like a horse that is conformationally correct, but I don’t worry about silly things that actually have very little bearing on the way the horse goes. But they have to have good feet, a nice shoulder, correct legs and look nice standing there. I might have to sell that horse someday, and for the moment I want my owners to love it. I also want 60 percent or more blood so I feel confident it won’t run out of gas at the big events. (There are exceptions to this rule; horses of less blood have been successful, but our sport is hard enough, and I don’t have 60 horses so I’m not willing to take the risk.)

But, does this horse exist and are there more than two of them?

This year I have added seven new horses to my barn; two at the start of the year, one this summer, and four after the WEG. I would say four of these horses meet the above standards specifically, and with three of them I have made small exceptions. I was willing to take a risk because sometimes you have to go with your gut. Every now and then you are going to have a feeling about a horse that makes you take a chance. For these exceptions I am giving myself a time limit to change or improve the thing that I took a chance on. I have an awesome group of people around me, and we all want more than anything to be competitive on that championship stage. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to decide this particular path is not right for the horse and rider combination and let that horse find a better match.

Here’s one of the young horses I imported this fall, Teagan…

And one I found in Germany, Christmas…

The other side of the equation to create success is the importance of human relationships. The focus here is securing grounding relationships. So who is real to you? Who is going to be supportive and also tell you how it is? Who will you believe?

These relationships are important to nurture for they will determine a huge part of your success. For me these relationships are my coaches, my owners and sponsors, my staff and last—but not least!—my family and my husband. They are relationships built on respect.

For coaches to invest in me I have to show them I am willing to invest in a program. I believe in our Team Coach David, my show jumping coach Amanda Flint, and am looking to get invested in dressage rider and trainer Jacquie Brooks after working with her off and on for the past year. These trainers know me and my horses (and yes they know them all by name). My owners and sponsors are all different. Some I speak to daily, and some prefer a check-in every now and then but watch from afar. I am constantly working to make sure I am holding up my end of the bargain with each individual.

I have a new crew of staff, and we are updating the job descriptions and flow of the barn to maintain the most efficient and also happiest working environment for horses, riders and staff for 2015. The same rules apply to human relationships as with a horse and rider—if it’s not working, it’s hard to let go, but it is vital for success of both parties.

I married the person who grounds me the most. I have never doubted his want for me to be the best, but he does not care if I’m No. 1 in the world or 10000045…( other than it affects my mood!). He asks very little in return. After we got married we did not take a honeymoon because we were at the beginning of the show season. So as of Dec. 1, Tik and I are going to be gone for 23 days! He keeps me on the straight and narrow during the season, and so to make sure we both stay focused on the clock, we are going to take some time off the clock. Unfortunately that means I am missing the USEA Convention for the first time in five years, but I think this takes priority for future successes.

So I’m ending this season on a positive note. I don’t think there will ever be a morning that I wake up and think, “I have made it,” and knowing myself, I am pretty sure I will never be happy with being content. But being surrounded by wonderful people and horses, I will continue to work to achieve a level of performance that is consistently good, occasionally great, and every now and then, exceptional.

Sinead Halpin Equestrian

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