Three months ago Adrienne Sternlicht was in a funk. The 24-year-old had been a serious rider since her pony days, and in the last few years she’d been working especially hard to improve her riding and her results.
On paper, everything looked great. Better than great, even. Sternlicht had a superstar mare in Cristalline and several other top horses, and training with McLain Ward and Linda Langmeier. She’d spent the season campaigning on the international circuit, competing through the five-star level in Europe, Spruce Meadows (Alberta) and at major shows across the country. She’d ridden on several senior nations cup teams, helping Team USA win at the Langley CSIO (British Columbia).
While Sternlicht knew herself to be extraordinarily blessed for her opportunities, a timer in her head started ringing, and she couldn’t shut it off.
“It was a very difficult fall for me, personally, in the way I was handling the sport,” said Sternlicht. “I always said I would ride for about two years out of college—I was a public policy major at Brown [Rhode Island]. After that I thought I would transition to legal or humanitarian work, which is what I felt was my purpose to do.
“So I felt a lot of pressure with my riding,” she continued. “I was getting very intense and it was a lot for everyone around me. I still had some OK results, but personally I was really struggling to know if I was ever going to be as good as I wanted in the sport. There’s also pressure knowing I had this incredible animal, Cristalline, and wondering if I would ever measure up and be everything I wanted to be for her.”
The rider took the month of December off from riding, and even thought briefly about giving up the sport.
Sternlicht, who works at the Robinhood Foundation, a nonprofit based in New York City focused on ending poverty, decided to do something about her outlook. She started eschewing social engagements to focus on her own attitude and outlook. She starting working with a spiritual leader who helped her re-center and re-focus. She began a yoga teacher training course, and she started meditating.
By mid-December she found opened an email from Ward she’d been putting off reading and responded with enthusiasm.
“I told him, ‘Stick with me. I’m working on it. I’m working on myself. Just have a little patience with me,’ ” she recalled. “He’s been amazing. He’s a mentor for me in all facets of my life. I look up to the way he conducts himself, and he too had to learn how to take the sport in stride.”
Sternlicht credits Ward, Langmeier and grooms, Emma Chapman, Sean Kissane and Mikey Rodriguez for patience and support as she got her head in the game.
“I also realized for me, there was no longevity for me in the sport in just riding the way I was,” she said. “I’m too intense, almost, for it. So by finding this balance in it I realized I have Olympic dreams, championship dreams. I hope to get there, but I had to do something else along the way to find balance along the way.
“Now I’m committed to being the best that I can be, and trying to let go of my attachment to my results, and instead just be committed to improving myself. It’s not a perfect process, but I’m really proud of my results to far and really thankful to be working with everyone who I do.”
These days she meditates for a few minutes before she heads in the ring, and focuses more on the process than the results. And that’s been paying off, most recently with a third-place finish in yesterday’s $35,000 Sovaro Palm Beach Masters Qualifier at the Palm Beach Masters in Wellington, Florida, but more importantly, with a better outlook on life.
“I feel a moral obligation; I know that my work in life is to serve others,” said Sternlicht. “I think sometimes I’ve felt my riding is solely for me. I love that I can give back in my own way, huge part of me and will be forever. I think it’s the balance of being super committed to improving as a rider and also the nonprofit work is nice balance for me.”
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