Tuesday, May. 28, 2024

The Audacity Of Hopeful Horsemen

Words like “believe” and “hope” got a lot of play in 2008. While “Yes we can” proved a winning mantra for our new president, the power of optimism isn’t exactly a novel idea. Our perpetually positive Eventing Horseman of the Year, Gina Miles (p. 20), has been saying it for the past decade.
   

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Words like “believe” and “hope” got a lot of play in 2008. While “Yes we can” proved a winning mantra for our new president, the power of optimism isn’t exactly a novel idea. Our perpetually positive Eventing Horseman of the Year, Gina Miles (p. 20), has been saying it for the past decade.
   
Gina and our Overall and Eventing Horse of the Year, McKinlaigh (p. 12), captured the individual silver medal at their Olympic debut in Hong Kong last summer. It’s a well-documented fact that Gina wanted to ride in the Olympics since she attended the 1984 Games in Los Angeles as a 10-year-old spectator. But thousands of little girls across the country say that every year, and their dreams inevitably fall by the wayside eventually. That’s left me wondering about the secret ingredient to success.
   
Taking a horse from training level to an Olympic medal takes God-given talent, a phenomenal work ethic and incredible financial support, not to mention a lot of luck. The sheer amount of things that can go wrong is truly mind-boggling, which is why professional riders are forced to become extremely pragmatic people.
   
Maybe that’s what makes the required leap of faith to greatness so rare. Only a handful of horsemen have the talent and backing to get to the top of the game. Even fewer can sustain that essential, almost naive belief in their impending achievement.
   
Gina and McKinlaigh’s decade-long road to the Olympics had its fair share of bumps and breakdowns. One three-year period included two wind surgeries, two pulmonary bleeds and an ankle operation for McKinlaigh, and a severely broken leg for Gina. After missing out on Olympic and World Championship bids and retiring from two four-stars, the pair seemed to have reached a plateau.
   
In the course of my lengthy interview with Gina, I asked if there had ever been a point where she seriously questioned whether she and McKinlaigh would actually make it. She almost laughed in response, as if she couldn’t quite believe her own answer.
   
“You look back on it, and it seems like I would have been getting to that point of being discouraged,” she said. “But…it never really entered my mind. I just kept trudging onward.”
   
That absence of doubt and absolute will to succeed are common characteristics amongst all of our Horses and Horsemen of the Year. The greatest horses and riders have always possessed what President Obama might call “the audacity of hope.”
   
There’s a fine line between self-confidence and recklessness, especially in today’s safety-conscious eventing culture. It’s folly, not to mention dangerous, to imply that riders can attain a certain level by simply wanting it enough, because hard work and proper training are obviously compulsory components of success. But I think we also forget that true passion still has a place in equestrian sports.
   
McKinlaighs certainly don’t grow on trees, and not everyone can ride in the Olympics. But I firmly believe there’s a horse of a lifetime for everyone out there somewhere, and it’s incredible to see what ordinary people can do when they embrace life’s challenges as though failure isn’t even an option. Do you have the audacity to hope for the very best?

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Kat Netzler, Editorial Staff

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