Champions Are Made When No One Is Looking

Apr 29, 2014 - 1:52 AM
"in reality, practice does not make perfect—PERFECT practice makes perfect," said Katy Groesbeck. Photo by Kat Netzler

Practice makes perfect. This is an age-old adage that rings true for any endeavor, from riding horses to building rocket ships. From the time we begin walking we are encouraged by our parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors to try and try again; if you fall, get right back on; and so on and so forth. It doesn’t take long until “perseverance and determination” becomes a clichéd catch phrase that follows us through life as the key that unlocks the door to success.

But what about discipline? The more I push to reach my goals, the more I realize that perseverance and determination are nothing without that essential third ingredient. For, in reality, practice does not make perfect—PERFECT practice makes perfect.

And discipline is the only way that we can continuously push ourselves to achieve perfection on a daily basis. Buck Davidson pointed out to me in one of my recent jump schools that at this level I can’t come out to the arena and expect to practice an exercise three or four times. I have to practice being foot-perfect at home the first time around if I expect to do it on course under pressure.

I have recently made it my personal resolution to ride (almost) every day like it’s all on the line in the hopes that one day, in the heat of the moment over a tough combination on a big course, I will have practiced “dig-deep” riding to the point that it is second nature to me, and I will that much more easily rise to the occasion.

But discipline in riding starts long before our feet ever reach the stirrups. In a bizarre catch-22, learning how to exercise discipline….takes practice. I had an epiphany the other day when I finally realized why George Morris is such a fanatic about tucked in shirts and polished boots, or why Buck is so adamant about our attention to detail in grooming and tacking and taking care of the barn.

Of course there are the obvious reasons: we look more professional when we are well turned out; horses are healthier and happier when they are groomed and cared for properly; the barn and equipment lasts longer when it’s well cared for. But deeper than that is the reality that every time we take an extra second to clean our boots a little better, every time we stop to check the keepers on the bridle one last time, every time we bed the stalls a little deeper—even if it means an extra hour at the end of a long day—we are practicing the discipline that we need to utilize in our riding.

My friend and coworker likes to remind us with a smile that “champions are made when no one is looking.” Usually it’s in the middle of a long night at work when our butts are dragging, and we are rallying to finish off the last of the barn work before we head off to bed. We laugh at the cheesy phrase but really I think we all take it to heart. 

No, scrubbing water buckets even though no one is looking, or checking that it was done, will not make us world class riders. But the self-discipline and integrity to try our hardest at everything we do day-in and day-out will carry over into our riding and our careers as we make that kind of behavior a habit. I figure that if I can work this hard on the ground, then I can work this hard in the tack; and THAT will hopefully make me a world class rider someday.  

Katy Groesbeck has recently packed up her life on the West Coast for the chance to be a working student with Buck Davidson. Follow her adventures as a part of BDJ Equestrian and with her horse, Wort, as she shares the lessons she learns in 2014! Read all of her blogs


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