When we’re selecting our horsemen of the year, we can’t help but heavily weigh the major team championships in our decisions. Sometimes a rider has excelled to the extent that he or she is a no-brainer to take the title, such as Laura Graves and Verdades last year. They put in some of the best U.S. performances ever at the world’s most prestigious competitions, including the FEI World Equestrian Games.
Boyd Martin, on the other hand, might appear an odd choice—after all, he wasn’t the highest-placed U.S. rider at the WEG. Both Phillip Dutton and Lynn Symansky produced clean cross-country rounds, and Martin did not. But in a sport where no one avoids disappointments, Martin didn’t hesitate to claim responsibility for his mistake and vowed to improve on it. For his ownership of this, for the many FEI wins he earned on other horses, and frankly, because there was no other rider who excelled consistently at the highest levels all year, we selected him for the title.
It takes a special kind of courage to come forward and admit a mistake. While most top riders have the physical courage needed to jump big fences or put everything on the line in the ring, not everyone has the heart to do the right thing ethically and morally. Our overall horsemen of the year, Anne Kursinski and DiAnn Langer, made the toughest decision to revisit a painful past in order to benefit the industry when they spoke out in the Chronicle last spring about abuse at the hands of their childhood trainers.
When you own the title of being an Olympian or a top coach you have a platform to show younger riders and fans how a champion behaves. I’ve seen team riders walk right by the press area, refusing to speak, or angrily hand the reins to a groom after a disappointing round. Everyone’s competitive, but in the scheme of life, a rail is not the end of the world. We will all have bigger disappointments.
No one wins every time out, makes every team, or has horses that stay flawlessly sound. As they say, it’s not what happens to you but how you handle it that defines you and your life experience. You can take a setback and show how you use it to make you stronger. You can take a tragedy and be the one who comes out triumphant.
In more than two decades of working at the Chronicle, I’ve never seen a stronger, braver action than Anne and DiAnn took by cracking open a formerly unspoken reality within horse sports, and its repercussions have shaken the industry in a positive way. I’m greatly indebted to these women for following their hearts and consciences and to our readers for so heartily supporting them once they did. Anne and DiAnn may not have stood atop a podium at WEG this year, but they’re defining what it means to be a champion.
When young riders approach Anne, a three-time Olympian, to sign the books she’s written, she says she writes, “Follow your dreams.” Hopefully, those aspiring riders will also follow in the footsteps of the admirable example she’s set.
This article appeared in the January 28 & February 4, 2019, issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.
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