I grew up in the Spring Valley Hounds Pony Club in New Vernon, N.J., which was the center of my equestrian life. By the time I was 16, I was teaching, giving ratings, and working toward my A test. And, thanks to the influence of my parents and my two district commissioners, it never occurred to me to do anything but give back to Pony Club for another 15 years.
Still, it had been seven years since I`d had any real contact with Pony Club, so I was extremely honored to be inducted into the U.S. Pony Club`s Academy of Achievement (p. 55). But I flew to the annual meeting in Minneapolis with a fair amount of anxiety because I thought the other honorees were far, far more accomplished than I. And the kids coming for the National Youth Congress were such overachievers! Their resumes made me exhausted. I figured some must just do without sleep.
Then I discovered I shared another element of anxiety with my fellow honorees. We are, of course, basically “type A personalities.” We have to know “the plan,” be in control, know what`s expected. Each of us had drilled the program`s leaders and gotten the same vague answers, which, we discovered, was partly planned.
No one has a concrete idea of the communion between the academy and the NYC. It`s new, and it`s really touchy-feely. So they didn`t want us coming with a pile of notes and prepared speeches. Each of us did get to make a speech, but we didn`t know that until leader Kathy Kelly introduced me to be the first. So I told the troops how Pony Club and horses landed me here. I thought it was a wandering collection of memories, but the other four told me I`d set the tone for them, and I later figured out that my story was a microcosm of why we were there-o talk about life, not Pony Club and horse care.
We five would recall how we were also once 18 or 21, uncertain of the future, of our careers, not knowing what we were going to do with our lives. And for none of us have things gone exactly like we planned. I think our stories surprised these incredibly accomplished, truly articulate kids. They actually seemed relieved that we didn`t have “the answer.” We just tried to show them some arrows to use to hit it. We surprised ourselves, recalling what we`d done and what we still hoped to do. As honoree Tad Leithead noted, “Success is a moving target.”
We did an exercise to determine if we were “lions” (goal-oriented leaders), “ferrets” (visionary party people), “golden retrievers” (dependable and warm), “beavers” (analytical organizers), or a combination of two or more. We discovered that these personality traits have a big influence on what we do, and, in retrospect, it seemed to me that what we all have in common is a fear of failing. It`s just that for some it`s a motivation and for others it`s an impediment.
And that thought reminded me of a Pony Club regional supervisor who was very influential to me and others. Her name was Carol Horton, and she was in charge of our expedition to the 1978 National Rally in Boyce, Va. Mrs. Horton, who died of cancer a couple of years later, was never daunted by any obstacle, nor would she allow us to be. No matter what the problem or concern, her advice was always, “Oh, bloody hell, just kick on!” My memory still frequently recalls her words, and I pass them on to the people with whom I shared two days last February.