I rang up my good friend Rebecca Howard the other day, knowing she was at the Boekelo CCI*** in the Netherlands, watching the Nations Cup. I wanted to get the scoop on the performances of our American contingent as well as her impressions of the rest of the field.
If you watch closely at Boekelo, you’re bound to see some of the likely contenders for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Rebecca, like most of our North American riders, did not have a stellar Olympics this year.
After a brief hello and run down of the leaderboard, I asked Rebecca what she thought of the event. After a slight pause in which she tried to collect her thoughts, she gave what I perceived as a sigh of relief and said, “Inspiring. I am so glad I came, because I’m inspired again.”
Inspiration: Stimulation of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity. Inspiration generates thoughts and creativity, and when acted upon correctly, it can make magic happen. And America’s eventing community is desperate for inspiration.
Rebecca’s comments got me looking at ways to find inspiration, and I believe we’re on a good path but need to keep seeking more. For me, proof is in the pudding. At team training camp before the Olympics, I was not inspired to be great. I was desperate to be great, and desperate doesn’t look good on anyone. At Team Maizy, after not making the team, I was inspired, and the results that followed inspired me again.
The articles I write here are not to state what’s right or what’s wrong, but simply to inspire thoughts and ideas. Writing is actually one thing that inspires me to seek new and different ways to look at the same bits of information I contemplate every day. My favorite moments in lessons are when a coach or clinician says something simple like “put your leg on,” and for some reason that day a light bulb goes on. I’ve been hearing those words every day of my life, but today, for some reason, “put your leg on” actually meant something! So I hope something I write here helps spark some good old-fashioned fire, because we need a little something shining here in the United States!
So how do we create this inspiration here in America? I have a few thoughts. I started making a list of things that inspire me. After I crossed out things like ice cream and Dave Matthews, I eventually got down to the things that were applicable to eventing…
First off, we need to challenge ourselves in new experiences. At the high performance level, that involves traveling to competitions like Boekelo’s Nations Cup. Watching Michael Jung score a 32 in the dressage is inspiring, and watching Andrew Nicholson come from second place to beat our reigning European, world and Olympic champion by performing till the bitter end is inspiring.
I didn’t go to Boekelo this year, but I went in 2010. I went there a naïve but fairly competent younger rider with a horse for the future. I finished in an average place around 30-something, but a foundation had been laid, and inspiration had been sparked. I know the team we sent, a developing team of horses and riders, came home not defeated, but inspired. Now we have to wait with patience and open minds to see where the knowledge learned from this experience will play out.
That leads me to my second thought on inspiration: having an open mind. In order to learn and generate new ideas, one must go into these new experiences with an open mind. This can be harder to do than one might think. With social media, financial contributors and an eager but jaded country hoping for success but awaiting the opposite, the idea of going into an unknown experience and having an open mind is pretty laughable.
The unknown inspires fear and gets the defenses on guard, which is not good for a competitor of any game. The more comfortable you get with new experiences, the quicker you’ll be inspired and able to grow as a competitor and person.
The one thing that can make a new experience less painful is if you’re not alone. And this nicely flows into inspirational bullet point No. 3: Sharing experiences.
A team is a group formed to work together; a group on the same side. Whether we are talking about an Olympic Team or the team you build around an individual, it’s crucial that the heart of the team stays true to the definition, a group on the same side.
For some reason our country’s team competitions seem to add more pressure than helping with the above point. Inspiration feeds inspiration. We need to be inspired by our coaches, our horses, our veterinarians, our team managers and every team member. Every member of an individual’s or a country’s team needs to be able to feel like they are acting in a way that is inspirational.
That might sound silly, but if you look at the people around you and feel like creativity is being promoted, open mindedness is being rewarded and experiences are being shared honestly and openly, this is a winning team.
The next point is on the other end of the spectrum… some alone time.
Relax the mind and sharpen the senses. Sometimes we need to look inward to allow moments that maybe we missed in all the noise of daily life to surface. But sitting cross-legged on a magic carpet humming is not the only way to seek some solitude.
My solitude is normally found on my final cross-country walk, a long stretch of highway or a quiet hack. The only way to allow for your instincts to work at full capacity is when things are quiet, and if you never know what quiet is, it’s hard to train your instincts.
We get so comfortable with noise and depending on the voices of others that it’s vital to find time to meditate. Meditation simply means to reflect on or contemplate; to plan in one’s mind. Someone who inspired me to develop my own style of meditation is a very influential role model of mine, David O’Connor… and that leads to the next point.
Someone to emulate and imitate is a must. Finding a role model to inspire you is different than admiring a single attribute or athletic ability of an individual. A role model is someone who not only shows extreme talent and results in their personal career but someone you can relate to.
By mimicking actions of your role models, you can see yourself achieving the same if not greater results. To me, getting to know someone in “real life,” be it through reading about them and situations they’ve been in, watching them in live action or being lucky enough to participate with these people in daily life, is important. But equally as important is feeling like they’re human. Seeing my role models deal with greatness and defeat is what makes them human, and how they deal with it makes them a good role model.
Hearing the relief in Rebecca’s voice when she stated she had been inspired at Boekelo inspired me to dig a bit deeper into the root of our less-than-desirable recent performances on the world stage. There are a 1,000 answers and individual things that can be changed, challenged, tested, promoted, disregarded and overanalyzed concerning this topic.
I welcome and encourage all of these trains of thought, but I believe all of the details will fall into place if we keep seeking inspiration. If we continue to challenge ourselves to new experiences with an open mind, surround ourselves with positive, strong role models in our “teams,” share our experiences openly and take time to reflect and look inward, I think our country will become an inspiration again.
I think we’re on the right track, and I look forward to becoming part of the change.