Let’s face it: There’s winning, and there’s what the U.S. Equestrian Team is doing in London. What we could really use right now is a good locker room speech.
I think Coach Taylor would say something like this, to quote Season 1, Episode 22 (sorry, I’m WAY too into Friday Night Lights right now): “Every man at some point in his life is going to lose a battle. He is going to fight and he is going to lose. But what makes him a man is at the midst of that battle he does not lose himself. This game is not over, this battle is not over.”
This battle is not over. We’ve still got one rider left in the game, Steffen Peters, who’s going to go in the ring tomorrow morning and lay down the best freestyle he can in hopes that he can inch his way back up into individual dressage medal contention.
And ultimately, lest we forget, the Olympics is just one battle. An important one, sure, but we’d be wise to consider it in the context of a much, much larger picture.
If the U.S. Equestrian Team goes home from London empty-handed, or even if Steffen defies the odds to pull it off and we go home with one, there’s going to be a lot of discussion in the coming weeks. As Joanie Morris wrote in an entry title “The Opposite of Winning” on her USEF Network blog this morning, “We’re soul searching here at the USEF.”
Some will say we need better coaches or better team selection processes. Some will insist we need a better system for developing riders or a bigger emphasis on international experience. Some will say we just need better horses. Probably, there’s a little bit of truth to all of their arguments.
Long-term success on the international stage isn’t going to come from cobbling together a plan to improve our prospects in Normandy or Rio. Long-term success is going to come from a systemic change.
One last thing to keep in mind: As much as we want to feel like we’re the ones in the driver’s seat, and we want to think that producing a perfect system will produce perfect results, there’s an element of luck to it as well. All the stars have to align for a team during one particular 3-4 day stretch of time. And with horses, star-alignment is never, ever guaranteed.
As we head back out onto the playing field for the last few minutes of this game, let’s take a moment to appreciate the fact that every rider we sent out there this past week tried their absolute best.
As Joanie put it, “We are trying, we are working, we are willing – we just aren’t winning. It is immensely frustrating. Our horses look great, our riders are well-coached, you can feel and hear their frustration when they make mistakes. My heart breaks for them when they don’t make mistakes and their best still isn’t good enough.”
Here’s to finishing strong and taking what we learned in London to make our best even better for the future.
Go Team USA.