Eventing Nation: Talent vs. hard work

There are naturally gifted riders, and then there are those of us who must work extra hard just to keep up. Lila Gendal contemplates the playing field and our efforts to level it.

Top: The beast at Stoneleigh-Burnham. Photo credit to David Frechette.

From Lila:

Runners take your marks. Set. B-A-N-G! I have vivid memories of my running days in high school. I was never passionate about running. Rather, the sport gave me a chance to meet new people and maintain fitness as a rider.  I don’t think I even felt nervous or anxious when competing. I think it was my sophomore year that I set the record in the 100 meter dash.

Funny because I specifically remember that race and that particular day. I was off in my own head the whole day. Running was the last thing on my mind. My coach told me to go take a warm-up lap around the track and I begrudgingly took his advice. My thoughts were most likely consumed by real worldly matters, such as what my outfit was going to consist of the following day, or if the boy I liked was going to call me again. After my warm-up routine, I took a deep breath and prepared myself for the sprint. It must have been my insufferable adolescent mentality that carried me across the finish line that morning. Not only did I win first set, I was the fastest runner of the day in the 100 meter dash which qualified me for the VT State Championships.

You are now asking yourself, and why should I continue on reading about this girl who thinks so highly of herself? Truth be told, this anecdote is in no way meant to act as pat on the back. Yes, I was a very good sprinter, but I was never passionate about the sport. I am a rider at heart and always will be, and yet riding horses has never come easily, nor naturally for me. I would argue that in this tiny horse world that we live in there are two types of riders: those annoying individuals who were born with it and who are naturals, and those who struggle but have the ability to learn and get better. I am most certainly crammed in with the latter of the two groups. I would NOT label myself as a naturally gifted rider, but rather someone who has struggled in order to get better.

I find it fascinating when people are truly talented at something in life and don’t necessarily take that thing they do incredibly seriously. I know a couple riders who are absolutely naturals, and that could go very far in eventing, but have never felt that unwavering connection with the sport. In a way I find this shocking. Then again, I could have cared less about running and yet it came naturally for me. I had friends on the track team that ran every waking second. Their lives revolved around running and yet some of them were never going to amount to anything. So, question: is it better to pursue a sport that comes naturally to you, but that you don’t necessarily love? Or is it better to chase your goals and dreams even if you have to work 100 times harder than someone else?

Of course there are those individuals who are not only naturally talented but actually love what they do. Those people I almost have to ignore in this piece because they make up an elite group of people, and I’m more concerned with the masses. I don’t know if William Fox-Pitt is naturally gifted and/or worked incredibly hard to get to be one of the best riders in the world? Clearly the guy can ride! What about Margie Engle? Mark Todd? Ingrid Klimke? I would love to call up these riders and find out if they are “naturals” or if they learned how to be great riders through some serious struggle?

At what point do we throw our gloves in and say, enough is enough already…I am never going to be a Kim Severson, or a Michael Jung? At what point do we push past the angst and frustration and continue on? I suppose this all depends on how tough you are and how badly you want something? Do you ever find that your drive and determination can almost hinder your riding? Have you ever been told that your intensity actually restricts your riding? If we are not naturally gifted, but we work really hard to become the best riders we can be, how much drive is too much drive? Those of us who have to work harder arguably need that much more drive in order to succeed. How much determination is too much, or how little is too little?

I’m writing this piece to anyone who has struggled, or continues to struggle with their riding. I am writing this to anyone who is not a naturally gifted rider who has to work extra hours in order to be playing in the same ball field as some of the other more talented individuals. If you want this sport badly enough, don’t give up. Don’t compare yourself to other riders who are out of your league. Focus on you, your horse and your goals. Try to not let determination and intensity override your ability to learn. I would rather struggle every day in order to become the best rider I can be, than spend years doing a sport that comes naturally to me that I feel indifferent towards.


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