Nearly thirty years ago, I sat on a bucket in a barn aisle. The barn belonged to a third generation polo family with plenty of experience in the sport and the pockets to support serious competition. The company was a US Open team that consisted of some of the sagest American horsemen of their time, myself and a few of my age-mates (all of us hanging on their every word). The topic was what it takes to walk your way up to the top in the King of Sports. They discussed the mechanics of developing skills and horses and they finally came to the prerequisites to reaching the top of the sport:
“In addition to having the skills that place you at the top, you have to have every element of your life in perfect order. Your finances, your vehicles, your state of mind…and you have to have the willing support of competitors who are your most skilled peers” (sic).
The polo of that time was not today’s polo, nor was it barrel racing, but there was a wealth of wisdom in the philosophy of those horsemen that applied to many things.
I’ve noticed some self-congratulatory posts on social media from barrel-racers lately. They have made me chuckle to myself and to think on the difference between winning and succeeding. I don’t mean succeeding like “everyone gets a trophy “ succeeding. I mean like bearing the sometimes uncomfortable mantle of being the top of your sport kind of success.
There are lots of ways to win barrel races. Money, hard work, blind luck…but ultimately there are two paths to winning; you elevate a horse or a horse elevates you. Whichever way it is, it will show. One is sustainable and the other is not. One path yields benefits to the whole sport, the other to just one person.
Elevating a horse to success is partly the skill to train them, but it’s a lot more. It’s ability to give them the confidence to compete and the desire to overcome. That character trait in a jockey will spill over from her horses (and she will have many good ones because she holds the keys to creating them) into every aspect of her sport. She will elevate her competitors and give them confidence. She will move the sport forward with her leadership, by her steadfast attitude, her efforts to organize events and, most importantly, the horses she adds into the sport. She will be rewarded in her life with a very few horses who turn the tables on her and take the confidence she has given them and elevate her to a level she never dreamed….and that is a prize more precious than pearls. That is success.