By Andre Dignelli
“Competition at highest level is not about winning. It’s about preparation, courage, understanding, and nurturing your people—and heart. Winning is a result of that.” -Joe Torre
This quote from Joe Torre is one that comes to mind when I think about having multiple top riders at the same time.
Honestly, it’s much harder when you don’t have the winner. The winner carries the momentum and gives the barn momentum; they give the younger kids belief that what they’re achieving is attainable. When we had Kent Farrington in the barn, Addison Phillips was getting started. When Addie and Maggie McAlary were winning, Lillie Keenan was getting going on ponies.
Kent and Kirsten Coe were just one example. Later on, we had Lillie and Tori Colvin. Because Lillie started so young, she also rode at the same time as Geoffrey Hesselink, Samantha Schaefer and Jacob Pope. We had Schaefer Raposa and Brittany Hurst at the same time; they finished 1-2 in the 2011 USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final. Taylor St Jacques and Cooper Dean replicated that feat in 2017, and there were countless other waves of talent in between.
Top riders are constantly pushing each other. I’m a big believer in group lessons, and when you’re giving a lesson and no one in the lesson can score a 95, the other riders in the lesson don’t get to see how a round is ridden at the best level. If I’m giving a lesson and someone can ride the course almost perfectly, it raises the entire lesson.
Top riders also play off of each other. It becomes a team, with a lot of teamwork. When teammates are succeeding, it makes you believe in the system. You realize, Someone among my group can win this class.
The difficulty in having multiple top riders is having the right horses at the right time and staying ahead of the curve. At Heritage, we try to acquire as many top horses as we can and bring along prospects so that we have top horses at the right time. You can’t win big events without the help of a top horse.
When a program has been truly successful, the whole team has done well. It’s great when one rider wins, but if the rest struggle, you’re not left with a good feeling. You don’t want to leave anyone behind.
During WEF 11 this year, it was really rewarding to qualify seven riders for the WEF Equitation Championship. You love to win, but you really want the whole team to look prepared. Natalie Jayne was a deserving winner, but we also had Amira Kettaneh and Baylee McKeever in the top 15, with Alida Treuting and Skylar Wireman only just missing the cutoff for the second round.
We’ve been fortunate to have multiple top riders in our care since Heritage started. When you’re the rider at the top, the younger riders are watching, learning, and gaining confidence. I’ve tried to leave the door open for every opportunity and for riders of every level, and I strive to give all my riders the same level of care and attention. The next top rider can come from anywhere, and there’s always room at the top.