It’s been a rewarding summer when it comes to Heritage Farm alumni. Former Heritage riders made up 50% of the U.S. Jumping Team for the FEI World Championships. Jacob Pope won his first Grand Prix and topped the USHJA International Hunter Derby in the span of two weeks at Traverse City. Kent Farrington is the highest-ranked American rider on the prestigious Longines World Rankings. This names just a few.
These riders have all taken their own paths professionally, but I attribute their successes to one common denominator. During their time at Heritage, they were all—and they remain—overachievers.
After 35 years in this industry, I still have a soft spot in my heart for the hard worker. Maybe it’s because they remind me of myself. I’m so aware that, for myself (and most of my staff), someone along the way saw something in me. I know what that did for me and my career, so I’ve always been open to doing that for somebody else.
Our sport has evolved greatly in the last three decades, much of it for the good. But sometimes I feel as if it’s harder to find those overachievers.
Is there a generational gap?
Our sport has developed a reputation of being driven by money. But I hope that more people understand that those of us that pursue this sport definitely don’t do it for the money. That’s perhaps easier for me to say, as I’m fortunate to have established a successful business. But I love the horses, I love working outside, I love competing, and I love teaching. I think there are many, many professionals out there that feel the same way. Those passions are at the heart of what we do.
The working student as we’ve historically known it is no more. No one wants to do the work physically. Everyone just wants to ride. They want their horses tacked up, cared for and put away for them. It’s easy to say thank you when you win all the classes, but every day, every ride is a learning opportunity that should be appreciated—and just riding will only get you so far.
To be a successful professional, you need to be able to work with a veterinarian and blacksmith. You need to establish and implement a program for yourself and your horses. That is just the beginning, really. There is a relationship—there is a trust and a bond that’s created being on the ground and knowing your horses.
If you’re showing up at the barn at 6:00 am, you have to know that someone was there at 4:30 am. If you go home at 4:00 pm, know that someone else didn’t get home until 7:30 pm. The overachievers might be harder to find, but they are still out there.
At Heritage, we have a program for every level and every type of rider, and I believe there is a place for everyone in this sport. But I hope I can still find some more overachievers. Where’s the next real professional or driven individual that I can make a real difference for? That will always motivate me.
Andre Dignelli is the owner and head trainer at Heritage Farm, a New York based institution that has produced national hunter, jumper and equitation champions for nearly three decades. In his junior years, he won the 1985 USET finals and later went on to win the bronze medal at the 1991 Pan Am Games. Since then, Andre has coached numerous equitation, hunter and jumper champions at the nation’s top shows. His program has helped develop top riders including Kent Farrington, Kirsten Coe, Maggie McAlary, Reed Kessler, Lillie Keenan and many others. Follow Heritage at @HeritageFarm.