Going For The Gold

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The reflected glory of winning an individual medal at the Olympics is marvelous, but anyone at the U.S. Equestrian Team will tell you it’s the team medal that is their first priority.

There’s hardly any horseman following the exploits of our Olympic riders in Sydney who hasn’t imagined what it would be like to stand on a podium with their teammates and have a medal placed around their neck. The victory gallop that follows makes equestrian medal ceremonies a lot more exuberant than those of any other sport.

That Olympic experience is available to only a talented and fortunate few. The opportunity of riding on a team, however, can be obtained at levels of competition down to the most basic. Juniors can find it in 4-H, Pony Club and at college. Most combined training and dressage associations offer opportunities to compete on teams for adults.

Other equestrian disciplines have fewer team opportunities per se, although the team experience is somewhat duplicated when you ride or compete with other horses and riders as a unit in quadrilles, team pennings, drill teams, pairs classes and hunter pace events.

There’s a new sense of pressure when you compete in partnership with other riders, because you don’t want to let your teammates down. But there are also added benefits. Horses and humans are both social animals, and they enjoy the company of others. The strengths of your teammates often serve to raise your own level of performance, and the unit truly becomes greater than the sum of its parts. There are some horses or riders who might not be able to shine on their own, but when they are part of a pair or of a team they come into their own.

Competitions that offer team awards of some sort also benefit, because groups of riders attend who will enter numerous individual classes. And, sponsors often can be attracted more easily to team events than to providing prizes for individuals.

Shows that would like to bolster their entries and prizes may want to add team classes and awards. Riders who have become jaded about showing, or who aren’t comfortable about competing on their own, may find that joining a team will make showing just a lot more fun. If you can’t bring home the gold for your country, then maybe you can for your club.

’Til Next Month,

-Margaret Freeman