It`s another season, and another group of USET hopefuls, and this time they`re aiming for the chance to ride in this summer`s London Olympics. I`ve watched this process unfold since 1964, when I was a young sixth grade teacher at the Far Hills Country Day School in Far Hills, NJ, just a few miles from the old three day headquarters in Gladstone. I can remember being a volunteer starter of Phase A for one of the 1964 selection trials being held at the USET grounds, long before that facility got obliterated by a golf course.
Later I`d be a part of the process more directly, when I tried out to make a USET squad in the early-mid 70s. The best strategy back in those days to get chosen is identical to the best strategy to get chosen in 2012. It`s simple beyond belief. If they are going to choose, let`s say, five for the squad, you need to consistently beat all but four of the other Team aspirants, and beat them not on your second string horse, in lead up events, but at the biggest, toughest events on your best horse.
Then you have to keep that winning horse sound right up to the moment you get to enter the dressage arena at A of the World Games or Olympics.
Remember when Taya Harding was implicated in that Nancy Kerrigan knee smashing scandal? A short time later, I got one of those “spoof” emails, from the “Tanya Harding Institute of Athlete Neutralization”, with a list of services like “Broken Wrist, $250.00” and so on. Anyway, this was how it started: “Tired of being beaten by people whose only virtue is that they are better than you?”
Think about that. You have to prove that your only virtue is that you ARE better than the other riders, and the cleanest way to prove that is to beat them. And beat them. And keep beating them. Then you don`t have to make excuses like how you`d have won if your horse hadn`t stepped on his clinch, or had those spectators come clattering into the bleachers in the middle of your dressage test. Or whatever.
In any given country, at any given time, there will be more hopefuls than winners, that`s just normal. And they`re all looking for that edge that will impress the Selection Committee. In 1982 I was Chairman of the USET Three Day Selection Committee, so I have some insight into how those committees function. I suspect that not much has changed since 1982, or since 1964. The riders who will get on that plane will be the riders who most consistently beat the other riders who don`t get on the plane.
So simplify your strategy, riders. It`s cold, clear, and hard as hell. Go win.