The Perennial Debate: Talent Versus Work Ethic

There are those with so much innate riding talent “it would make the angels weep”, but if they are shirkers instead of workers, usually that talent goes to waste. Others with little talent struggle relentlessly for years, yet never achieve their dreams. So it`s pretty obvious that neither talent alone or work ethic alone are sufficient to propel a person to the top echelons of their chosen field.

But if I had to choose one—a supremely gifted rider with a modest work ethic, or a fanatically hard worker, possessed of moderate talent, I`d bet on the worker. Thomas Edison said that “genius is 1 per cent inspiration, 99 per cent perspiration.” Workers create talent, through relentless practice, where talent didn`t formerly exist.  Hang around any barn, and watch. There are those who could hustle, and get in another horse or two before lunch, but who have an amazing ability to stall around. They head off for leisurely lunch hours, that turn into two hours, and when the day is done, the hustler back at the barn has ridden six or seven horses to the two or three of the leisure lover.

Now multiply that out by a month, a year, a decade, and the hard worker is well on the way to that ten thousand hours postulated by Malcolm Gladwell in “Outliers” as the magical entry requirement to huge success.

When I wrote the book “How Good Riders Get Good”, and Sandra Cooke interviewed 24 of the world`s best riders and drivers, I actually expected that “hard work” would be an integral piece of what they thought had enabled them to “get good” But it wasn`t an integral piece, it was the biggest piece. There are thousands and thousands of riders who weekly spend $50.00 and more for riding lessons, to, presumably, either “get good”, or at least get better, but not many of them have bothered to work hard enough to actually read what those great riders had to say.

It`s not just my book they haven`t read, it`s any book about riding—–I`d say it`s the intellectual STUDY of riding that so many avoid. There is physical laziness, but there is also intellectual laziness, and either one is a dream wrecker.

Many barn owners will tell the same sad tale. They tell the riders at their barn that if they will help out, especially on weekends, that they can ride extra horses. Now very often, these riders will look you right in the eye and passionately declare “how much I want it!” But given the choice of working off extra riding hours, or doing something else, most barn owners know the choice they make.

Hard work is hard. It`s often unpleasant. It`s tiring physically and mentally and emotionally. There`s just that one thing, though. It so often pays off. In the fifty years I`ve taught riding, it`s almost always been the relentless workers (who also had talent) who are the ones that got it done. Which leads to this final point—

If someone really has passion, then working toward that passion may not really be work at all. It`s just what they want to do anyway, and how lucky for them is that?


1 Comment

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One response to “The Perennial Debate: Talent Versus Work Ethic

  1. Reblogged this on The Leg Up and commented:
    Denny’s points apply to schoolwork and your career aspirations too!

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