By 2032, many of the old guard of Olympic contenders, the experienced Olympians of this era, will have hung up their boots and helmets and a new generation of Olympians will represent us. So you want to go to the Games? It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, that’s for sure. It’s damn hard work, dedication, focus and sacrifice. “You must be willing to walk over broken glass,” says Mary Hanna, one of our most experienced Olympians.
Wendy Schaeffer-Macdonald lived the dream of taking her Pony Club horse Sunburst to the Olympics and winning a gold medal. In fact, if it weren’t for changes in the rules she would have won both team and individual gold medals. Sunburst had come second to last at the Birdsville Races before he was bought for 11-year-old Wendy by her mother, Di, herself an Australian representative eventing rider. Wendy says that to get to the Games, “You must really believe in yourself, even if you are a bit arrogant. You must have energy, and motivation and follow a plan”.
Mary Hanna, the oldest Australian Olympian with six Olympics under her belt, says that determination and focus are essential. When she got together with Rob Hanna, at that time an eventing rider and businessman, he helped her realise that if she was going to succeed she had to be much more focused on the goal. She had to make changes in her life so that she could be really focused on the goal of representing Australia.
Mary had to make hard decisions and sell horses that she loved, but who probably could not do the job she wanted them to do, and invest in one horse that could perform at the level necessary. That horse was Mosaic, her breakthrough Olympic horse. Mary changed her life so that she was “wearing less hats” to entirely focus on her goal. “You have to be prepared to give things up,” she says. “You need to make a plan, with all the steps to get to where you need to be. You have to remove anything in your life that isn’t directly related to your goals. You have to make sacrifices.”
Heath Ryan is an Olympian (Beijing 2008, dressage) and was selected to ride at the World Eventing Championships (Gawler). He has helped many young equestrians pursue their dreams and has the perspective of years in the sport. He points out that unlike many other sports there is no pathway to the top supported by our sports administration. “Don’t rely on High Performance pathways,” he advises. “No-one has ever been produced by the squads. Everyone who makes it, makes it themselves. Most Olympians are produced by their parents.”
Heath points out that the 10 to 18-year-old kids of today could be riding at the Brisbane Olympics, but they need a 10-year plan and dedication to the plan. To make it to the Games you have to be dedicated and make no excuses. Heath suggests just to start to see if you might be able to have a crack, try to make your riding the most important thing for three months. Ride five to six days a week every week… rain, hail, or shine. If there are family or school commitments, ride early or ride late, but get it done. “It’s jolly hard work, every day.”
If you want to achieve these big goals you must take responsibility for yourself. “If it is going to be, it is up to me” is a good slogan to live by. The notice on your mirror that says “you are looking at the person responsible for your progress” is another good one. The buck stops with you. Psychologists call this an “internal locus of control”, believing that you are responsible for your own success. Conversely, people with an external locus of control will tend to think that outside forces determine outcomes, like luck. Nowhere is this more important than in the equestrian sports because, as Heath says, there is no pathway laid out, no funnel.
Sharon Jarvis has just contested her third Paralympics. She is a dual WEG medallist but finished “in the worst place at the Paralympics in Beijing, fourth”. Sharon says that even as child she was always completely hooked on the Games, not getting her homework done when the Games were on as she was up watching everything. When she found out that she was eligible for the Paralympics due to disability after childhood bone cancer, that became her dream. When she made it to her first Games she said she felt that “I had found my place. I was a self-conscious kid but at the Paralympics everyone has differences and everyone is included.”
Sharon says, “You have to be over-the-top committed, more than 100%, or you are just not going to get there. You have to give it your whole heart and soul. You have to get to the end of your tether and then keep going. This is not for the faint-hearted. You have to have a craziness in you to keep going. It is easy to not do it. It is hard to keep going. You must be prepared to make sacrifices, to give things up to stay on the path.”