Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Post by Sally Spickard

The Competitive Advantage I am a self-professed sore loser. Ask anyone who knows me what happens when I lose a sand volleyball (recreational, at that) game or an argument over my favorite baseball player. To me, the game of life is a competitive one. I have always believed that a sense of competition is directly related to your success at any endeavor you may attempt. This belief has never be more applicable than with my chosen sport of eventing. Now, do not mistake my competitive nature for a lack of compassion and sportsmanship. I may be a sore loser, but I will never blame my horse or anyone other than myself for finishing in a less than satisfactory standing. Eventing is the most adrenaline charged sport that I have ever experienced, and I have only competed through Novice! I have often wondered what the competitive drive is like at the top echelon of the sport so, in order to gain some perspective, I caught up with four star rider Laine Ashker, who was kind enough to give me a few moments of her time while I picked her brain and attempted to channel her competitive drive from 800 miles away. I have always looked up to athletes who are openly competitive. In my aspirations to reach the top level of the sport, I have followed many riders’ careers closely, and Laine is no exception. However, the blatant dedication and passion that she has for the sport and her horses is crystal clear, and reading just a few of her competition blog entries will give anyone insight into just how competitive this girl is! One of my first questions to her was in relation to her competitive nature: Sally: Have you always had the competitive drive that you have now? Laine: Yes, I am a very bad sore loser! I’ve gotten better, but I always blame myself – it’s not about making excuses, it’s more of a self-defeating thing. Everything I do is a competition. I’m not a person who goes to even the bowling alley just to have fun! Being competitive is one thing that kept me alive after my accident. I didn’t go home with my tail between my legs… well, initially I did, but my competitive nature took over and said “learn from it!” A year later, I was back competing at Jersey Fresh at the three-star level with Al [Anthony Patch]. As a testament to Laine’s competitive nature, she told me a story about some advice that Buck Davidson gave her prior to a competition. Knowing that her mind could sometimes get in her way, he told her to “just shoot for last place” at Jersey Fresh that year. His logic was that she was so competitive that by telling her to go for last place it might take off some of the pressure that she inevitably put on herself. And his advice worked! That year, Laine placed 6th in the CCI***. I also asked Laine who her idols were growing up, and she was quick to name Karen O’Connor: Sally: Who was your equestrian idol growing up? Laine: My mom went to the 1996 Olympics and brought back a poster that was signed by Karen O’Connor. I hung it on my ceiling so that I fell asleep looking at it and woke up looking at it, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Karen’s kind of been it for me, and even more so today because she is still out there kicking our butts! I’ve always been a fan of hers just for the sheer competitive nature that she has. Boyd [Martin] is another person that I look up to because he’s such a good sport. And Buck [Davidson] is another one – Buck can ride a broomstick! [EDIT: Buck, if you read this, I would be very interested to see you do this!] After a few laughs and a lot of fantastic answers to my questions, I asked Laine to gossip a bit about Al, her current four-star mount. She immediately laughed and informed me that when she travels to big competitions, her other horses don’t go. Al is somewhat of a clingy type, and attaches himself very quickly to other horses, so the theory is that when he is a bit down and friend-less at shows, he focuses on Laine more, thus creating a better result in competition. She also told me that for being the spookiest horse when she is on him, she still finds that he enjoys having his head brushed by a broom and his back scratched with a pitchfork, which, in my experience, are two of the most frightening inventions for horses – go figure! Lastly, I asked Laine for advice for aspiring upper level riders, and as much as I want to just keep it to myself (see, that’s my competitive nature coming out!), I will share it with you! Sally: Any advice for the aspiring upper level riders out there? Laine: Don’t let anyone tell you [that] you can’t do it. Also, go to college. I’m so happy to have had that sort of cultural advancement to be able to look beyond the spectrum of horses and see the outside world for what it is. Otherwise you have nothing to base yourself on besides horses. It’s so easy to get caught up in this lifestyle, which can be a selfish one. It can be done, you don’t need a big paycheck to do it. As long as you have a good coach to help you out, it can be done. Follow your dreams, as cliché as it sounds! My conversation with Laine further solidified my theory that being part adrenaline junkie and part sore loser can make a pretty solid event rider! It is the humbling moments in this sport that make us realize how much progress we still have to make and what makes us keep reaching for our highest goals. The hunger and passion for the sport is what I admire the most about event riders. For Laine, her goals will constantly be growing as she continues to work for every milestone. At the same time, she is very humble and down to earth about what she has chosen as her path in life: “Have I achieved all of my dreams? No. But I am living my dream.”