Grit; an intangible and arguably immeasurable quality necessary for achieving goals in many areas of life. Grit is what gives people the ability to pull themselves up out of the most depressing and desperate situations in life. There are people all over the world who are on the brink of disaster and manage to continue forward. They give themselves the ability to rise up like a phoenix, proceeding to crush the worlds expectations of them. These types of people are full of this invisible attribute; Grit. We all know a cinderella story of someone who was set up to fail but time and time again they prevailed instead. I believe there is no cross section of people that displays the power of grit better than the equestrian community. Grit trumps talent any day of the week.
Angela Duckworth is an American academic psychologist and popular science author. She has spent years studying grit and trying to find a way to measure or even predict a persons level of grit. I have recently been reading her book and listening to her talks. As a horse trainer and riding instructor I find her work fascinating. She defines grit as, “Passion and perseverance for long term goals.” In a live recorded TEDx talk in which Angela Duckworth was the speaker she explained further by saying;
“Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month but for years, working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon not a sprint.”Angela Duckworth
When I listened to this talk my first reaction was to begin thinking about these statements from my perspective and experience as a riding instructor. I see students come and go all the time. Some riders come into our program just wanting to have a moment, an interaction with a horse. They may ride a few weeks or a month, then often those students are satisfied with having had the chance to cross something off their bucket list. They then move on to another activity or sport that they are more passionate about.
Other riders come in with a feeling of passion for horses and equestrian sports. That is the group I really began to dwell upon after listening to Angela Duckworth’s talk. Some of the passionate riders have a great deal of natural talent, others really struggle just to master the basics of a strong position and the ability to rise and fall at a posting trot. It’s easy to get excited about a very talented young rider who displays passion for the horse and equestrian sports. Passion is the first necessary item for long term success with horses. Without passion the story of a child’s riding career ends here. Their talent however does not indicate in any way shape or form how far they will go, or how successful they will be in my program, or with show horses overall. I’ve had the privilege of teaching many talented riders. Some of my most memorable and rewarding riders have been the ones that may not have had the talent right away but they had the grit in order to develop the talent. These are the riders who were able to keep their grit or let me inspire them into believing they were gritty riders. They used that grit to make a grand transformation in not only their riding but their character as well.
I recall a tiny little girl who came to ride with me right when we were looking to buy our farm about seven years ago. She was cheerful with a short leg for a rider, but a good attitude. She could pop off of a horse easier than any child I had ever known. She even had a few riding related injuries over the years. She struggled with her confidence in the early years because she found it arduous to develop a tight seat. It seemed she was always having falls. The thing she did have was a ton of grit. She’s grown into a wonderful rider with a long leg. Even after years of ups and downs she still rides with me. This can only be because of her grit as opposed to her talent.
My second thoughts after listening to Angela Duckworth talk on her research about grit revolved around my college career. I went to a college with a large equestrian program in Fulton, Missouri. Some might argue with me, but in my perception I was easily *not* the most talented rider in the program upon my entrance. Boy, did I have a ton of grit though! I was also about as wild as a saltwater crocodile in those days. Sometimes my wild ways interrupted my ability to be bright eyed and bushy tailed for early morning rides or classes. My grit kept me focused though, with my constant desire for improvement. My grit kept me on course and directed my wild ways towards my goals instead of towards self destruction.
I want to preface this next statement with the fact that I do not blame anyone who decides to leave a career in the horse industry, particularly if they were working in the capacity of a horse trainer or riding instructor. It is a very challenging lifestyle with long hours, high risks, and often little pay. That being said, I think back on all the talented riders I went to college with, some of whom became very talented trainers. Many of the students I thought had superpowers on the back of a horse are no longer in the horse industry at all though. Many of them had really valid reasons to change directions and go a different career path, of course. Some of them had a great deal of grit in something they were equally or more passionate about. Many of them had unexpected changes in their lives which made different career paths the only option. However, it does help us see that talent is great, but talent paired with grit is even better. Grit can create talent, where talent alone isn’t what will carry a rider though the difficult times to continued success. Isn’t that so true with everything in life? Talent alone is not enough for a rider to fulfill their goals or for a person to achieve greatness in any field.
If you are an active rider, as you look around and see people who you admire and respect, don’t be blinded by their talent. Don’t be covetous while watching the best riders in the world perform if you feel you don’t have, or won’t ever possess their level of talent. Some of these same riders may at one point have not had talent, but they always had the grit. Idolize the gritty riders not because of the talent but because of the grit. Grit creates talent. Instead of wondering if you have talent, go out and find your grit!