I’ve been a big Michael Jung fan since he danced into most of our hearts at the 2010 WEG. Every time another event rolls around, people ask, “Can he do it again?” as if Michael’s luck might finally run out. However, Michael Jung doesn’t dominate events because God ordained him to or he does special pre-event voodoo. Neither does Tim Price, Chris Burton or anyone else who completed Burghley this past weekend. They succeed because instead of worrying about luck, they worry about riding the best they can.
I think we cling to the idea of luck as an equalizer in our sport. After all, everybody works incredibly hard. If we totally eschew chance then we have to come to the terms with the fact maybe so and so lacked experience or accuracy or finesse. If we stop letting luck rule our competitions, then we have to hold ourselves accountable for our failures (which is hard). But, it also allows us to take full credit for our success.
Believe me, as a competitor I have clung on to the idea that a bad round was because of bad luck. I’ve used all the excuses: I got paired with the grumpiest dressage judge, I went first in the division, it rained all night — but this attitude over the years has done nothing for improving my results. In the time that I’ve been complaining about bad luck, I probably could have been building the skills that would get me better scores.
I didn’t see that all of this luck stuff just wasn’t true until I began to see consistent results with my horse Roxanne. When I first bought Roxanne, we used to score in the high 40s and 50s in the dressage at a horse trial. Now I can eek out a test in the mid-30s, and we’ve got room for improvement. Was I unlucky at the beginning and lucky now?
If you bet on luck, anything can change tomorrow. Which means I could go back to scoring in the 50s, and I would prefer that doesn’t happen. I also wouldn’t want to consider that everything I put into improving my dressage was moot just because the gods have smiled down on me favorably for now.
If you believe in your lucky cross-country undies, sure, keep wearing them. But make sure you can also jump all the ditches, tables, banks and water forwards and backwards — because that is how someone like Michael Jung wins Burghley (after winning Rolex, the World Championships, the Olympics, Europeans and probably a thousand other events).