| October 22, 2014 | Cindy Corwin |
This is the second part of my two-part interview with Holly Bergay, an exceptional equestrian athlete & trainer who has been training and competing in dressage since she was 6. As the bio on Holly’s website explains, she was born without her left hand but as you will see, that has never stood in her way.
In 2008, she became the first disabled rider to compete as an able-bodied rider at the NAJC. In 2009, she was the first disabled rider to compete as a Young Rider at the NAYRC and the USEF Young Rider National Championships. In 2010, she made the US Para-equestrian World Equestrian Games team.
As Holly recounted in her bio, “It took dedication, hard work, and above all, lots of support to make the WEG team. I was very fortunate to have the horse, the trainer and the sponsors to accomplish my goal. At 17 years old I had the opportunity to represent my country and my sport among the best in the world! Unfortunately, I had to withdraw due to an injury. I was devastated. I learned a lot from the disappointment that came from withdrawing from the WEG. Most importantly, I realized how important this is to me, and how lucky I am to get to compete in this sport and have horses in my life.”
Q: You compete at a very high, international level. What does it take for you to mentally and physically compete at that level?
A. I think what’s important is you have to be so focused in your training and committed and dedicated to your goals, in order to be prepared for that level of competition. At the same time, that can’t come before the day-to-day feelings and interactions with your horse. Ultimately I don’t think Rubino cared about the World Equestrian Games at all and I’m pretty sure that wasn’t his dream, like it was mine! My priority in training was giving him time to be a horse. Sometimes that meant he needed to trail ride or he needed to have a few easy days off. Even though I was focused on my dreams and my goals, I needed to make him my priority and my number ONE priority was always him.
I think you always want to train for excellence and if you’re lucky enough to get there, then you get to do these amazing things. Sometimes, it takes a little longer than you had planned or hoped. When we tried to qualify for London in 2012, he wasn’t up for it and honestly, I wasn’t sure he would be ready for the 2014 WEG. I just focused on keeping him happy, I focused on his training and by the time we got back to the show ring, it was amazing how he had responded to that. He was moving so well. It is kind of hard because people who ride at this level have to be so focused and intense but I think it’s important that you always try to put your horse first and give them what they need. Rubino liked to trail ride so we incorporated a lot of trail riding! I’d throw Western tack on him and go out on the trail and I’m sure we looked ridiculous but he loved it!
A: I grew up in Tuscon and was part of the Pony Club so I got to do a little bit of everything. Ultimately Dressage is the training & communication with your horse and I think that is what has always fascinated me so much about horses. Being able to use our knowledge of them and understanding how they communicate is an incredible feeling and accomplishment. When you can communicate with your horse on that level, there’s nothing better! In Dressage, it’s the constant communication between you and your horse that drew me in. By the time I was 6, I was saying, “I’m going to be a Dressage rider!” and I never really looked back! You’d think living in Tuscon and having 1 hand, my parents would have put me on a Western horse but that would have been too easy!
Q: What was the toughest thing you had to deal with as a beginning rider? And, do you see some of your students struggle with the same thing(s)?
A: As far as actually riding, kids are really amazing, especially when they start young because they don’t seem to really struggle. They don’t over-think it, they just kind of feel it. I think about how lucky I was that I started so young because I don’t remember learning to sit well. I don’t remember learning to have good balance. I don’t remember learning these things because at the time, I was just feeling it and having fun and it just came to me. I think kids who start like that are lucky because they don’t have to learn those things, they just come. I think the hardest thing as far as my disability is concerned that I did have a hard time finding a suitable trainer at first. I was referred a lot to therapeutic riding centers and I wanted to do competitive riding. Once I found my first trainer, she took me on…and was as mean to me as anybody else! (Insert lots of LOL’s here!) Of course she wasn’t really mean to me but she did yell at me, just like she did everyone else! I was never treated like I was special and I think that was good.
I have 2 brothers and we’re all very competitive so believe me, nobody ever did me any favors when it came to family competitions!
Q: It sounds like your Mom has been a really big influence and an involved and active presence in your life and your career. She grooms and travels with you and I do the same for my daughters but it’s either great or…they want me to go away after awhile! How is it for you and your Mom?
A: She has, and continues to be very involved, very supportive and…my biggest fan! I realize and appreciate it more now versus when I was a teenager of course! My Mom is truly my best friend and it’s great because we both love horses. I think part of her involvement is her love of horses but honestly I think if I were doing ice skating or spelling bees, she would be just as involved and supportive. She’s just incredibly, incredibly supportive. My Dad is as well but my Mom is there for everything. She knows every judge, venue, etc., and every decision I make, she’s 100% supportive and there for me. I think that’s the other thing with teaching kids now and seeing who progresses and who doesn’t, I think the difference is whether or not a parent is involved. Kids that have caring and supportive parents improve so much faster and they progress so much faster. The students are just able to do so much more with what they’re learning. I feel really, really lucky and I can only imagine how every child would be if they had a Mom like mine! It’s so great to always have that person who is on your side. My Mom has never pressured or pushed me to do anything but when I make a decision, she’s ALL IN with me and it’s so great to have that! That’s a huge part of any success!
Q: I’ve talked to a lot of trainers & clinicians and most of them tell me the same thing: I’m as much a trainer as I am a life-coach. Do you find that to be true?
A: The good trainers who really care about their students, give each of them at least 110%. I am totally invested in each of my students progress, success and lives, just like my trainers and coaches have done with me. My trainer/coach has put her heart & soul into helping me so when I had the disappointments with not being able to compete in 2012 and then again in 2014, I think it was almost as hard on her as it was on me. What’s great is that after everything happened with Rubino and I came back here, it was the students/kids who were cheering me on, encouraging me and lifting my spirits! They’d say things like, “You’re going to find another horse so don’t give up” and “It’ll be ok”, it was so great to see that my students believe in ME!
Q: After the death of a horse, I hate it when people say “Oh, you’ll find another one”…like it’s easy to replace that special member of your family. You truly never replace the special ones, they are always with you but I know you want to continue competing, so what’s next for you?
A: I do want to continue to compete but I have not found a horse as of yet. It takes a little while and I think part of that is because things happened so abruptly with Rubino. It took me awhile to adjust my thinking after his death. I was so focused for so long and I had all these goals and dreams. I was hoping to do the Grand Prix on him and possibly the Brentina Cup. We had so many opportunities. I’ve just been trying to get back into the swing of things and re-adjust my whole mind-set. I know that sometimes it takes another 5 years to get to another big goal like that…and sometimes it take 25 years and I’m ok with that. I don’t have all the money in the world and funds are a little limited for a new horse so I’ll be looking for something very young. My trainer and I are going to Germany the first week of November and we’re going to be looking for some young horses. Hopefully I will find something that I just continue my education on as a rider and trainer. I was learning so much on Rubino and really feeling like I had a good grasp of our training philosophy. I am excited to apply that to a young horse and see where that takes us. I don’t know if it will be and international quality horse but my priority is to continue my education . If I can find and have a nice horse to ride, I’m just excited to get into training and showing what I can do with a horse.
Q: Horsemanship is a JOURNEY and it’s a different journey with every horse. What was your journey with Rubino like?
A: We clicked right away personality wise but it took me a long time to figure him out. It was sometimes incredibly frustrating but once I figured him out, it was such an amazing feeling! He was not the easiest horse in the world and I just feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with him and figure him out and then learn from that experience.
Q: Don’t you think the toughest horses can often be the best teachers though?
A: Absolutely. People say that about stallions all the time and Rubino was a stallion. They are either on your side or they’re not. Some would go to war for you but until you get them there, it’s sometimes not so fun! It took a while for me to get him on my team but once he was, it was amazing. He was technically dying of cancer but he still put in so much for me. It’s pretty amazing to think about.
I shared lots of laughter as well as some heartfelt tears with Holly and it was always abundantly clear to me how much she love and respected Rubino. When I re-read her last statement as I was writing this interview I stopped when I read this: “He (Rubino) was technically dying of cancer, but he still put in so much for me. It’s pretty amazing to think about.“. At that moment, it was crystal clear that Rubino trusted and loved Holly right back. THAT is success..in life and in the saddle. So yes Holly, it is ‘pretty amazing to think about’ but after spending time getting to know you….I couldn’t imagine it would be anything less than amazing.
I’ll have more from my interview with Holly Bergay, in early November. I hope the 2 interviews I’ve already posted give you insight into this amazing and talented young woman and the trail she is blazing in this world. I am so incredibly honored to know Holly and be able to share her story. Greatness takes many shapes and forms and Holly, in my opinion is the epitome of true GREATNESS. And on that note I can only say, I’m sticking with the title of my very first post on Holly…”We Need More Holly Bergays in this World”, because it’s true.