“… On a personal level, I love my sport. I love the horses. I was a little girl, that all I wanted to do was ride and become the best rider and the best horsewoman I could. And the feeling if I could help one other little girl to not have to go through that, that it should be—our sport and all sports—should be safe for children. To speak up, to stop the predators.”
That is an excerpt from five-time Olympian Anne Kursinski’s answer during our podcast interview about why she decided to come forward and share her story about how her trainer started sexually molesting her when she was 11 years old.
I respected Anne before our conversation, which we did earlier this year in Wellington, Florida, and I do so now even more. To listen to her talk about her experience growing up and how she’s worked through the consequences is inspiring. As I mention in the introduction to the podcast, Anne hasn’t let what happened to her define her. Through years of hard work, she came to a place where she accepted what happened and moved on, becoming one of the most celebrated riders and trainers in the United States and the world. She is also an advocate for Safe Sport, which are policies and codes to recognize, reduce and respond to misconduct and abuse in sport. You can find more information about it here and here.
With the idea that Anne is not a victim, the beginning of the podcast focuses on why she feels she’s been successful and her favorite horses, including Starman and Eros, whom she still has at age 32! She also talks about memorable wins, learning to enjoy the journey and keeping the inner critic in check. She shares training insights on knotting the reins to improve your position, the automatic release and riding in general. (For a neat training article with Anne about tuning up your turns and distances, click here.)
Here are a few more questions and answers from our conversation:
Can you talk about your favorite horses?
Anne Kursinski: [1996 Atlanta Olympic partner Eros] was an amazing athlete. It was always a bit of a compromise with Eros because he was a Thoroughbred … so to train him to do a little dressage that he didn’t love to do and yet to let him jump the way he always wanted to jump, kind of on a lighter rein, lighter seat. The Thoroughbred—always a compromise with him, never controlling every step.
How do you handle losing in competiton?
AK: It’s no failure only feedback. The biggest thing would be learning, “Well, how could have I done it. I didn’t make the team—was my horse not fit enough or I don’t have the right horse or I don’t have a good enough horse to do it? Did I jump too much, did I not train enough? So to look at each failure—it’s not a failure—to learn from them.
You’ve said that the first step in controlling your horse is controlling yourself—can you talk about that?
AK: The first awareness is self-awareness. How do you control your body. If you don’t know what your hands and legs or eyes or brain are doing, how can you feel what the horse is doing. … It really comes back to us. If we can control ourselves, then we have a better chance at controlling the horse. And again it’s not just control, but how you communicate with the horse. How you talk to the horse. … And with that, your intention. What’s my intention today—to just go out and have a hack around, loose rein pleasure. Great. That’s fine some days. But no I’m training for the horse show, whether it’s a hunter or a jumper, so I’m really going to train and tell my horse, “OK, we’re going to go up the line correctly or we’re going to get the flying change or we’re going to have to go slower.” What’s your intention today?
Why do you feel flatwork so important?
AK: It’s the beginning of your jumping. It’s having the conversation with your horse. Can you speed up, slow down, turn left and right with a minimum amount of effort? That’s very basic, but that’s what we’re doing, and if you can’t do it on the flat very well … [if] you put jumps in there and you go faster and bigger, it’s probably not going to go well. If you can’t do it first without the jumps, it’s not going to go better with the jumps.
What does it mean when a predator grooms a child or children?
AK: Whether it’s giving gifts or a little more attention; you get to ride this extra horse or not—then also we’re also going to take it away if you don’t do what I tell you to do or ask you to do. [The predators] befriend them, they really become like the best friend or confidante, “You can tell me anything,” There are all these mind-warping things because the kids are young. They’re open to whatever. Yes, this a revered guy. Most are not like the creep you see at the 7-Eleven, outside looking weird. It’s the friend of a family. It’s somebody that the adult has put total faith in. Yes, this is an outstanding pillar of the community kind of person. Oh that would never happen. But if you watch the signs, as I say, gifts or special attention or stay afterward because you’re going to get extra attention or an extra ride.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself?
AK: I guess the biggest thing I’ve learned through all of it, which might sound a little silly is that “I am enough,” that I’m good enough, because for so long, for so many years, [trainer] Jimmy [Williams] said, “You’ll never be good enough.” … But through years of doing [this sport], there’s this other part of me of “Yeah, go for it, go for it.”
Anne Kursinski’s Accomplishments
• Five-time Olympian with two team silver medals from the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta with Eros and the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, where she also tied for fourth individually aboard Starman
• Won individual and team gold medals in the 1983 Pan-American Games in Caracus, Venezuela
• Major wins include the Grand Prix of Aachen, the American Invitational, the American Gold Cup, the Hampton Classic, the Grand Prix of Rome and the Gran Premio Pulsar in Monterrey, Mexico
• On 47 U.S. Nations’ Cups teams, and she has competed in 10 World Cup Finals. She has been a member of three U.S. World Equestrian Games teams
• USHJA clinician, member of the USHJA and USET Executive Committees and USEF Board of Directors
• Inducted into Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 2017
About the Practical Horseman Podcast
The Practical Horseman podcast, which runs every other Friday, features conversations with respected riders, industry leaders and horse-care experts to inform, educate and inspire. It is co-hosted by Practical Horseman editors Sandra Oliynyk, Emily Daily and Jocelyn Pierce. Future episodes feature Olympians Jim Wofford and William Fox-Pitt and USHJA International Hunter Derby winner Liza Boyd. You can find the podcast at iTunes, Stitcher and Soundcloud.