Last week, Marion O’Connor was awarded her Gold Medal at the United States Dressage Federation Convention (USDF). I had the privilege of accompanying her to the glamorous USDF Award Ceremony and am so excited for her. Marion is an inspiration and a role model of hard work – with diligence and persistence, driven by her passion for horses, she achieved more than she thought she can.

I also had the privilege in 2015 of sharing Marion’s inspiring journey to achieve the Silver Medal here .

Fascinated by Marion and horses, I asked her a few questions:

What inspired you to ride dressage?
“I wanted to be a better rider and do something meaningful with my horse, something that builds a relationship. In dressage, you improve your horse systematically and I found the discipline is entirely built on trust.”

Looking back, Marion shares with me, “I remember my first horse was a racehorse off the race track. She was very spooky and unreliable, however, the systematic work got her back on track and we built a partnership. She made me a better and more sympathetic rider. Her name was Raven.

In the years following, I trained three other horses and always encountered a roadblock trying to move into the Third Level that requires a more profound understanding of higher dressage. I used to blame it on the quality of the horse and each time I tried to find a better one to start all over again. Finally, in 2004 I met my soul mate, Karat. I loved that horse so much that I was unwilling to give up when I reached that stumbling point with her. It took me four years to push beyond that barrier – I did not give up, I was ‘friendly’ persistent and consistently focused on improving our performance step by step.

Pretty soon, with the help of new trainers/coaches, I was able to advance to the next level and from there we steadily progressed and moved up to a level of difficulty required in international competition.

What I learned from Marion and from my own experience is it takes a long time to train a dressage horse, it forges a bond between rider and horse, and it is an amazingly rewarding and enjoyable journey.

July 2017, about five months ago, Marion remembers she was still two steps away from the highest level of dressage that is seen and performed at the Olympics. “At a point when I was undecided whether to go one step back or ahead, one of my mentors advised me to step ahead TWO steps and ride my first Grand Prix at the upcoming show which was only two weeks away. This idea caught me by surprise as I had not prepared for it at all. I felt I needed at least another year to prepare for this test, and said I’m not ready, maybe in another year…that’s a crazy idea.”

Marion’s mentor asked her: “What do you have to lose?” Marion shares: “I said my face and then I went home and thought about it. I thought what would be the worst thing that could happen? Break a leg? That’s highly unlikely. Getting humbled? Probably and I will get over that. But…if….I came to the conclusion the benefits outweighed the risk. I decided it was the right thing to do because I really did not have much to lose and everything to gain.”

Marion took action and was willing to take imperfect action and push herself beyond her comfort zone. Successful sports and performance coaches agree that it’s the start that stops most people, the fear to move beyond the comfort zone, the limiting beliefs that keep us from pursuing what we really want. Marion is a perfect example that you can overcome all of this and it’s up to you to choose to stay in your comfort zone, where you are, or reach new levels of performance and success.

So what was the next step? You have to understand the highest accomplishment for a rider in dressage is to receive the gold medal which proves skills at the highest level of the sport. Prerequisites are two qualifying scores, each at three different international levels, and Marion already had four. All Marion was missing were two scores at Grand Prix level which was a higher level test than all her previous ones.

So it happened! Karat and Marion rode two successful Grand Prix tests in the 2017 season which brought her the Gold Medal.

How did it feel I asked Marion, riding the test and knowing you qualified?
Marion notes, “I felt a deep gratitude to my horse and a feeling of accomplishment. Initially, I felt an utter feeling of disbelief. Despite some errors in my test – I made those mistakes I was worried about – our whole performance was respectable. I learned that I need to remember other people make mistakes too and how important it is to focus on what I want my ride to be instead of worrying about my potential mistakes (in advance). Riding my first Grand Prix allowed me to experience it and feel my strengths and weaknesses. Now I am much more focused on what I need to do to improve. I feel far more ready for the next step.”

Share how you’re taking action to push yourself beyond your comfort zone in your own life on my Facebook page here .

Author's Bio: 

Ulrike Berzau, Executive Coach & Consultant, works with individuals, teams and organization to achieve exceptional results in life and business. With extensive experience as healthcare executive, she is known for providing highly respected insights and creative solutions to secure continuous advancement and excellence. Ulrike has an unwavering passion for igniting the talent and brilliance in others and her international and multicultural experiences allow her to relate to a diverse audience. Her ambitious, yet well balanced, positive and inspiring mindset is the catalyst of her own success and assures the success of clients, staff and organizations.

Ulrike is the co-author of the International Best-Seller Imagine a Healthy You and an inspirational speaker. She is certified as Thinking into Results Consultant, Passion Test Facilitator, ASAP Engagement Consultant and Achieve Today Coach, and holds a Master’s Degree in Management, a Master’s Degree in Health Science, Physical Therapy, and is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.