The Trouble With Heroes

I now had trouble finding and keeping Heroes. When looking for heroes in the real world should I expect my heroes to be infallible? Was my hero bar set too high for mere mortals? Just how human will I allow my heroes to be?

My heroes changed, as I grew older. At an early age I adored Mighty Mouse. He would come to save the day. I just knew it. He told me this every Saturday morning. When I was older I dreamed about National Velvet. Oh! How the wind blew in my hair as I galloped around the living room when I won the Grand National on Pie! With more maturity I read about and idolized William Steinkraus. I had graduated to idolizing real people. Now at 63 my heroes are Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Charlotte Dujardin and my Mother.

At a young age I did not differentiate between the real world and the made up world. Good was good, the same in a book or a movie or during school. If “it” made me feel protected, cherished or special then “it” was good. Superman never hurt a nice person. Roy Rogers only fought the evil people in the defense of the defenseless. There was a clear division between evil and good to my naïve, young mind.

My intention to overcome adversity and be good at something was sparked by the story of Velvet Brown and Misty of Chincoteague. I was still stuck in the dream state of how I wanted the world to be, but I was now aware that the going would not be smooth or easy. I grew up swimming and diving competitively so I already knew that discipline and persistence was required to be ”good” at something. Swimming taught me that you could be “good” at something and still get beaten by someone faster than you. No shame; just work a little harder or longer and then you’ll be “good” and also win. I was closer to realizing the “Trouble with Heroes” but still in a dream state.

As I matured from awkward teen to newly minted twenty-something with a university degree I started looking for my heroes in the real world. I was always an avid reader of books and especially books about riding. These book heroes included William Steinkraus and Alois Podhajsky. Horsemanship that was based on compassionate personal behavior towards horses and people became central to my own behavior. It wasn’t easy finding real life examples that measured up to this lofty ideal. In fact it was easier to find the example of how NOT to behave. However, I was sure that “I was better than that”. Arrogant youth, thy name was Carol.

Personal Aside: I want to stop to thank my friends and family members that coped daily with my idealistic (and possibly insufferable) attitudes while on my quest for superior horsemanship. I saw myself as a kind and dedicated exponent of the equestrian arts. I must have been an insufferable and narrow-minded bore to be around. I hide behind the banner of “I Meant Well”. Thank you for sticking with me during this awkward learning phase.

Let’s flash forward 45 years (or so). It was a very bumpy ride. There were quite a few real life people that at first look I would think, “Hmmm, I like what I see here; this is effective and compassionate riding”, only to later witness these same people in an all too human loss of patience and more violent use of aids. How do you know when an aid or a harsh word has crossed over from effective to abusive? This was an important question with a slippery answer.

I now had trouble finding and keeping Heroes. When looking for heroes in the real world should I expect my heroes to be infallible? Was my hero bar set too high for mere mortals? Just how human will I allow my heroes to be?

Good training requires a clear idea of where you are going and how you’re going to get there. However, we know every horse is different and needs different approaches to learn well. I needed examples to emulate. But who do I trust to have the right answer?

Living a good life is not easy. How do I cause no harm to others while I work towards my life goals? I know there were times that I never saw the hurt I caused in others. Forgive me.

Here are a Three of my Grown Up Heroes.


Blog Ruth_Bader_Ginsburg pic1. Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Supreme Court Justice since 1993, showed me that you could be of the minority opining and still express your opinion, clearly and confidently in a quiet voice. Here was a human being that overcame life obstacles without trampling others beneath her feet. Here was someone whose opinion may have been in the minority but was justly recognized as valid.

Here are two quotes that resonate with me and I carry them with me through the rough times in the saddle and out of the saddle.

 Ruth Bader Ginsberg: ON CRITICISM AND NOT GETTING A MAJORITY VOTE (on the Supreme Court Decision)

“I’m dejected, but only momentarily, when I can’t get the fifth vote for something I think is very important. But then you go on to the next challenge and you give it your all. You know that these important issues are not going to go away. They are going to come back again and again. There’ll be another time, another day.”


“You think about what would have happened … Suppose I had gotten a job as a permanent associate. Probably I would have climbed up the ladder and today I would be a retired partner. So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great good fortune.”

Was she without fault? No. Ruth Bader Ginsberg acknowledged that she had spoken hastily without thinking about the consequences. In general the Supreme Court Justices are to avoid commenting on political candidates. As reported in the LA Times 9/19/2016 “Ginsburg said that she despaired for the country if Trump were elected, and she described him as egotistical, inconsistent and a “faker.” She faulted Trump for saying “whatever comes into his head at the moment,” but then acknowledged that she too had spoken without thinking about the consequences.

A younger me may have said, “Well, she was a disappointment” and not value her heroic example. Now I say “Well, that is how to respond if I ever speak without thinking about the consequences”.

Blog Charlotte_DUJARDIN_JEM2014 pic2. Charlotte Dujardin

Charlotte Dujardin earned the hero status in my eyes by not just her words but also her actions personally and professionally. As an elite International Competitor you are under constant scrutiny. Every day cameras are poised to capture any blunder or bad training or awkward personal moment. News outlets can’t wait to offer good money for any sensational photo, however misleading, which may cause an increase in their readership. Instead there are landslides of videos on YouTube and photos in many news outlets that confirm a history of steady, quiet and cheerful riding/training/showing. I had the good fortune to witness her competing at the World Cup in Las Vegas 2015.

Riders knows that training is never easy and never simple. How could Charlotte be that even tempered? How could everything she do be that easy? Answer: it wasn’t. Carl Hester (Charlottes mentor and coach) and she point out publicly that there was more than one short-tempered exchange between them during training sessions. Charlotte has had her personal problems publicly scrutinized when her long time partner Dean Wyatt, separated from her due to Charlotte’s overwhelming career demands that resulted in a lack of time and attention to her relationship with him. His very public marriage proposal after her triumph in the Rio Olympics drew (mostly) acclaim. Her entire competitive career was an important part of who she was, so he would accept her as she was as long as she made room in her life for him. Charlottes riding and competing example, year after year, showed a heroic consistency of virtues that has her at the top of my Horse Heroes List and her public acknowledgement of her personal missteps and correction of her priorities shot her to the top of my Personal Heroes List.

Blog Mom pic
Mom on her 50th Wedding Anniversary being toasted by Dad and brother George. She was never happier than when she was with her family.

3. My Mother

My Mother rounds out this list of heroes. She was not a Supreme Court Justice. The height of her participation in the horse world was when she carefully petted a pony over the fence. Once. Her triumph was to raise me to adulthood without murdering me in my bed. (Spoiler alert: she was provoked. Constantly.) Her success at raising two boys and a tomboy who seemed to spend all their waking hours hell-bent on pushing her buttons raises Mom’s status to Personal Hero List Topper. Instead of moving to a fancier house she made due with the fixer upper that Dad worked on in the evenings and on weekends. She was happy beyond words the year Dad put in a second bathroom. We ate meatloaf every week and ate out only once a week at the local diner, who offered dinners for fewer than five dollars. Why? So all three of her kids could go to college. Yes, Mom lost her temper. We (her charming children) would say to each other “there she goes again”. We were not very sympathetic children were we? But still, she loved us knuckleheads. Whatever we wanted to do with our lives she was behind fully. (Well, it took me until I was 16 years old to convince her that horses were not a phase.) Yes, I had to sit on papers in the car on the way home from lessons so I would not “stink up her car”.

I learned perseverance from Mom. Things went badly regularly with three kids. She would yell. She would stomp around, growling about our latest transgressions. But she saw to it that her beloved family always had three things: a comfy house, good home cooked meals, and love. (Whether we wanted it or not, no matter what stupid behavior we exhibited that day.) This trifecta of unadorned life is something that happens daily in the horse world. Be like Mom and care for your horse(s) equally in the rough times as well as the easy times. Tomorrow will come. You’ll have another chance at making something good happen.

I learned to value friends for life from Mom. Dad and the kids were a focus of her life but her sanity was in her group of friends from childhood. Her best friend from childhood continues to be my God Mother and good friend (on Facebook no less) long after my Mother went to her grave. My Mother taught me how to value these relationships by example. Honoring the horse you ride is an important part of training. Never Forget, the horse you’re riding knows whether you regard him/her as a valued friend or not. They will never forget that friendship.

I learned forgiveness from my Mom. There were major upsets amongst my Mom’s family. She grieved her emotional separation from her sister long after her sister’s death. “Don’t let that happen to you,” she would say to me “Forgive what ever happens. It’s not as important as having family and friends”. My Mom’s mother was “difficult”. But several times a year we would, as a family, visited her. “Be nice. She is my mother and important to me.” She did her best to do the right thing even when “the right thing” was not always easy or even welcomed. Your ability to do “the right thing”  and forgive any bad behaviour during the heat of a difficult training session will lift you to Hero status in the horse’s eyes.

The many things that I learned from Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Charlotte Dujardin and my Mom, personally and professionally, follow me into the saddle when I ride today. These heroes are not idealistic constructs but people that show the way to handling our all too human feelings. They show us how to treat people and horses with more compassion and respect.

Here are some thoughts from my Heroes.

*Have a well thought out training plan or opinion and say it clearly and confidently. These words turn into actions (or riding) worthy of doing.

*The majority of the time it’s not necessary or helpful to yell (or use rough aids). However you probably will yell from time to time. Apologize and move on. You are still a good person.

*Try not to say thoughtless things (or use thoughtless aids) but if you say or do something thoughtless then apologize. You’ll get over feeling embarrassed eventually. Use the embarrassment to learn how not to be thoughtless the next time.

*Offer your friendship to all you meet (or all horses you ride). It is the only correct way to deal with angry or aggressive people (or horses). There is usually sadness and hopelessness behind their anger. More anger from you will only fuel further anger.

*Value the small things people (or horses) do for you. Big expensive things come with very large karma price tags you don’t want to pay. The small generosities add up to a fortune in happiness over the years. If you ignore a generous action from a person (or horse) you risk that it will never be offered again.

Who are your Heroes, horse or non-horse? Why are they your Heroes?














William Steinkraus, my childhood idol stands the test of time.

I was a horse crazy, horseless pre teen growing up on the outskirts of The Main Line of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My young nose was pressed up against the window watching the horse community but I could not participate. My parents were sure that my horse obsession was “just a phase”. To be fair the household budget was stretched thin just providing my two brothers and myself all the advantages they already deemed necessary for our successful upbringing. We were groomed to be successful, literate members of society. Accordion lessons (Dad had a friend who played accordion in a pub, plus it was cheaper than buying a piano), clarinet lessons (Dad idolized Benny Goodman), chorus, drama club, swimming and diving teams (summer and winter league), soccer, football, marching band, economics club, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Junior Achievement, all while maintaining an A or B average in school. Horses were not part of the plan.

Lucky for me the horse community was covered in local newspapers and magazines as part of the Society Pages. I would read any article with any mention of the horse community. I would moon over the black and white photograph of any horse; I daydreamed of skillfully guiding a big, powerful horse around a show jumping course in the Wanamaker Oval to thunderous applause. I distinctly remembered that the spectators were applauding not because I won the trophy but they were applauding my skill and horsemanship.

Where did I learn to value horsemanship over winning when I was not even riding yet? The examples were reported in the newspaper features and the colorful magazine inserts in the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer. Top riders were quoted extolling the respect and skill needed to ride horses successfully. It took a person of strong moral character and humility to be a good horseman or woman, they reminded all readers. That was a fact printed in black and white in the Inquirer. I believed it.

William Steinkraus repeatedly appeared in print both newspapers and books on riding. His riding skill and horsemanship was held up as the example of good horsemanship. Fifty-seven years later I am reading the same tributes to William Steinkraus on Facebook.

Here is a link to for a Tribute to William Steinkraus written by Mollie Sorge for “The Chronicle of the Horse” detailing his life in and out of the saddle.

George Morris wrote a February 2008 article for “The Chronicle of the Horse” titled “Bill Steinkraus’ Two Dozen Useful Aphorisms”. The wisdom in these “useful aphorisms” stood the test of time and was republished in The Chronicle on December 13, 2013. At the close of the article George Morris wrote “Aren’t Bill Steinkraus’ aphorisms wonderful? They are little gems, pearls of wisdom that keep you on the right track. That’s why I had to share them with you.”

Here is the link to the whole article by George Morris.

In my formative years I learned that a Good Horseman or Horsewoman

  • Never lost their temper
  • Always treated their horse with respect and patience
  • Never cursed or acted crudely to anyone whether they were groom or a society maven
  • Never blamed their horse for mistakes
  • Learned to lose gracefully
  • Always sincerely congratulated the winner
  • Took time to encourage the younger riders follow their example

I was not so naïve to think that the uglier side of human nature did not exist. Every day I witnessed examples of  cruelty to man and beast. I aspired to be a better human being just like my horse world heroes. I knew if I just followed their example I would become a respected horseperson also. Winning ribbons and trophies was secondary to displaying good horsemanship.


This picture of Bill Steinkraus and Fleet Apple gliding over a huge jump makes riding well look easy. The horse looks confident and unstressed. The elastic and balanced harmony the pair displayed is ideal. Here was proof that this harmony between rider and horse was achievable by anyone with the self-discipline and the persistence to practice.

Here is a slide show of William Steinkraus riding other horses over the years.


I salute my childhood idol who influenced me and many others.

You stand the test of time.

BlogyoungSteinkraus     BlogolderSteinkraus

William Steinkraus October 12, 1925 – November 29, 2017