True Blue: The Making of a Champion

True Blue: The Making of a Champion

October 13, 2019

We all love to have a tricolor hanging from our horse’s bridle—there is a great sense of accomplishment in achieving the consistency which earns a championship. It’s a culmination of many hours, days, months—even years—of practice, training, and thoughtful care.

But, let’s look beyond the moment we’re handed the ribbon and ask: what does it take to be a true champion? What about those small moments of victory that don’t garner an external reward? Is there a larger meaning? And, how do we foster a championship mentality all the time? Here are some of my thoughts—I’d love to hear yours!

In my view, a champion is someone who—

Celebrates all kinds of victories, small and large. Sometimes a victory is getting your horse to move off your leg; sometimes it’s a clear round in the 1.30m. Sometimes it’s just getting a halter on your horse. A champion keeps the endpoint in mind, while staying focused on—and reveling in!—the process of getting there.

Champions know that victories don’t just happen; they’re built one step at a time.

Respects, studies, and congratulates others who out-perform them.

True champions are perpetual students of their sport. They know there is always more to learn. They fearlessly study those who are better than they are, or who have refined a skill they seek to master. Champions are gracious and never bitter about a loss. I think it’s crucial to be able to acknowledge when you’ve been beaten—another horse jumped better than yours, or the rider executed the course or test at a higher level.

A true champion is gracious both in winning and losing.

Digs deep, and keeps at it despite adversity and setbacks. Despite what it looks like on social media, we all have setbacks—times where things aren’t going well, where our horse is lame, or we just aren’t performing our best for whatever reason. These are the times where our championship mentality and grit show their true (tri)colors. Champions dig in, get back to basics, change things up, and work at it. Champions know that growth emerges out of adversity.

Champions take responsibility for their successes AND their failures.

Always puts the horse’s welfare first. Enough said on this one. Horses are our trusted partners, and they depend on us to take care of them. They come first, always. Period.

Remembers where they came from and appreciates the village which has helped them along the way.  We all started somewhere and were helped by many along our path. No ride is a solo flight, even if we’re in the ring on our own. There are scores of individuals who have helped, supported, guided—and a true champion always maintains an appreciation for her village—and endeavors to give back to those who are coming up the ranks.

Remembers there are always unfairnesses—in our sport, and in life. You may have your round during clear weather, while I may have mine during a hail storm. A dog might run across the ring while I’m on course. Or the class got moved from 8 am to the heat of the day at 2 pm. Is any of that fair? Who said life was fair? It just is, and champions accept things they cannot control and dig in—no complaints or excuses.

Champions accept that life’s not fair; it just is.

Most of all, a champion keeps things in perspective, is grateful for what she has, and believes she can accomplish more. A championship attitude is most of all a perspective. It’s a perpetual growth mindset— toward whatever we face, every day. We aim to learn from our experiences and go forward. It’s an attitude of appreciation, of wonder, and of respect for ourselves, our colleagues, and our animals. A championship attitude is appreciating who and what you are—and knowing there is more for you to learn.

Champions have a perspective of gratitude.

In my view, a championship attitude is one that elevates. It’s an attitude of growth, and of keeping in mind the greater purpose. It’s an attitude of appreciation and of giving back. With this kind of perspective, it’s easy to see how a tricolor is much more than a beautiful ribbon.

Keep in touch.

All the best,


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Darby Bonomi
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D A R B Y B O N O M I Ph D
Darby Bonomi
Performance Psychology for Equestrians

For over 25 years, Darby Furth Bonomi, PhD has facilitated positive transformations in clients of all ages.  As a practicing psychologist and consultant, Darby has worked with many people to achieve lasting change and establish the foundations for mental wellness.

Now in her primary role as a performance psychologist and family consultant, Darby merges her life-long experience in the equestrian world—as a rider, parent of riders and owner—with her vast toolbox of psychological and coaching interventions to help riders of all levels and their families reclaim the joy in their sport, leading the way to improved performance and better health. She loves helping clients untangle the complicated situations that tend to arise when horses are added to families.

In addition to writing the wellness column for Street to Stable®, Darby is a contributor to California Riding Magazine, along with publishing her own blog. She serves as an advisor to Giant Steps Therapeutic Equestrian Center and is on the Advisory Committee for the United States Equestrian Team Foundation.

A dynamic speaker and change maker, clients have sought out Darby to help improve their lives, both in and out of the saddle. She is devoted to making the equestrian world—and the world at large—a kinder, gentler and more respectful place.

Darby currently shows in the amateur owner hunters and equitation with her horses Little Wing and DaVinci, alongside her teenage daughters. She is married and has a college age son who steers clear of the barn. She lives in San Francisco.

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