I love to learn from different people and see things from various vantage points. I find that everyone--young or old--has something to teach me and something to offer to the world. One of the most gratifying things about my job is that I get to help people reconnect with their own gifts, from which they have become disconnected. I am always curious how riders of all ages and levels of experience fuel their performance, keep a balanced perspective and continue to grow as they pursue their passion and navigate the ups and downs of the show world.
Recently I caught up with junior rider Gracey Hensley, of Grass Valley, CA. Gracey, 12, is a very inspiring person who carries herself with an unusual degree of poise for someone so young. She has already developed and implemented a life and riding philosophy which paves the way for her success in and enjoyment of our sport. She is an eternally positive person who always aims to learn from her rounds and deeply enjoys every moment at the barn, in and out of the saddle. Her goals for this year are to have a successful Onondarka finals and to top the 11 and under Equitation division in Northern California. Currently a student at Arete Charter, Gracey plans to attend Texas A & M or University of Georgia and wants to become a sports psychologist for equestrians. Gracey rides with Patty Ball at Hunterville Stables in Penryn, CA.
DB: Tell me a little bit about your background—how did you become so passionate about horses?
GH: My mom (Tali English Hensley) rode as a girl and trained with Patty Ball in the 1980s. When I was young we had a couple of ponies at home. I started by riding my pony Ginger, but when she passed away my mom thought I should have regular lessons at a barn. I instantly loved it. After riding at Stardust Pony Dreams with Hali Durand, I moved up to horses and started training with Patty Ball. Since February, I have been attending Arete Charter (a home school), so I can spend more time at the barn helping and riding. I ride about 5 horses a day on average.
DB: One of the reasons I wanted to interview you, besides the fact that you want to be a sport psychologist, is that you seem to have a consistently great attitude and amazing focus, particularly for someone your age. Tell me about how you stay so positive all the time.
GH: My belief is that if I look at things in a good way, then they will become that way. My motto is: keep the energy positive; believe in myself.
DB: I’m impressed that you have already articulated a personal motto! Have you ever had a really tough time and had to pull yourself out of it?
GH: Yes, I had a horse a while ago who would pull out (run out) at the jumps if I wasn’t really accurate. It went on for a while, and it was very discouraging. I remember thinking that if I keep practicing, someday he would realize that it wasn’t what I wanted him to do. I kept a positive attitude; I kept believing. He eventually did relax and stopped pulling out.
DB: Do you do anything special to prepare for shows?
GH: Yes, I make sure that I’m not too tired, I eat well and I always write down my goals for each round. I do this the night before and put the paper under my pillow.
DB: You sleep on your goals!
GH: Yes! I believe that if I put what I want out there in words, it helps. Writing it down helps create what I want. I practice the 3 B’s—Belief, Behave, Become. Believe you can do it, behave as if you’ve already done it, become what it is. I also use a lot of visualization. My grandpa videos all my rounds. I watch them and then visualize what I want to change. I visualize before I ride and even once I’m on. Sometimes I also visualize for my horse, how I want him to be.
DB: With all the visualization, you have already ridden your rounds once you actually get on course.
GH: Yes, visualization reassures me that I can do it.
DB: A lot of people battle fears when they ride. How about you?
GH: No, not really, but I admire people who have fear and continue to ride anyway.
DB: Do you deal with fears of not being perfect?
GH: Well, I am very much of a perfectionist, like at school too, and I can be very hard on myself. I just try to watch my videos and learn from my mistakes. I also watch other people and try to learn from them.
DB: Sounds like another important part of your philosophy is an attitude of continual learning. There is always something to learn in every round.
GH: Yes, definitely. Part of what I love about this sport is that every day I learn something new.
DB: What draws you to become a sports psychologist for equestrians?
GH: I just see how all this work has helped me so much, and I feel it is important to help others too. It’s important to reflect on things you want to change (in riding and life) and then fix them. I’d like to help people do that.
DB: Thank you so much for spending this time with me! I think you are a very inspiring young woman and have so much to offer. I’m looking forward to following your career—both in and out of the saddle!