Denny Emerson; Old Dog, New Tricks
At 80 years old, Denny Emerson is an undeniably an old dog in the horse industry, challenging us through his example to learn new tricks.
I spoke to Denny today after my twenty-year hiatus from sport. Twenty years ago, I retired at the 18th fence on the cross-country course at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event on a little mare named Speed Axcel. Denny had given her to me when he retired from competition at 60 and began re-thinking his approach to horses.
Speed Axcel was definitely a catalyst to his new way of approaching horses, and so was his retirement. I remember Jack LeGoff and Jimmy Wofford saying the same thing; the day they retired from competition was the day something shifted, allowing them to become the best version of themselves with horses. Shifting the lens from an agenda-oriented approach requiring horses to meet goals and timelines for competition, to something relationship-based took the pressure off, and the result was magic! With the accompanying sigh of relief and a slower approach to daily training, these accomplished old horsemen ended up further ahead in the end. Denny calls this phenomenon, ‘to make haste slowly’.
At the time I inherited Axcel, I was a competitive rider on a comeback trail, after my life had been blown off the tracks by the careless blow of a young horse’s hoof. My fiancé Mike St. Denis had suffered a catastrophic brain injury. A few years later, when I met Denny at the Fair Hill International in Maryland, I was a single mother trying to put the pieces of my life back together and talk myself into a more sensible life as a teacher. I wasn’t buying it.