Op-Ed: Breeding a Champion: Harnessing the Power of Israel
As far back as I can remember, show jumping has been my passion. I fell in love with the sport at the age of 8, and it has shaped my life ever since.
I was introduced to horses by a friend. She had to literally drag me to that first lesson. But when I began to ride, I knew that I had found my calling. The feeling of the horse beneath me, the strong, stubborn beast responding to my slightest gestures, our wills blending to create singular, majestic movements, was simply unforgettable.
The feeling remains just as powerful as that first time, and I rise every morning excited for the day's rides. It has become a part of me - my heart beats in sync with my horse's every stride.
Without exaggeration, I have spent most of my life riding horses. In high school, instead of hanging out with friends in the afternoons, I spent my time honing my skills, bonding with my horses, and pushing both the horses and myself well beyond our limits. I now manage a horse farm in Wellington, FL where I continue to train for competitions while breeding championship horses.
As passionate as I am about horses, my heart is shared by two great loves. I discovered the second, the Land of Israel, when I took a trip there with my family to celebrate my Bat Mitzvah.
As it had been with riding, my connection with Israel was deep and immediate. We celebrated my Bat Mitzvah with a special ceremony on the edge of the Dead Sea and spent several days taking in the sites and experiencing Israel's rich history and culture, including and unforgettable hike up Masada and a moving prayer service at the Western Wall. I was overwhelmed by the holiness of the land and thrilled by the very real connection I had forged with my Jewish heritage, with my roots. It all felt so natural, so "right," and I vowed to continue to strengthen my connection with the Jewish homeland.
Before long, I became obsessed with a new dream: to combine my two passions and represent Israel at the highest level of show jumping competition.
More than ten years after my Bat Mitzvah, that dream is becoming a reality. In 2011, I took the ultimate leap and became an Israeli citizen. And just last year, I began to ride for Israel at international show jumping competitions, proudly donning blue and white and sporting the Israeli flag.
As word of my competition status spreads far and wide, I am asked if Israel is really ready for show jumping and if I believe the country is destined for true greatness in this sport (or any other).
From where I sit, I believe we are well on our way. There are no words to describe my sense of pride when I see "Israel" written next to my name on the scoreboard and no limit to my determination to achieve great things for my country. But I alone cannot determine Israel's success.
It's up to Israel as a nation, and it is all a matter of trust. I'll explain.
The horses that I raise on my farm are stunning and fierce, and, at first, they are also stubborn and wild. They resist my direction and fight me for control. But with a little patience and a lot of hard work, I am able to gain their trust, and we work together to produce awe-inspiring results.
The Israeli people react similarly when they feel that they are being saddled with a new or unusual responsibility or challenge. We are a willful, proud, and strong people, and buck wildly at the thought of losing control. But if we learn to trust "the process" and each other, the raw energy that runs through this great country can be put to good use, perhaps even transformed into something beautiful.
I do believe that Israel can achieve true greatness in show jumping (or any other sport) assuming that we as a nation can clear this one final hurdle. We must learn to truly trust each other, take direction when needed, and always work as a team. It's the raw power of the Land that will continue to bring "talent" from around the world "home," but it will be the discipline and trust we develop together that will allow us to become champions and a "light unto the nations." Hopefully, the sport of show jumping itself will play a part in setting the positive example we need to succeed.
Here's to Israeli success in every discipline and at every level. Here's to harnessing the power of Israel and achieving great things.
Danielle Goldstein is an award-winning Grand Prix show jumper and the first female show jumper to ride for Israel. She manages Starwyn Farms, a jumper facility located in Wellington, FL, and runs several innovative programs that are raising the bar on integrity and professionalism in equestrian sports. Danielle hopes to recruit a full team to compete on Israel’s behalf for the 2014 World Equestrian Games and 2016 Olympic Games.