Sitting across from her that night, I could tell how honored she was. After just accepting the award for the 2016 Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) Coach of the Year, Ann Fowler, of Cazenovia College in Cazenovia, New York, was beaming from head to toe. “WHAT!!!” She had exclaimed in her high pitch, a sound that many had come to appreciate over the years. Her excitement was everything we, her students, had hoped for, and it was apparent that she deserved the award she was given when the Centenary University team cheered even louder than we did. She is someone who makes a special impact on everyone around her, not just those in her proximity.
When I look back on my collegiate riding career, I see Ann by my side the entire way. Her nomination for the award was a shoo-in. Current students and alumni from all over the country stepped up to the plate to honor this person who had guided us, supported us and laughed with us.
What makes a good coach? I think several things factor in. To my teammates and me, a good coach is someone who doesn’t sugarcoat things. If you are having a not-so-great ride, Ann will be the first to let you know. If you are having an amazing ride, Ann will also be the first to let you know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ann without a smile on her face. The way her spirit fills up a room is a powerful thing. I remember the first day that I met her—Cazenovia College riding evaluations 2012. She was instantly one of my favorite people. She was a little eccentric with her crazy red hair and her deep blue riding pants, patched with stars and she was sporting a thick purple headband. Her smile stretched from ear to ear, and it was obvious to me right away that she made friends everywhere she went.
Dressage is a beautiful sport. What makes it so unique is the elegance that a horse-and-rider pair demonstrates as one. IDA takes that partnership and builds upon it in a different way. It takes a special kind of person to climb into a van with up to 10 college students, travel all across the northeast (sometimes farther), put them on a horse they’ve never met—let alone ridden—help them create that same graceful partnership in a 10-minute time frame and then do it again for at least three more students. It takes an even more impressive person to do that for close to 20 years.
I was always reserved growing up. I was quiet and timid and I never felt like a natural-born leader. At the end of my sophomore year of college, Ann approached me and asked if I would like to be a captain. A little taken aback, a little nervous about the entire choice, I hesitantly accepted the offer. It took a little getting used to, but I got the hang of it. Now that it’s officially over, I would like to think that I made her proud. She knew that I could do it and because she had the faith in me, I began to have faith in myself.
I only wish that each rider could have the opportunity to have an Ann Fowler in her life. It makes things so much more interesting. She makes me laugh a little more and worry a little less. She makes me sit up a little straighter when I ride and smile a little more when I look back on my college memories. It all makes me happy because if she hadn’t taken me under her wing back on that warm August day in 2012, I wouldn’t be anywhere close to the person that I am today. So here is to excellent coaches. May we know them, may we appreciate them and may we love them.