Photo credit: Carien Schippers
Imagine months of preparation, a lifetime of focused effort. Muscles burn and beads of sweat drip as the body strives for perfection. Everything is aligned into flawless synchronicity for the one momentous chance to bring home the gold.
It’s not the Olympics, but the Maccabiah Games. Under the supervision of the International Olympic Committee, the Maccabiah Games is the third largest sporting event in the world, featuring ten thousand athletes, eighty countries, and forty-three different sports. A Jewish competition founded in 1932 on a four-year cycle, this year’s Games will only be the second year that equestrian sports are included.
The equestrian portion of the Maccabiah Games includes a dressage and a show jumping team. Rebecca Cord, of Cochranville, PA, a FEI dressage rider, USEF L Graduate, USDF bronze and silver medalist, ARIA and USDF certified instructor, was chosen from thousands of riders across the country to join the dressage team and represent the United States. Cord will be one of eight riders and over a thousand athletes wearing the stars and stripes during the 20th World Maccabiah Games on July 4-18th in Israel.
“I am so excited to be selected from the pool,” said Cord. “This is taking two important aspects of my life, dressage and my heritage, and combining them into this intersection of Olympic-level sport.” The unifying concept is that despite being in direct rivalry with other countries, every competitor has a shared heritage and is part of the Jewish community. It is a chance to represent and show pride for your country, while overcoming a cultural divide and connecting to the shared Jewish identity.
Flexibility and Confidence
While it was always a goal to one day compete on an international level, Cord did not realize this opportunity would come so soon. A fellow Jewish client recommended Cord apply for the Games, which includes a series of applications, written essays, and riding videos, to try for a spot on the team. “I had heard of the Maccabiah Games before, but I hadn’t realized there was an equestrian part,” said Cord. “It was nerve-wracking, because I had to wait for several months to hear back. There’s a team of people who view the resumes, read the essay questions, and watch the videos. That takes some time.”
One of the essay questions pertained to the rider as a person: what made this particular person think she can handle the pressure, unpredictability, disappointment that ultimately comes from traveling to another country, catch riding other horses, and competing on such a grand scale? Cord was confident. She said, “It was a tricky question, but ultimately, it’s what I do every day training dressage horses. I may have plans to accomplish, but maybe that horse isn’t feeling it, we are having a problem, and I have to adapt very quickly.”
She continued, “It is just like when you go down the centerline in a show. You need to make snap decisions and be adjustable. Maybe in the warm up, your horse was being lazy and you had to get after him, but as soon as he steps in the ring is hot and excitable. You have to be flexible. Horses don’t work in a direct line.” She laughed. “If you make a plan, they will change it on you!”
When asked how she will manage leaving her life—the business, her clients, the horses, and her family—for a month while participating in the Maccabiah Games, Cord was thoughtful. “I have a facility that I work out of, so how the business is structured is that I’m only responsible for riding and teaching. The barn owner has employees to take care of the horses, so that’s something I don’t have to worry about. I know my clients will miss me, but this is an excellent chance for them to take what they’ve learned and put it into practice without me standing there, telling them what to do or making their horses easier. I’m encouraging them to be more independent.”
As for her family, Cord is thankful for a strong support system. “They are making it easier for me to go on this adventure. It’s not easy by any means, but they make it easier.” Never in a position to pay for an expensive sport, Cord started working in a barn to pay for lessons in her early teens. Through high school, she realized working with horses is what she wanted to do with her life. “I graduated high school early—I lived in Indiana at the time—and found a working student position teaching lessons on a dressage farm in Pennsylvania.” It evolved from there. “I rode a lot of horses, mostly. I rode for top people, I was a groom, a barn manager, ran a boarding, training, and sales barn, and then I was hired as a trainer at Hilltop Farm in Maryland. It was a very good experience and I earned a lot of credentials. I’ve really worked hard for my education.”
Proper education and knowledge is a cornerstone in Cord’s foundation. “When I educate myself, both my riding and teaching improves. I am lucky; I work with great clients that trust me to bring these great horses up the levels. I try to get as much education as I can to better myself and those that I teach.”
The Right Mindset
Now what is she doing, less than two months away from the Games, to prepare herself? “I’m riding a lot, mostly. I’m taking lessons, working on my own fitness by cross training, and making arrangements for horses that need to be ridden while I’m gone.” In addition to all the physical preparation demands, Cord is also focusing on getting into the right mindset. “It’s so important to take care of yourself mentally. It’s so easy to get stressed, and that’s not a good way to go into something like this. It’s just starting to hit home that this is Olympic-quality competition and this is my first step into that arena. It’s a big milestone in my career.”
While wanting to give it her all and be the best she can be, Cord is also trying to find balance. “While the focus and the goal is bringing home the USA team gold medal, I also want to get the most I can from the experience. I want to relish each moment and enjoy the camaraderie of all of these Jewish people from all over the globe and this competition that is bringing us all together.”
As an established nation, the United States team is fundraising both to cover the American team expenses and to help assist riders who cannot afford to go, such as those whose countries do not have the means to help them.
“That’s what this is really all about,” said Cord. “We are bringing together dressage and jumpers, but also bringing together Jewish people. We are helping each other be out here. Not everyone has reasonable means to compete and without a strong participant base, we wouldn’t even be able to have this competition. It’s something you just don’t see a lot, and that’s what makes the Maccabiah Games really special.”
The 2015 team coach Anna Jaffe and 2015 team rider Sandra Cohen return as chairs for the 2017 Maccabiah Games. The USA Maccabiah equestrian team is comprised of Rebecca Cord, Hope Cooper, Anna Jaffe, Leah Marks for dressage, and Syd Shulman, Cloe Hymowitz, Andrea Glazer and Haley Schaufeuld for show jumping. The chef d'équipe is Kate Levy, and Jessica Rattner, Oded Shimoni, and Neal Shapiro are advisors and team selectors. Best of luck, Team USA!