What My Dad Taught Me: A Tribute from Ali Smallpage, Equestrian

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With Father’s Day right around the corner, I can’t help but think how I wouldn’t be where I am without my father, especially in the horse world. It’s a time we celebrate the hard-working, loyal and treasured father-like figures that support us. In honor of Father’s Day, I wanted to share some of the memories that I’ve shared with my dad.

Although my dad grew up in San Francisco playing soccer and basketball, and not in the horse world, he knows what it is to be part of a team. He knows what it is to be competitive and nervous. Because of this, he is very influential in my mental game when it comes to horses. Whether it was a big competition, a new level, or a small, backyard schooling show, my dad taught me that you always bring your A-game. If you always bring your A-game, your A-game gets better. If your A-game gets better, then you get better. Your horse gets better. If you and your horse get better, you open yourself up to more opportunities. This is true not only in horses, or sports in general, but in life.

My favorite story about my dad with the horses happened when I was about 12 or 13 years old. We had moved to Minnesota and were at the barn. He would always pick me up on his way home from work. By now, he knew about horse time (aka 20 minutes really means two hours). So, he was always “late” picking me up because he knew I’d find something to keep me occupied. On this day, though, we needed to leave on time, so he was helping me wrap up and put all my gear away. The last thing we had to do was give my horse, York, clean water. So, we filled up the buckets at the end of the aisle, and dad helped me carry them down to her stall. Together we hung the buckets up, but then he got this weird, quizzical look on his face. I stared at him wondering what he’s wondering about. Obviously, thinking parents are dumb (because I’m 12/13 and all). York was drinking her fresh, clean water, and if you’ve seen a horse drink, you know what I’m talking about. My dad, who has been in the horse world now for a good part of 8 years, had never seen a horse drink. He was absolutely dumbfounded that York was sipping quietly in her bucket, not slurping and lapping like a dog. We stood there and watched York finish drinking, and I remember thinking, this was fun. This was an experience I could share with my dad. Of course, outwardly, I’ll never let him live it down. 

So, this Father’s Day, I remember times after a “growing pain” fight with my dad, he’d always wander off, and under his breath say, “One day you’ll get it. One day, you’ll understand.” Dad, I get it. I understand. You may not always understand my obsession with horses, but thank you for always being there and supporting me.