Motivation is the Mantra: JJ Tate & Her Quest For Success
“Everyone has those heartaches, and it’s just about staying positive through all of it. When things are down, and you’re so tired, it’s important to always find something that motivates and inspires you.”
Jessica Jo (JJ) Tate was served her first taste of FEI Dressage competition when she was just 16 years old. Hopping on the back of a horse at the age of nine, Tate’s passion for the discipline burned bright from the beginning. Over the course of 29 years, Tate has focused all of her energies on working toward one goal: to be the very best she can be and to represent the United States of America on a team at the international level one day.
“When I had that first experience with international competition many years ago,” said Tate, “the love for that really stuck with me. There’s just something so special about being in the barn late at night after you’ve ridden your freestyle under the lights, and you’re poulticing legs at 11 o’clock; it’s just so exciting. So, I really want to continue to do that I want to be on a team – and I intend to achieve that goal. I am always working and building for the future.”
Training throughout her career with classical Dressage master and USDF Hall of Fame inductee Charles De Kunfy, Tate’s list of accomplishments is robust. In 1999, she led her North American Young Rider team to a Silver medal, and competed in the Pan American Games Selection Trials. In 2006, Tate and her mount Cambay won the Grand Prix Special at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL, making them FEI High Point Champions. They were also World Cup reserve finalists, longlisted for the FEI World Equestrian Games™, and were top finishers in the Grand Prix at Dressage at Devon. Tate also finished as the runner up in Robert Dover’s “Search for the Next American Equestrian Star.”
However, it’s not just Tate’s enthusiasm for life or her bubbling personality that are recognized throughout the Dressage community. Her work ethic cannot be matched, and she carries the attitude of a successful businesswoman and athlete around with her, too. Recently, Tate’s successes have pivoted back into the competition arena, where she has been developing a talented string of top level horses. This year, Tate’s victories included several top ten finishes at the FEI levels, and a first-place finish in the CDI-W at Dressage at Devon aboard the 2003 Westphalian gelding, Faberge (Florestan 1 x Brentano II), owned by Elizabeth Guarisco.
“It’s been exciting,” Tate explained of her shifting goals and current elite mounts. “I had some really good horses before and was working on an international career. Then of course one goes lame and that’s the end of it — you look around your stable and you have a bunch of four and five-year-olds and you’re like… ‘Guess I better get riding!’ At the end of the day, you’ve just got to show up and do the work, train in a good way, manage the horses well, and create an environment in which they succeed.
I’m fortunate at the moment to have a pretty great string of FEI horses,” she continued. “During those years where I didn’t have a top-level horse, I was still training many horses to the Grand Prix, but my students were riding them. That was a wonderful contribution to the sport, and for a while Team Tate was kind of a springboard for young trainers to come and apprentice, and then go out on their own. I’m really proud of that, too, but I love riding. I enjoy the training and I got to a place where I had over 26 horses in my program. It was great for everyone who worked for me because there was a lot to ride, and learn from, and show, and we were an educational facility.”
The operation, referred to as “Team Tate,” was housed in Maryland for many years before Tate decided to shift her focus and make a big change. Three years ago, she connected with a life coach, asked herself where her passions really lied, and responded to a text message from Oded Shimoni that directed her to a farm in Landrum, South Carolina. “I had wanted to downsize anyway,” Tate noted, “and so I thought this would be a way to work smarter and not harder. In that moment, I had to take a look at what I wanted it all to become. My love is international sport, so I stepped back and reevaluated.”
She elaborated, “I decided that I wanted a permanent base, and a permanent staff, and horses that were in my care for a long time, that would go to the top level of the sport with me. So, we made a move, and we came [to Landrum] and it all sort of worked out. It was a little scary to make that change, because things were going so well. I decided to cut my business in half and attempt to get horses that people wanted me to ride and show. I love teaching and I teach a lot and find fulfillment in that, but where my love lies every day is in riding, and training, and figuring out how a horse learns, what motivates them, what their plan should be, and how we go about executing that.”
The move proved to be a smart decision, as Tate now has five horses competing, or on the verge of competing, at the highest levels of sport. With even more in the production line, her future looks brighter than ever. What has contributed to the success of her happy, healthy mounts? A consistent program mixed with a willingness to make whatever needs to happen, happen. “I always tell my young trainers — the biggest thing you need to have is an imagination,” said Tate. “What is this horse going to feel like when it’s not doing the things you don’t like? What can I do to change this horse’s thinking, and what will that feel like?
How does it all happen? It takes a long time,” stated Tate. “At the end of the day, it’s a human relationship sport. You think it’s just a horse sport, and so many people think ‘oh, I’m good with horses, so I can do it,’ but you actually have to develop good people skills and communication tools. When you’re really up front with the owners and can communicate, and make it a team; I like a team with my horse, and my staff, and it’s a team with the owners, that’s why I call it ‘Team Tate.’”
As the 2019 competition season heats up for JJ Tate, her focus on the goals she has set for herself is stronger than ever. With hard work, determination, and a well- thought out and executed program, there is little telling what the successful future will hold, but it is clear that it will be just that: an abundant success. “They say that true mastery is composed of (at least) 10,000 hours that you’re supposed to put in,” Tate concluded. “I’ve definitely put in a lot of hours! It’s neat to see that in the last few years, the horses are coming into their own, and things are starting to really fall into place. Everyone has those heartaches, and it’s just about staying positive through all of it. When things are down, and you’re so tired, it’s important to always find something that motivates and inspires you.”
See the full article and others like it here, in the 2019 Adequan® Global Dressage Festival Commemorative Program.