One cool equestrian

Lucy Davis, the new trainer at Old Salem Farm in North Salem, works with riders on the mental as well as physical aspects of equestrian competition.

Equestrian fans will find a new yet familiar face at Old Salem Farm’s Spring Horse Shows next month. Olympic silver medalist Lucy Davis has joined the staff of the elite North Salem facility as its trainer even as she continues her competitive career.

“I’m focused on people who want to move on to the bigger jumper division,” Davis says of the equestrian category that is judged on time and faults as horse and rider surmount an obstacle course. (As opposed to hunter, which is about the form of the horse, and equitation, the form of the rider.)

Lucy Davis aboard Barron during her silver medal-winning run at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Photograph by Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil.

Not to mix our animal metaphors here, but riders sometimes leapfrog from place to place for training at different stages in their progress. No need to do that at Old Salem Farm.

“You can start at ponies here and continue on to the top of the sport,” Davis says of the farm, rated a top venue by the North American Riders Group for five years and host to more than 30 weeks of competition, including September’s prestigious American Gold Cup and the Fall Classic.

At Old Salem — where Davis is boarding her 14-year-old Belgian Sport Horse gelding, Barron, her mount as the American team took home silver at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro — she’ll be working with riders to match them to the right horses and improve their ease in the saddle. But perhaps nothing will be more important than what she can bring to the mental aspect of their rides. This is a young woman who is not only an Olympic champion but a bronze medalist from the 2014 World Championships in Normandy, France, and she has a refreshing, insightful take on what it means to be cool under pressure.

“Everyone deals with it differently,” she says, “but I focus on living in the present moment and not on the externals….There’s nothing to lose, only to win.”

Indeed, unlike performers and athletes who play not to fail, and then become tight and self-conscious, Davis doesn’t assume a defensive, pessimistic posture. Rather, she says, “I ride to go clean.”

And she sees victory and failure as part of an overarching career.

“I look back at the Olympics as two of the most important weeks in my life, but it was just two weeks and the (silver medal-winning ride) was just two minutes,” she says with perspective. “I accept that the process of getting there is as important as being there.”

Preparation is another key in steadying nerves, Davis adds. “Honestly, I’ve been preparing my whole life.”

She started riding as a 5-year-old who would accompany her mother, an amateur rider, to the stables in her native California, then throw a tantrum when it was time to leave. (Davis’ grandfather Robert Barron Frieze was a jockey agent.) Early on, she showed promise in the equitation and hunter divisions before switching to jumper as a teenager. Shortly after, she dropped soccer to concentrate on show jumping full-time but still managed to earn a bachelor’s degree in architectural design from Stanford University. (She is the co-founder of PonyApp, a one-year-old stable management and horse care application.)

At Old Salem Farm, she can build out PonyApp, work with riders, compete and continue to train herself with an eye to the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020 — and beyond. The beauty of equestrian sports is that because much of it — OK, maybe most of it — is about the horse, the sports themselves transcend age and gender. Show jumping is an endeavor in which she can keep learning and growing for many years to come — a career must for Davis.

“I’ve never been in a job where I was not learning and growing all the time,” she says. 

The horses keep her on her toes, she says with a laugh — when she’s not on her butt.

The Spring Horse Shows at Old Salem Farm begin with Welcome Horse Show Day May 6 and then run May 8 through 13 and 15 through 20. There will be hunter-jumper competitions in all age groups, amateur and professional.

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