20 Jul Catching Up With John French
Tell us about your goals and plans for the rest of 2018.
Healing would be a #1 goal. I’m focusing on Derby Finals again this year. I’m working on putting together investment agreements for a nice group of young horses, preparing them to show this fall and at Capital Challenge.
Who is your top mount at the moment?
In my barn Center Court (Billy). He’ll eat anything, but shouldn’t! He used to be hard to catch and bring back to the barn from turnout, he would spin and bolt. But Theresa (Petyo-Wallace) used clicker training and it really helped to fix that.
He’s overall pretty quiet , it’s hard to tell if he’s fresh. Every now and then he will see if you are paying attention… One year at HITS in a High Performance class I was a little long and weak at the first jump. He made a big effort to jump it, then landed and put his head down and I went flying over it!
What is your go-to EquiFit product?
I know EquiFit is known for their boots – great fit, long-lasting and my boot of choice. But did you know they make fabulous girths, like the Hunter Girth with T-Foam Liner? A lot of horses are sensitive in that area so to have a girth that molds to the body can make all the difference. The horse is more comfortable, with less tendency to be cold-backed. There aren’t many girths that mold to the horse like that one that are also easy to take care of.
What is your most embarrassing horse show moment?
When I was a junior (a few years, well, a few decades ago) I competed in the Gittings Equitation Finals in Maryland. After we had switched horses, the riders were asked to go back in for awards. But the owner of the horse I had switched to wanted to ride his horse for awards, so i had to quickly switch back on to my pony, Ice Capades. When she spooked at the trophy and I ended up underneath her, I suddenly realized my girth wasn’t tight. I fell off and she took off. She really left the scene, we finally found her in a forest five miles away from the show!
As a professional I was riding Millennium at the La Coruna Horse Show in Spain. He spooked really hard at the liverpool (he wasn’t the best at liverpools) and popped me up. I ended up with both legs on one side of the saddle! I quickly shimmied my way back into the saddle before the next jump and finished the course. Everyone was amazed (including me) and the announcer kept saying ‘WOW’ over and over again!
What win are you most proud of?
My first big professional win is still my proudest. It was at the Washington International Horse Show. I was riding a horse named Ice Palace in the Regular Working Hunter Handy class at night. I had gone back to the hotel to change, it was rainy, there was traffic and I missed my place in the order. When I finally got to the ring, there were only five rounds left. It got worse, I had forgotten my hat, so I had to run up and get it. My boss, Gary Kunsman, was angry, it was not looking good. The course was challenging, full of twists and turns, plus you had top open and close a gate. So I ran up to the stands to watch a a round, then jumped one or two jumps in the schooling area, and had to go in the ring. I didn’t have time to be nervous; I was trying to remember the course! It was amazing – everything fell into place. Rodney Jenkins had the leading score at the time and he was standing at the back gate. The crowd went wild after my last jump, and as I rode by the in-gate I heard Rodney mumble, ‘Sh–.’ I ended up winning the class, Rodney was 2nd, Katie Monahan was 3rd, Charlie Weaver was 4th. There has not been a bigger win in the hunter ring than that one for me.
Who inspired you most while growing up riding?
Rodney Jenkins because he was so natural. One of the greatest horsemen – an incredible jumper rider, as well as an incredible hunter rider. And I also admired Charlie Weaver, he was so quiet on a horse and rode the hunters beautifully.
What is your favorite horse show?
Upperville was my favorite, but I haven’t been there for a long time. I have so many memories of watching and competing with all the great riders I admired. The atmosphere was fantastic.
Now, today, I love Capital Challenge. It really showcases the hunter riders with special classes, it’s a unique hunter event.
What is your favorite part of living and training on the West Coast?
Thirty-one years ago when I came out west for the first time, I showed some horses for another trainer at the Monterey Horse Show in Northern California. The horses did well, so I was interviewed by the newspaper. When they asked what is it like to ride out west I said that I couldn’t believe there were no flies out here! It was true – in Pennsylvania we had these mean green-headed flies, and other bugs buzzing around.
But overall what has kept me out west for the past three decades and for the foreseeable future is the weather, and the fact that you’ve got metropolitan, mountains, ocean – you’ve got it all here. Paso Robles is quiet and quaint but within a reasonable drive of northern and southern California. Ideal!
What is your best advice to someone wanting to pursue a career in this industry?
Be an eternal and thankful student of the sport. Learn from as many people as you can before going out on your own. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – learn – grow – it is ok to ask questions. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad trainer, it actually means you’re a great trainer – you can never learn enough!
If you could ride any horse in the world who would it be?
As a kid I always wanted to ride Gozzi – a bay thoroughbred owned by a junior rider named Caroline Clark. She bought him from Winter Place, Bernie Traurig won a lot on him. Now, I would probably say Harrie Smolder’s stallion Emerald. Not only is he an incredibly scopey and flashy jumper; he would be also be an amazing derby horse.