Lucy Davis is not your typical showjumper. It’s not just that the 22 year old Californian recently graduated from Stanford University, with a degree in architecture – because as World of Showjumping discovers here we have one of the biggest talents in the sport secretly adoring maths and science, talking to us about environmental sustainability, filling us in on the architectural biennale in Venice, letting us know she loves to run (‘especially when I am in cool cities, it would be a shame to go for a snooze in the hotel room with all the amazing places I get to travel to’) and explaining how her experiences from soccer have given her a nice set of tools on how to be a team player.
It is time to draw an early conclusion: Davis is diverse. Calm, reflected and intelligent – she will certainly make you listen to what she has to say and make an impression that is quite guaranteed to last.
Lucy started riding as soon as she could walk. Lucy’s grandfather – who has had a huge influence on her life and career – was a jockey agent at a race track, so her mum Kelly was always around horses. Growing up in Los Angeles, right of Sunset Boulevard – tucked into the Santa Monica mountains – it was maybe not obvious that little Lucy would become one of the best riders in the world. But, with a unique equestrian community in the neighbourhood that was where it all started. “So I actually grew up in LA, but with horses in my front yard - which is pretty unheard of,” Lucy laughs.
Given the fact that Davis was of the quite competitive sort, her parents quickly decided that only doing such an individual sport as equestrianism was maybe not the best solution. Hence, riding was supplied with soccer as “doing a team sport would prevent that I become a total terror,” Davis smiles. “So, I played soccer really competitively till I was 16, and then it got to the point where I had to choose. The commitment to both got too big and I chose riding.”
Years spend doing hunters and equitation in the US, certainly gave the young American rider the right dose of basics to take her quickly to the next level. “It definitely teaches you accuracy,” Davis says. “It´s also about being smooth, and seamless as well as being in the right balanced position. And the finals are a big deal, so already at a young age you get to ride in high pressure situations. I think I benefitted from all these aspects when I decided to take showjumping up more professionally.”
After parting ways with soccer and deciding she really wanted to focus showjumping, Lucy started training with Archie Cox, Dick Carvin and Susie Schroer in Los Angeles. From there, she went from strength to strength taking double gold at the North American Juniors and then individual silver at the Young Rider Championships.
That would open doors for Davis. “The year I won silver, the European Young Masters League invited the three medallists from our North American Championships to their final in Frankfurt. My trainer could not go, it was right before Christmas, but as Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum had a little bit to do with bringing the North American riders over - and also was pregnant at the time and not riding - she set it up so that I could train with her during the show,” Lucy explains. “I won the competition, and had a great experience with Meredith and Markus. That was my first show in Europe, and I got a bit of a taste of the fact that I could take the sport a lot more serious than I was. I got very motivated after that; I realized this could be more than my passion and favourite thing to do - I could also make my life out of it. It was an eye opening experience for me. I always took the sport serious, but then I kind of saw that there was a whole other level that I wanted to be at.”
Under the guidance of Markus Beerbaum and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Davis career quickly moved in the right direction. “I had five very formative years with them. Markus and Meredith taught me the fundamentals and the European way, teaching me really good flatwork and also about the care for your horses. I got to learn about the management of horses aimed for the top sport. Before I came there, I did not know how much went into the preparations and the planning,” Davis says.
While studying at Stanford, Lucy chose to keep her horses with her. “They have a very nice stable called the Red Barn, and this allowed me to combine studying and riding. I would wake up, ride four or five horses - then go back to class and then to my dorm. It was pretty ideal! I don´t know of any other school that has it like that, and it made it easy for me to balance both. I’m also lucky to have a good team with Tasha Houghton taking care of Barron, so I knew everything was taken care of and could focus on my schoolwork. Markus would come to California to train whenever it was possible to fit in. During summers I would be in Thedinghausen in Germany with the horses, but apart from the one semester I studied in Berlin the horses would stay in California with me.”
First finding Nemo. And then finding Barron. “I have been lucky,” Davis concludes on her horses. “Finding Barron, that was like finding a huge pot of gold.”
The search was not easy though. “We thought we had found the right one a couple of times, but something would always go wrong – in the end we kind of gave up, we had been searching for almost two years for a horse with the potential to jump the 2012 Olympic Trials on and in the end it was Nemo that had to do it. But, Barron was out there waiting for us – so I guess everything happens for a reason,” she smiles.
Being tipped off about Underground des Hauts Droits – as he back then was called as an eight year old when Francois Lamontagne rode him – made Markus jump on a plane to try, and quickly after Lucy was ordered to follow. This could be the one. “I knew immediately he was special,” Lucy smiles and that was it. Underground was – after a family vote during Christmas Day 2011 – renamed after Lucy’s grandfather whose middle name is Barron, and the two started off on their adventure together.
“In the beginning it was not as smooth as I hoped for, he was a horse of extreme quality - and I was used to pushing my horses, and here I had to do nothing – it was more about getting out of his way and letting him jump. I had to learn to manage his quality. Then in Gothenburg in 2012 we had our clicking moment, and after this we got a little faith from Robert Ridland and were put on the team for Rotterdam,” Davis looks back. That was it; the two were double clear and as Davis says “At that point I knew he was that extra level of special.”
“Barron is always brave,” Lucy says of one of her top horse’s main qualities. “But he is also very sensitive - different environments can kick off different sides of him. He is not a big fan of music, loud clapping and prize givings. If I am stressed or tense, he feels it straight away - so I have to stay calm for him. At home he is one day lazy and the next day a fire dragon, he changes quickly and is quite spirited I would say.”
In the autumn of 2012, the two won the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Lausanne – and suddenly everybody knew Lucy Davis and Barron. “Lausanne was a huge moment for me,” Lucy smiles. "It was my first five star win. It gave me a lot of confidence, and made me realize that I could compete and win against the best. My crazy dreams and goals were possible!”
Lucy and Barron were no one hit wonder. After riding a double clear in the 2014 Nations Cup in Aachen, it became clearer and clearer that the two were about to ride themselves on the US team for the World Championships. At the age of 21, Davis went to Normandy to compete against the best in the world together with the likes of Beezie Madden, McLain Ward and Kent Farrington. And came home with a team bronze.
“It was such a great experience. We had a fantastic team; particularly spirited and everybody got along very well. I will never forget the first day at the WEG when I ploughed through that wall… I came out of the ring, feeling pretty low – and McLain was like ‘It was good, you had four faults’. And I was like ‘He is right, I had four faults’. There was no judgement, or ‘What the hell were you doing?’ I am my own worst critic so it is nice when people around you put things in perspective for you like that when you cannot yourself. It was fantastic to be on a team like that, also with Beezie – she continuously amazes me. However nail biting it is, she delivers clear after clear!”
Despite coming with pressure, Lucy loves to the feeling of being part of a team. “Maybe it is because I grew up with a team sport, playing soccer. I sometimes miss the team aspect in our sport, and that is why I really enjoy it when I can be a part of it. That is probably also why I enjoy being in a stable with other riders, it feels more like a team then. Because this first and foremost is an individual sport, it is easy to get very focused on yourself and where you want to be. It is nice to have something a bit bigger than that sometimes.”
“Also, some of my greatest sport experiences have been on teams – so that is maybe another explanation as to why I love it so much. That is also why one of my main goals this year was the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona, and I am so happy to get to do the team there,” Lucy smiles.
Finishing her studies, you would maybe expect Davis to be over the moon to do showjumping fulltime. Not for Lucy though, she enjoyed her studies at Stanford so much that she felt sad when it all came to an end. “The month of graduating - it was not a happy time,” she laughs at herself. “I loved studying! I had a great group of friends there, and I am kind of a nerd and like school work.”
Although studying architecture, Lucy is not really planning on being one. At least not for the moment “I chose this undergraduate degree as it was a bit broader, and I really enjoy design and art – so that is what drew it to me initially. I also like writing and art history, secretly enjoy math and science as well, and so I got to do that – so it kind of balanced many of my interests. Being from California I am also into environmental sustainability, so I got to take a lot of classes that touch this subject in regards to design and also in general. I got a broad education,” she smiles.
Davis also uses every opportunity she has to take in some architectural experiences; travelling the world as a showjumper can also have its non-horsey benefits. “I love to run, and try to combine it with sightseeing – especially when I am in cool cities. Like in Rotterdam, I could see some of my favourite architect Rem Koolhaas’ youngest buildings. After the show in Treffen last year, I took the opportunity to go to the architectural biennale in Venice which was a short travel. It is nice to balance the riding with something else - I need something different on the side,” she smiles.
Wrapping it up at Stanford in the spring of 2015 – at least almost, she has to go back to finish two courses in the autumn (and is probably secretly pleased with that) – Lucy packed her things and moved her horses to Eric van der Vleuten’s yard in Someren, Netherlands. “I always admired Eric and Maikel. Their system seemed very thoughtful to me, and they are both such natural horsemen with a lot of discipline. There are so many shows available at the moment, and Eric is very good at putting things in perspective and focusing on the main goals and not just here and now. It´s also a very family oriented environment here, and that is something I grew up with so I feel very at home.”
Davis says about her move. “Some things are of course different from what I am used to, but that is good - I like to get a bit of a new twist on things as well. And in this sport you can never learn enough, the horses keep you on your toes - and that is also why it is nice with a fresh outlook. The horses seem to love it here, we have had a great start so it looks like it will be a nice and smooth transition.”
As for the next year, Lucy really wants to give the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio her best shot. “I have a great group of horses, a great opportunity here training with Eric and I want to give the Olympics next year everything I have,” she says. Alongside her current group of horses consisting of Barron, Curtis, Cassis and Nemo, Davis sees herself developing younger talents with the aim to bring them up on top level or selling. “My way to supplement the sport would be to develop younger horses and sell with time – I did this when I was younger with the hunters and equitation horses. It’s rewarding and I enjoy these kind of projects; to see the horses improve. I want to think more long term and invest in the future. This is also a business, not just my passion, and I cannot just buy whatever comes my way. I would love to be at the top of the sport at all times, but I also have to think of it from an economic point of view. So I have to be a bit patient and develop the horses from an early age - and also myself as a rider.”
As to her own development, Davis is quick to point out that one thing she has to work on is her love for over-analysing. “Sometimes I overthink and overanalyse,” she laughs. Not just with my riding, I have to work on that in every aspect of my life! I really have to remember to just go in to the ring and ride – and use my natural feeling. Separating the technicalities from the natural part, where you just listen. I am lucky to have quality horses, where I can use my feeling.”
As to the past, present and future – Davis sums up; “I am only 22, have been studying while riding, so I cannot compare myself to other riders, or what they are doing and their situation. I consider myself lucky to have done what I have already and to be where I am!”
Photos by Jenny Abrahamsson / text by Jannicke Naustdal - copyright © worldofshowjumping.com 2015.
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