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Rolex Grand Slam Live Contender Kent Farrington: “I’m living the dream”

Saturday, 07 September 2019
CSIO5* Spruce Meadows 'Masters' 2019

Photo © Rolex/Ashley Neuhof. Photo © Rolex/Ashley Neuhof.


Text © World of Showjumping



At the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ 2019, WoSJ got to meet live contender Kent Farrington ahead of Sunday’s third Major of the year in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.

Looking back at the Rolex Grand Slam Grand Prix in Aachen – how does it feel?

“I think that this is a realisation of a dream come true. Aachen might be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, Grand Prix in our sport. It has a long-standing history and is a major event in our sport, not just today but has always been. I think that horses and riders of all times want to be part of that history and it is really a dream come true for me.” 

Did you feel like it was going to be your day?

“Yes, but I always feel that – however, it is not always going to happen. I try to go into every Grand Prix or every event in a positive mindset. I think that horses feed of that energy. Since you are working with an animal you can thrive on confident and a positive attitude. I always try to put myself in a mindset that I can win. It doesn’t always work out, but I have that attitude every time so that the horses feel that we are up for the task and that it is going to be a great day.”

Photo © Rolex/Ashley Neuhof. Photo © Rolex/Ashley Neuhof.

The first Rolex watch you won you gave to your sister, did you do anything special with the watch you won in the Rolex Grand Slam Grand Prix in Aachen?

“That one I kept for myself. It sounds very selfish saying that now, but that was one that I really wanted to have myself. Otherwise I usually give them to my team and people that have helped me in my career. The first watch I won, I gave to my sister. When I started as a young professional she worked for me for free. I couldn’t pay anybody, so it was no one who wanted that job, and she was there to pick it up. She said I should win her a watch and that took me a little while, but I got there and that was kind of the start of a journey. “

Was Gazelle your obvious choice for the Rolex Grand Slam at Spruce Meadows?

“Obvious choice I don’t know, she has gone well on this field many times because she has been here in the summers. She has won multiple Grand Prix classes here before. She won the Queens Cup twice and she won the opening Grand Prix at least once, so she has won a lot here. She knows the field, she knows the material well. The Rolex Grand Slam Grand Prix on Sunday is obviously really difficult and one of the biggest in the world, so I really have to have her confidence high for that event because that is going to be a big task. 

She is really the optimum modern show jumper now – she is very sensitive so she is extremely careful, but she has the power to jump huge fences. But it is a fine line between horses being ultra careful and still being brave enough to attack the biggest courses in the world. So I think to make all that come together you need to have a long term plan and build the horse to peak for those kind of events so that is what I have been trying to do here.” 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

What has Gazelle been doing since the Rolex Grand Slam Grand Prix in Aachen?

“First thing I did was to give her a break and put her in the paddock for a while and just let her hang out. Then I slowly started building her back up and took her to a small show jumping 1.30 – 1.40m classes, which I do a lot with her between big Grand Prix competition to sort of show her that the job is not so difficult and let her feel that the jumps are really small in the ring. And then I train a lot of very small combinations to keep her confident. “

Do you have any advantage of Gazelle being here so often before?

“I think it is definitely helpful, but I wouldn’t say that it is an advantage. Everybody starts at zero on Sunday, but for my horse I think that is the best set-up I can possible have – that she has been coming here since she was 8-years-old. She knows the field very well and she knows the jumps. She has been jumping the double of liverpools before and she jumped the water here before, so she knows all of those things. For her and the type of horse that she is, I think that is the best set-up I can have and for her to be in top form. “

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

What is your plan for her for the rest of the year?

“My plan is to just finish this week and then I regroup and go on from there. I do one big task at the time and then circle back after that and decide what the next big task will be. “

How do you not let the pressure get to you?

“For me the funny or ironic thing is that I always put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself. That is good and bad. The good part is that nothing ever changes, because I have a huge pressure all the time – it is always there, it is constant. I think that the best way to be confident in those situations is to do it all the time. I always want to win and it always feels really important to me. I dedicate my life to do this and to do it well, so for me that doesn’t change. It is game day, just like any other Sunday.”

So that you are live contender in the Rolex Grand Slam doesn’t put any extra pressure on you?

“No, not really, that is like an extra bonus. I get to be extra happy so I’m really looking forward to it.” 

Photo © Rolex/Ashley Neuhof. Photo © Rolex/Ashley Neuhof.

It seems like horse management is one of the most important things in this sport?

“I think that it is really one of the unique things about horse sport – working with the horses and treating them as individuals and knowing what it takes to try to peak them for big events. All of the top riders have that in common, they are not just great riders and athletes themselves. They also work with athletes, and have to manage their careers so you also have to be a top manager in terms of their schedule and in terms of what is really important.  They can’t go 52 weeks of the year so you have to take the weeks that are important and vote for those.”

When you got injured about 18 month ago, did you then think that you would get back to this?

“Yes, I fully planned on it – it was no doubt. For me it was upsetting since I was live contender in the Rolex Grand Slam at the time, and I knew that that wasn’t going to be the reality anymore. Obviously it was also a bit painful. But I put my mind of the task of recovery and started training instantly. I just wanted to know what was the maximum amount I could do every single day without doing any damage and then I did that, so it became my job to get back to what I loved doing.” 

Photo © Rolex/Ashley Neuhof. Photo © Rolex/Ashley Neuhof.

Have you noticed any different in your riding before and after the accident?

“I think I ride better. I think my mindset of perspective probably increased. I always trained very hard physically so I’m used to a lot of training and I watched my diet and my weight and have always done that, so that was also only part of my routine. But I think a mindset of perspective is what is really important. How much I really enjoy doing this sport and how fortunate I am to have the support I have and the great horses that I have. I think that just becomes more of a realization when you come in a situation like that. 

When you are lying there, and you can’t do this – then you realize how much you miss it. Like anything in life, you get used to doing it every day and then it just fells like a normal day – but when you are lying there and you really want to come back it kind of brings you back to the beginning. I remember when I was a kid, and to go to an event felt like a huge deal and that just to watch. And to be able to ride at a high level and win at a high level and to do this as professional, I’m living the dream.”

Who do you think can challenge you in the Rolex Grand Slam Grand Prix on Sunday?

“It is a long list. Steve is no. one in the world and in great form; Martin who won the Europeans is here in top form with a great horse. McLain is here with his best horse, Beezie Madden has won this class before and it is a lot of riders with a lot of experience and their best horses so I think it is a huge group of them that can win the class on Sunday. But the biggest challenge is actually not the other riders; it is the course – that is really what it is about."

What do you expect for the course on Sunday?

“Big – big! And a short time allowed. That is sort of the two things that this class is known for. The double of liverpools always play a big role and usually in the second round – sometimes in the first round, but typically they pull that for the second round. The field being as large as it is and over big fences with a short time, all of those things combined make it very difficult to jump a clear round. 

You are with the horse, that is your team-mate and the challenge is really the course that is set in front of you. You can only do the best that you can do. In that part it is my horse and me, and we are going to do our best. The rest of it is out of our control. 

If you look at the sport, we all travel and live this life of being professional show jumping riders so it is a close community. I never want my competitors to do badly I want them to do great and I just hope that I’m a little bit better. And I think that is a pretty common attitude among the riders – we are friends and we do this together, we want to help each other to do well and then on the given day you just hope that you are a little bit better than the others.” 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Did you always wanted to be a show jumping rider?

“First I wanted to be a racing jockey and then I switched to jumping. I had to loose a lot of weight and that wasn’t going to happen. And when I was racing ponies – one of my first races – I met a steeplechase jockey and he said I could ask him everything I wanted. So I said I wanted to be a steeplechase jockey and he told me I would go to the hospital a couple of times a year, I would struggle with the weight and I wouldn’t make a lot of money. So I said I better look at something else. On television, it was the ‘Masters’ here at Spruce Meadows and I watched it and it was probably the biggest purse in show jumping. That looked like huge amount of money so that was a quick career change and I put my focus on jumping.” 

What is it about this sport that makes it so special?

“My favourite thing in this sport is working with horses. It is really an amazing way to spend your life, working with these horses. They are unbelievable animals – they are willing, compassionate. To train a horse and to do that over years, I really love the process. The time in the ring is the cherry on the top of the day to day routine. Finding the horses, developing the horses for bigger events and working with them to overcome setbacks or things that they are struggling with are all part of the passion that I have for this sport.” 


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