Kindness is a virtue.
And loyalty. And friendship. And hard work. Ask anyone on the West Coast to name an especially virtuous rider, and there’s a good chance that Lane Clarke will come up in conversation.
At 27, Clarke is not just an old soul who is well liked on the show jumping circuit. He’s a top-of-the-line show jumper who led the victory parade in multiple grand prix classes this year, most recently in the $55,000 Grand Prix of Del Mar CSI-W (Calif.) on Oct. 27 aboard Casseur de Prix. He’s a tall, blue-eyed Australian who possesses a unique mix of old-fashioned qualities and hot new talent.
Sorry ladies, he’s also taken.
An Aussie Upbringing
Clarke and his brother Lyn were born down under, but the family made California their home while they were still toddlers. From the beginning, horses were part of their daily life. The boys’ father, Allen Clarke, is a farrier, natural horsemanship trainer and known “problem horse” fixer in the Southern California area. And his mother Meredith has been a farrier ever since a chauvinistic blacksmith told her sometime in the ‘80s that the day a woman could shoe a horse, was the day that he’d clean a kitchen in an apron. There’s no word on whether he kept up his end of the bet.
Growing up in the desert climate of Southern California, both Lane and Lyn inherited their parents’ strong will and feel for horses. They took to riding immediately, with 10-year-old Lane serving as jockey for his father’s horses in training.
Lyn would go on to follow in his mother’s footsteps and become a farrier. Lyn has also found a career as a Hollywood stuntman; he served as lead stuntman during filming for The Lone Ranger, due to be released next summer.
But for Lane, those early days jumping over barrels at the modest family farm lit the flame for what would become a successful career. “My dad has trained young horses or difficult horses for a really long time,” Lane explains. “He’d get in horses and I’d ride them, and the ones that had issues with jumping, well I’d jump them.”
Working alongside his dad on retraining projects and spending many hours in a round pen served as Lane education on the value of real horsemanship. By the time he was 15, he’d developed a growing interest in show jumping that was reaching the boundaries of what his father could teach him.
The Real Stuff
Around the same time, established California trainer Mickey Hayden heard about the Clarke family from a friend. Coincidentally, Hayden was seated behind Lane and Allen watching a grand prix soon thereafter. After listening to Lane and his father enthusiastically discuss the course, he introduced himself. A subsequent schooling show led to a catch ride for Lane, and soon after the trainer offered him a working student position. Lane describes himself as a “punk kid” at the time, but Hayden was impressed by his work ethic and his family’s unquestioning support of his goals.
Hayden’s barn in Laguna Hills was several hours away from the Clarke family farm, so Meredith moved with Lane to the area and began homeschooling him. Three months into his working student duties, Hayden gave Lane a paying job.
“In Orange County there are a lot of affluent kids who don’t have the work ethic that Lane does,” says Hayden. “When he came to the barn, he was a good influence. He’s a worker and he’s really positive. He’s real different than the kids who grew up here. He brings the real stuff to the plate.”
When Hayden took Lane under his wing, he set about teaching him the finer points of classical training and equitation. Lane took to the new level of riding like a fish to water. By 17, he had won his first grand prix. Hayden became a lasting mentor to Lane, and now, 11 years later, the two are partners in a thriving business at Hayden Show Jumping and Riding School in Laguna Hills, Calif.
“Respect, loyalty, and friendship work between us,” says Lane. “We have a bunch of respect for each other’s ability and knowledge. We’re both loyal to a fault and we’re great friends.”
In 2004 Lane was named the Pacific Coast Horseman’s Association Rookie of the Year, and in 2008 he jumped over 7’ in a high jump competition at Del Mar. Consistent placings in grand prix classes led to a string of victories in 2011 at the Oaks Blenheim venue in San Juan Capistrano. This past October, he ended his season by winning the World Cup Qualifier grand prix at Del Mar.
And over the summer, he asked his long time girlfriend, veterinarian Jennifer Reese, to marry him. Equestrian accomplishments aside, Lane notes that the moment she said “yes” was the high point of his year. The two are planning a wedding in the fall of 2013.
Lane’s long-term dreams are the same as most riders; World Cup Finals, Olympic Games, World Equestrian Games. But his training philosophy is decidedly unique, with roots in natural horsemanship and multi-dimensional goals for his horses.
A Complete Education
“You don’t want to be educated in one subject, and you don’t want your horses to be educated on just one thing,” says Lane. “I want my horses to be able to go over a tarp, go in a trailer, go bridleless, and just have that connection and that trust that you gain with experience with each other, and not just experience where I’m on their back.”
To that end, Lane spends time with many of his show jumpers in the round pen, working to enhance and develop his relationship with them. He rides most of them bridleless on occasion, considering the connection needed to successfully ride without tack an essential skill. When it comes time to ask them to jump a fence, understanding how they think and move on their own terms is a necessary part of the foundation.
“Being a great horseman, in terms of getting ready to do a grand prix or a big class, is asking yourself, ‘have you done all of your homework before you get there?’” Lane says. “Are you still able, while under pressure, to know what your horse needs and wants?”
That philosophy carries over to how he coaches riders and is supported by Hayden himself.
“Mickey tries to give his riders the skills to ride many styles so that they can do what’s most appropriate for the horse in that situation,” Lane adds. “It’s never the course that I have to do, it’s the course we have to do.”
Lane’s other great influence, his father, continues to be a sounding board and consultant when it comes to ground work and other training techniques. Lane often sends him horses that need extra attention from the ground.
Leading by Example
Young Rider Charlotte Gadbois, who earned team bronze with Zone 10 at the 2012 North American Young Rider Junior Championships, and finished fourth individually, is an enthusiastic student of Lane’s.
“Lane and I are like brother and sister outside the ring, but in the ring he is a leader by example,” she says. “The best piece of advice Lane has ever given to me is to work in the present; don’t dwell on the past or focus too much on the future. Ride every stride as it happens, not what you think might happen.”
Gadbois recently started her grand prix career with Semira de Saulieu, a 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare that Lane found for her in Europe. She finished second to her trainer in April in the $25,000 Grand Prix at Flintridge Riding Club in La Canada, Calif., in what was just her third grand prix start ever. In 2013, Lane hopes that she’ll follow in his footsteps and aim for a PCHA Rookie of the Year title.
“Lane’s ability to relay his thoughts to his students in a visual way that we understand is incredible,” Gadbois adds. “I look up to him in every aspect.
Taking the Time
Lane’s two grand prix horses are longtime partners that he has taken the time to get to know thoroughly before aiming them at the big fences. When he won the $55,000 World Cup Qualifier Grand Prix in Del Mar with Casseur de Prix, he ensured that the sensitive, 13-year-old Holsteiner horse felt ready in mind and body before committing to the class.
“I try to compete against what is possible, instead of competing against the other riders, and do the best where ever I am,” Lane says.
However, with the opportunity to ride at the higher levels of the sport comes the quandary of also balancing a full training program at home.
“I would love to go everywhere and ride,” Lane adds. “But I have a barn full of horses that need training, and my goal is to compete all over only when the time is right.”
The West Coast shows are strong proving grounds for a rider breaking into World Cup ranks (Lane currently sits eighth on the FEI North American West Coast qualifying list), but he hopes that one day soon, the timing will be right to allow him to compete farther east.
“I want him to take everything he’s learned and become a great rider,” says Hayden. “He’s a great coach and is starting to give clinics, but for the next 10 years it’s my opinion that he really needs to focus on his riding, because he’s a talented international-level rider who can really make it.”
Lane only holds one passport, and if those international dreams of his come to fruition, they will happen under the flag of Australia. One of his only drawbacks (at least to American ears) may be that he doesn’t speak with a trace of an Australian accent, but his values are decidedly Aussie.
“To start as a working student and get to live this life because of my family’s dedication, Mickey’s dedication and the clients’ support is amazing,” Lane says. “I was raised differently than kids in this country, but I’ve been in America my whole life and it’s fantastic. I don’t really feel Australian or American, I just feel like me.”