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March 12, 2012

Road To The Olympics: Clark Montgomery, Part 1

"I can’t be afraid to push the envelope so I can get a feel for where the line is so that when it really counts and it comes time to lay it all down, I know just where I need to be." Photo by Kat Netzler.

In this series, the Chronicle follows seven riders as they seek to fulfill their Olympic dreams in London in 2012.

There’s something extra special about the spring season of an Olympic year. Although it starts off just the same as all the others, it always feels like there is an added excitement and intensity that goes along with it.

This year, I’ve nominated Loughan Glen to the Olympic selection process. “Glen” is a 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse who is young in years but harbors a wise old soul. I’ve been very deliberate in every decision I’ve made with him so far, and with wins at the 2010 Fair Hill CCI** (Md.) and 2011 Bromont CCI*** (Quebec), I feel like it’s paid off.  

We were fortunate to receive a U.S. Equestrian Federation Land Rover High Performance Grant last fall, which helped to pay for his trip to the Blenheim Palace CCI*** in England, where he placed fifth out of 97 starters. With two three-stars successfully under his belt, I feel pretty confident he’ll be ready to contest his first four-star at Rolex Kentucky this spring.

Even if the Olympics were not scheduled for this year, we would still be making this step up, and I still would be working on the next level of quality in his flatwork and fitness and speed on cross-country anyway. If that’s enough to take us to the Olympics this summer, that’s fantastic. But if it doesn’t, and he’s reached the next level in his training, then I’ve succeeded, and we’ll both be very happy. He is a fantastic horse, whether he makes the Games this year or not, and he has a huge career ahead of him.

He Just Had That Look

In the spring of 2008, my wife Jessica and I had moved to England. At the time we had planned to stay there through the London Olympics, but we just couldn’t get the visas worked out so we had to come back to the United States in October of that year.

While overseas, we had an opportunity to buy a horse with the support of Glen’s owners, Bill and Holly Becker and Kathryn Kraft. We were shopping around in Ireland when we stumbled upon Glen. It was a freezing cold day, and the rain was pouring down. All of the horses were standing huddled in the back corners of their stalls—except for Glen. He had his head out, banging his foot on his stall door. At the time we thought he was enthusiastic and ready to work, but in a habit that holds true today, the banging just signifies that he’s very hungry. He has a beautiful face and a gorgeous big round eye and is built like a barn—tall and square.

He didn’t do anything much in England, besides buck me off! He’s bucked me off three or four times now, though he hasn’t done it recently. He’s pretty quirky about flapping noises, and as a young horse he was really sharp about most noises in general. To look on the bright side of it all, it shows his athleticism. The noise triggers a scoot that escalates into a dolphin leap, which can immediately be followed by a two-story buck and a swift direction change. The old timers will tell you that if they buck well then they can jump well, so I’ve always tried to find what comfort I can in that.

After we came home, he just hung out and grew up a bit over the winter. I started competing him in April of 2009 at the training level. He won at every level on his way up, and by the fall of 2010, he’d won the Fair Hill CCI**.

I genuinely think that Glen’s biggest asset is his mind; he truly is a competitor. He uses the added atmosphere to bring out a little extra pizzazz in the dressage ring. It adds a little extra pop to his jump and a little extra speed on the cross-country. On the flat, he’s got a really soft way of going, and the judges seem to love that. The remark that I get most often at the bottom of the test is that he “looks happy,” which as a horseman means the world to me.

Stronger And Faster

It was after his win at Bromont last summer that it first occurred to me that London might even be a possibility. With the thought of a positive progression building toward a four-star and potentially the Olympic track in London, I chose to take him to Blenheim instead of the Fair Hill CCI*** closer to home. It was important to me to get him on and off a plane and see how he dealt with that, and I wanted to see just where we measured up on a truly international stage.

Blenheim was amazing. As expected, Glen traveled like a champ. He’s the kind of horse that, when given food and water, can be happy almost anywhere. We had a little mistake in the dressage, which put us a couple of points off what we could have done, but you can’t fault him for that. It was definitely more my mistake than anything. On cross-country day he was just brilliant and cruised around. Although he finished with 8 time faults, I couldn’t have been happier with him. I know that the speed will come with fitness. On Sunday he looked and felt terrific and jumped a clear round. For an 8-year-old in his first year at the advanced level I was thrilled with his result, and I started to set my sights on Rolex.

Watch Glen's show jumping round from Blenheim.

The biggest difference in Glen this spring is his strength. He’s stronger and fitter than he’s ever been, and that changes everything. It makes the dressage a little bit better and his cross-country quicker. He’s not as easy as a Thoroughbred to get fit; he’s a bigger, heavier, Irish horse. He’s not the horse that comes out of the start box and runs away with you, but as these courses get longer he’s learned to stretch out and use his big stride to his advantage.

I know he can be fit enough, so now it’s just a matter of educating him about where to burn energy, where to save it, and his breathing. The selectors have made it clear that they want to see him go as quick as he can at Rolex, and I’ll do that. Bear in mind that if he gets tired, I’ll slow him down and bring him home safely. But true to Glen form if he gets out there and feels great in his body and confident in his jumping, he could be one of the quickest times of the day; we’ll let him decide.

Kicking It Up A Notch

Since I was named to the USEF Winter Training B list, I’ve done two training sessions with Capt. Mark Phillips. We’re just working mainly on the dressage and trying to take it to the next level to bring out more quality in his work. I also bounce a lot of ideas off of David O’Connor [with whom Montgomery spent many years training].

In my approach to the horse trials this spring I’m working on not being afraid to make a mistake. In trying to up his overall quality there’s an element of toeing the line to see just how big I can make each movement. I can’t be afraid to push the envelope so I can get a feel for where the line is so that when it really counts and it comes time to lay it all down, I know just where I need to be.

I let him gallop on at [his first event this year, the Ocala Horse Properties II (Fla.) Horse Trials, where he won a division of intermediate] in mid-February. I didn’t intend to go as fast as we did, but I just kind of let him go, and that’s the rhythm he picked. I never looked at my watch until we finished the course, and then I realized how quickly he’d gone. He just seems to feel really confident. Then, he did the advanced combined test at the Pine Top Advanced Horse Trials (Ga.) on Feb. 24-26.

After the Southern Pines Horse Trials II (N.C.) in March, I plan to run Glen again at The Fork (N.C.) on April 5-8. I’m trying to look for good footing—that’s my No. 1 priority. I, like everyone else going to Rolex, want to get him as prepared as possible without getting hurt!

It’s been a long time since I last rode at Rolex. I’ve only done it once back in 2005 with a horse I had called Falcon Flight. He was an outstanding cross-country horse but not much short of a wreck in the dressage. Although pretty embarrassed about our dressage marks, I did get to jump a big track or two on him, and for that I’m thankful.

I just haven’t had the horse to go back to Rolex since. In the last seven years I’ve produced four horses to the three-star level, but in the final push to the four-star, things have been unlucky for me. I’ll be thrilled to just get to Kentucky honestly. It feels like a chance to showcase what I’ve been up to these past few years, and I’m really looking forward to taking a horse like Glen who is so honest and willing in all three phases.

I’ve been in Ocala all winter training, and we’re planning to stay here through Kentucky. I have another couple of horses that I’m pretty excited about; one of which is Universe. I’m aiming him for the Bramham CCI*** in England in early June. Regardless of the Olympics, Glen and the few others will go along for the summer trip. If we don’t end up busy in July (for the Games), I will probably aim Glen for the Burghley CCI**** (England). So it’s Ocala now, England in the summer, and then, true to form, I have no idea where we’ll end up at the end of the fall. We try to just take things one day at a time.

Fast Facts About Clark Montgomery

Age: 29

Hometown: Ocala, Fla., for the moment! Montgomery, who is originally from Texas, was based out of Carl Bouckaert’s Chattahoochee Hills Farm (Ga.) for the past two years, but instead of returning there is headed to England this summer. “I still have a horse for Mr. Bouckaert and enjoy a great relationship with him. My opportunities have opened up, and he has kindly let me follow them,” Montgomery said.

Horse: Loughan Glen, 9-year-old, bay, 17-hand, Irish Sport Horse gelding (Limerick—Tattymacall Mustard, Cut The Mustard), owned by Bill and Holly Becker and Kathryn Kraft. “Glen” in a word? “He’s HUNGRY! He’s always hungry. He’s a sweet, kind horse, and he always wants attention and love and treats. But mostly the treats,” Montgomery said.

2011 Results:

  •  1st – Bromont CCI*** (Quebec)
  • 1st – advanced, Pine Top Spring Advanced Horse Trials (Ga.)
  • 1st – advanced, Poplar Place Farm March Horse Trials (Ga.)
  • 1st – advanced, Millbrook Horse Trials (N.Y.)
  • 3rd – CIC*** The Fork (N.C.)
  • 5th – Blenheim CCI*** (England)
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