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February 20, 2007

Scrappy Beginnings Fuel Farrington's Fire

Kent Farrington's introduction to horses was through a photograph of his mother as a child on her pony. That photo hung on the wall at his grandparents' house, and it was the catalyst that led him into the grand prix ring today.

This young professional is just 25 years old, but he's already taken home top grand prix wins at Devon (Pa.) and the Washington International (D.C.) Horse Show in 2005, as well as grabbing second place at the $100,000 Cosequin Finale (Fla.).

And he doesn't like to rest on his laurels. "I'm always looking to do something more and improve," said Farrington. "I'm looking toward the next goal or how I can be better."

As a Chicago, Ill., native, Farrington began his riding career with lessons in the city.

"He kept bugging me about riding [after seeing the photo]," said Farrington's mother, Linda. "One day we were downtown and stopped in the stable where the carriages come out on Michigan Ave. I thought, 'They won't give riding lessons, and then we'll be done with this.' But, of course, they did give riding lessons, and that's where it all started."

Kent started taking riding lessons once a week when he was 8 and soon met someone who wanted him to race ponies.

"I was a small kid, and aggressive, so a trainer asked if I wanted to come out to her place and ride for her," recalled Kent. "I took her ponies to a couple of races at the steeplechases and won a few."

Soon Kent had persuaded his parents to buy him a pony, and he and his sister, Kim, started the hour-long commute out to trainer Nancy Whitehead's farm in Spring Lake, Ill., so they could ride.

"We'd leave school at 3:30 and not get home until 9 o'clock at night," said Linda. "It gave both my kids a lot of discipline. I never had to tell them do to their homework."

Kent rode all kinds of ponies in all kinds of situations, but his focus was always jumping. "I'd do anything just to ride and jump," he said. "I started doing some little local shows. We'd enter every single class."

He soon graduated from his pony to a horse that his family acquired by trading in a computer.

Kent's scrappy beginnings only sharpened his desire to jump and make his name as a rider. He borrowed horses and rode sale horses so that he could compete in the A-rated horse shows.

His first big break came after riding with hunter/jumper legend George Morris at a clinic near Chicago.

"I went to Palm Beach (Fla.) for the first time, and he gave me three horses to show," said Kent. "That was a big leg up for me."

Equitation Opens Doors
Kent's introduction to the Wellington show circuit also led him to Andre Dignelli, who offered to help him polish his equitation and help him find horses to show.

"Andre and his clients were really generous," said Kent. "They gave me horses to ride at all the equitation finals. I would meet him at shows or go to his farm and ride the horses before we went to the show. I had a different horse for every show."

Some juniors might've found the challenge of catch-riding for every major competition somewhat daunting, but not Kent.

"Sometimes I was frustrated, but I tried to be appreciative of the opportunities I had," he said. "I always wanted more, and I still aspire to do more than I'm doing."

Despite limited time with his mounts, Kent's achievements as a junior were remarkable. He won the AHSA Medal Finals in 1998 at 17 on a borrowed mount and added the WIHS Equitation Classic to his record in 1999. He also took home a team gold medal that year from the North American Young Riders Championships, where he rode his own City Boy, an ex-race horse Kent had trained.

"When I was at home, I'd ride a lot of green horses that had never been to shows," said Kent. "I just wanted to get better and keep practicing. I jumped horses over their first jumps, their first cross poles from day 1. That was a cool experience and a real education."

After graduating from high school Kent faced a difficult decision. Since he was an honors student at the rigorous Latin School of Chicago, Kent's parents wanted him to go to college.

But when international rider Tim Grubb offered Kent the opportunity to come work for him, he jumped at the chance. "This was what I wanted to do, and I thought I had a real shot at doing something," said Kent. "To take a job with a four-time Olympian and excellent horseman was something I needed to do. I was pretty determined to make it work."

And he did make it work by continuing to ride as much as possible while keeping his ears and eyes open for education.

"My biggest bit of advice is to always try to keep learning and further your education," said Kent. "There's so much to learn and so many great people to learn from. You have to keep your eyes open so you don't miss anything."

After working for Grubb, Kent went to work for Leslie Burr Howard in Greenwich, Conn. "He's always been a tremendous talent," said Howard. "I provided a nice first step for him."

Kent worked for her for two years, until he was 21, before striking off on his own when he met the Weeks family, who gave him the leg up he needed to start his own business.

"It just fell into place," said Kent. "It was the right timing for them and for me. I wanted to do it, and it maybe came a bit sooner than I was expecting, but you have to take your chances when the opportunity shows itself."

Howard was sad to see the fun-loving rider go, but she thought it was a good career move. "It's hard enough finding horses for yourself, let alone someone else," she said. "It was very apparent that his aspirations weren't to be a teacher as much as they were to be a rider."

A Thriving Professional
Today Kent has 30 horses in training and splits his time between Greenwich, Conn., and Wellington. The big star in his stable is a Dutch Warmblood named Madison, who's owned by Alexa Weeks.

The game, bay mare was imported as a young horse to be a junior or amateur jumper. "She was a little bit tricky to ride," admitted Kent. "I rode her a couple of times, and then we went to a show in Raleigh, N.C., and I showed her there in both grand prix classes. She won both, back-to-back, so I kept riding her to see what we had."

Madison just kept improving under the added pressure and had her first big season in 2005, placing second overall in the U.S. Equestrian Federation national rankings. She started off the 2006 season by winning the $60,000 Kilkenny/ICH Internationale Cup Grand Prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival on Feb. 12

"She's a real winner, and I'm really competitive," said Kent of their partnership. "It was exciting because we'd had her for a long time and brought her along."
Their biggest win last year was the $100,000 President's Cup at the WIHS. And the grand prix win made Kent the show's leading rider.

"It was my first time showing there as a professional," he said. "It was an international show, and I brought a horse for the speed classes. It made the whole thing really special."

And Kent has even bigger plans for 2006. "I'd like to qualify for the [FEI World Cup Finals] this year," he said. "I also want to develop some more horses for the upper levels. I've had my business for a while, and it's just now getting to be the way I want."

Owners like Javier Salvador are helping Kent by providing him with talented horses to ride. Salvador imports sales prospects from Europe for Kent on a regular basis.

"I think he's a good rider, ambitious, and has a very good program," said Salvador.

"He's a hard worker and very smart. He's the perfect partner."

And though Kent has many quality horses to ride today as a professional, he still views his experience riding all different horses as an asset to his business.

"I think it's fun any time you're riding a talented horse, whether it's 5 or 10 years old," said Kent. "A quality horse is a quality horse. You always have to have your eyes open for a good horse and not judge where it comes from. I judge the horse for what it is."

 
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