Though sidelined in May with a broken femur that required a hip replacement, National Show Hunter Hall of Fame member John French nonetheless managed to rack up an impressive series of accolades in 2022. Over the summer, he earned the top spot in the Platinum Performance USHJA 3’/3’3” Green Hunter Incentive Championship (Kentucky) aboard Susan Moriconi’s Wyatt. He and Ariana Marnell’s Babylon took the win for the second year in a row in the WCHR Professional Challenge at Capital Challenge (Maryland). He earned two USEF Horse of the Year honors, with Kent Farrington LLC’s Milagro topping the high performance hunter, by increment, division at just 7 years old and Wyatt earning the 3’3” green hunter championship, by money earned.
In addition, his client Marnell dominated the indoor season with Babylon, earning the championship in the small junior hunter, 15 and under, at Capital Challenge, the Washington International (Maryland) and the National Horse Show (Kentucky)—and at the last tying for grand junior hunter champion. The pair finished their year with the small junior, 15 and under, Horse of the Year honor.
Based in Wellington, Florida, French relocated in 2020 after more than 30 years on the West Coast to run the hunter side of Olympic show jumper Kent Farrington’s sales and training operation. With the 2023 season already under way, French takes us through a show day at the Holiday Finale at Wellington International, conveniently located less than 10 minutes from Farrington’s farm.
This interview has been lightly edited.
4 a.m. When I wake up, I go right to my stretching/workout room to do about 20 minutes of stretching. Then I lie on the Bemer blanket for 10 minutes.
4:30 a.m. Normally I don’t really eat breakfast, but lately I’ll have a little bit of smoothie. I make it with spinach, almonds, apples, pears, blueberries, blackberries and flax seed. Then I go downstairs in the garage and clean and polish my boots for today. I have a cup of coffee and watch the news.
I get up early just because I need that morning time to myself.
6 a.m. I had three horses I needed to get into the ring before the show today, so I rode those first.
Originally two horses [Luxor and a new horse, La Premiere] were supposed to show in the Rost Arena, and Wyatt was supposed to show in the Grand. But last night they changed the schedule, and all the classes were moved to the Grand. So, I rode them all in the same ring.
It’s La Premiere’s first show, and so yesterday I made sure to get her in the Rost ring. The Grand is a bigger ring and there’s a lot more stuff to look at, so I took a little bit longer with her. But it’s nice to get to ride them in the morning around the jumps, so it all worked out.
7:30 a.m. I went back to the barn and rode Milagro. I run back and forth to the horse show sometimes three or four times during the day if the horses are spread out.
Kent’s got his jumper side, and then I’ve got another barn next door that he rents for the hunters. When it’s early in the morning, I can go over to his side and ride in the big ring, on the track or in the grass field because nothing is going on over there yet.
The track goes around the grass field and the big ring, so I did some work on the track and some work in the ring. My ring is more like a show ring, so I think it’s nice for the horses to get out and ride on the track and not always be in a show-ring feel. I also take each horse once a week and either ride them along the canal or on a trail ride.
9 a.m. I went back to the show and showed Wyatt in the 3’6” greens. Today was his first time showing in the 3’6”. He had a rail in the first class, but he won the second.
10 a.m. I went back to the barn and rode a pony that I, until recently, owned myself in Europe. The lady that owns the barn where we keep the hunters, she ended up getting the pony. I’m helping her train it and bring it along so that one day it’ll be for her kids. It is a large, but luckily, I’m small enough that I fit the ponies pretty well.
French schooling Luxor:
Next up, I taught a lesson to one of my amateur riders where we focused on her not falling back in front of the jump and having to catching up with the horse over top of the jump. I wanted her to be where there wasn’t such a big move in the upper body. I had her doing two cavaletti in a bending two strides. And then a bending nine strides to a jump on the rail, or a bending seven to a fence on the diagonal from the cavaletti. With this exercise, she was already in the right position and really didn’t have to change much at all when the horse took off from the jump.
Noon I was a little early getting back to the show; they were running a little behind. Because I was rushing back and forth, I gave myself 10 minutes to sort of meditate and try to clear my mind.
I sometimes need just a few minutes to get back in the zone for showing. When you’re rushing back to the barn, you’re riding and you’re teaching, and you get the call and think you’re late to the show and you rush back to the show again, it can be too much adrenaline. I just needed to get calm again and relaxed. If I get really calm, then I can always pump or psych myself up again to where I think I need to be.
Sometimes on a certain horse, you want to stay in the really relaxed and calm mindset, and sometimes you want that more positive and “I’m going to out there” attitude. It depends to me on the different horses that I’m riding. I like to first get myself relaxed and then decide how “up” I want to be.
12:30 p.m. I showed Luxor and La Premiere in the 3’3” greens. La Premiere hadn’t jumped in that ring or anything, so I did do the warmup first. I knew she would be taking a look at the jumps a little bit, and I didn’t want to rush her, so I just added strides and went super slow. I decided to stay in the ring and do the first round while it was all fresh in her mind. Everyone said she was the most improved. The next round ended up getting in the mid-80s and second behind Luxor. And then second again [in the final round], so I was really happy with her.
Luxor won both classes, and La Premiere was second in both and won the under saddle—and that was her first horse show she’d ever done.
2:30 p.m. I went back to the barn and rode Babylon.
I was riding him at my barn first, but he was a bit lazy there. He kind of acts like he doesn’t want to work that hard. You’ll be riding along and all of a sudden, he’ll make this groan and try to pull up and come back to the walk—and then you’ll have to be like, “No, we have to keep working.” There were a couple ponies in the ring riding, and he was more interested in them. So, I decided to take him over to Kent’s place and ride him around the track.
The track’s very big, and I can canter around; it’s not just going around in circles. It pumps him up and gets his adrenaline going a little bit more, and then he’s much easier to keep going forward. When he’s out on that track, he really stretches down and uses his head and neck at the trot and the canter. He just enjoys it; to him it’s more fun than ring work, and I can get I can get him to work pretty well and use all his muscles.
After I got off of him, I went over the schedule for tomorrow.
4 p.m. I went over and had a meeting with Kent. If I have any questions for Kent or to go over anything, the best time to get him is between 4 and 5 in the afternoon when things are winding down over there. We needed to touch base about a couple clients, and he wanted to show me some videos of some hunter prospects in Europe and see what I thought of those. We try to get together a couple times a week.
The way our business is set up, I kind of do my thing over there on the hunter side and he leaves a lot of it up to me. But there are times I think it’s definitely good for us to talk and let him know how the horses are going and how they went at the show. He definitely wants to be involved and know what’s going on. It’s nice to go over and fill him in on everything.
5 p.m. Get home.
One thing about me, I never carry my phone when I’m riding. So during the day I might check my phone going back and forth to the show, but I don’t check it otherwise. It would slow me down. At night, I’ve got people to call. I’ve got plans to make for New Year’s Eve. People send me videos of horses; I probably get four or five videos a day. I’ll look at videos and get back to those people. Then I have to set up some trials for people that are coming in town next week; I need to get a group together for them to try and set the times up for that.
I’ll do a few calls now and a few after dinner.
6:30 p.m. I start making dinner so we can eat by 7. I wouldn’t say I’m a great cook. It’s hard because my husband Carlos is vegan, and a lot of those dishes aren’t that easy for me. He’s into super healthy, but sometimes when I come home, I need some pasta or something. I eat mostly fish and vegetables. With him it’s more specific dishes like tofu and Beyond Meat.
I have salmon that I made a few pieces of the other day. So, I just may have to heat my dinner and probably cook some sort of vegetable. For Carlos I’m cooking Bambara beans, and I’m going to make that with some peppers and onions. It’s kind of like an African dish over rice.
8 p.m. We normally watch—I hate to say it—a couple hours of TV a night.
I like looking online at horse properties. Kind of like horses, just trying to find that horse property that might be a steal somewhere in the country that might be the new up and coming Ocala [Florida] or something. I love being on Zillow, and Carlos is always like, “What are you doing? We’re not buying a house.” We’ve done that in the past [in California]—bought some houses and fixed them up a little bit and sold them.
9 p.m. If I have to get up at 4 a.m. again, which I do tomorrow, I try to be in bed by at least 9 o’clock. Tomorrow’s another show day, and I get to do it all again.