Friday, May. 24, 2024

The Michael Poulin Hypothesis

With the official naming of my wonderful, brilliant friend Ali Brock to the U.S. Olympic Dressage Team for the Rio Games (along with Steffen Peters, Laura Graves and Kasey Perry-Glass), our mutual coach, Michael Barisone, joins a very small club: Olympians themselves who’ve coached a rider to the Olympics as well. It’s a huge achievement, and I’m just bursting with joy for Ali, Michael, and the rest of the wonderful folks involved in this exceptional team.

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With the official naming of my wonderful, brilliant friend Ali Brock to the U.S. Olympic Dressage Team for the Rio Games (along with Steffen Peters, Laura Graves and Kasey Perry-Glass), our mutual coach, Michael Barisone, joins a very small club: Olympians themselves who’ve coached a rider to the Olympics as well. It’s a huge achievement, and I’m just bursting with joy for Ali, Michael, and the rest of the wonderful folks involved in this exceptional team.

But there’s another player in this story, one whose name probably won’t get mentioned in any of the press. His name is Michael Poulin, and he needs mention because Ali’s achievement makes Mr. Poulin a two-time member of an even smaller club: Olympians who’ve produced Olympians who’ve produced Olympians. Michael Poulin was a longtime coach to both Michael Barisone, Ali’s coach, as well as Lendon Gray, who coached Courtney King-Dye, member of the 2008 Olympic Dressage Team. If there are others out there in American dressage who’ve achieved such a tremendous honor, I don’t know them.

I don’t know Michael Poulin very well—we’ve chatted a bit, and I’ve also had the great pleasure of meeting his two lovely daughters, Kate and Gwen—but he’s one of those legends who appears in the biographies of so many great riders, including another Olympian, Carol Lavell. He himself is still producing horses to the Grand Prix level, and his energy and passion for the sport remain unyielding even as he enters his seventh decade. 

A few years back I cultivated a theory, and always meant to write a blog on it, but just hadn’t gotten around to it; I’m now glad I waited, because this is a much better intro to it.

Ever heard of the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?” The game, such as it is, is based on the concept that every actor in Hollywood can be connected to Kevin Bacon, whose artistic portfolio is quite vast, in no greater than six steps. And the number of steps it takes to connect any given actor to Mr. Bacon is referred to as his Kevin Bacon Number.

As an example, Gwyneth Paltrow has a Bacon Number of 2: she was in Iron Man 3 with Justin Wheelon, who was in Death Sentence with Mr. Bacon himself. (If you’d like to waste some time, enjoy this database of Bacon Numbers. You’re welcome.)

I posit a similar hypothesis for American dressage. I believe anyone in the sport can be connected to Michael Poulin in no fewer than four steps. This applies to meaningful training relationships, not just a random clinic or lesson. But anyone I’ve ever met can be linked in four steps or less.

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I, for example, have a Michael Poulin Number of 2, four different ways: I work with Michael Barisone, worked with Lendon Gray while in college, and was a working student for both Pam Goodrich and Carol Lavell, all students of Mr. Poulin’s. I suppose I could add an exponent to take multiple connections into account, such that my Poulin Number would then be 2 to the fourth power. Maybe that’s too geeky. 

Really this whole thing is too geeky, and a very glib tribute to the tremendous achievements of Michael Poulin, Center of the American Dressage Universe. Long may he reign. So I’ll quit while I’m behind with a big congrats to our 2016 Olympians, as well as to all of their coaches and support crew.

What’s your Poulin Number? Share in the comments!

Want to know more about Michael Poulin? In the March 25, 2015 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse, we honored him as a Living Legend. Jennifer Calder’s in-depth profile of him in that issue shows just how unique, impactful and interesting he is. Did you know he has previous stints as a ballet dancer, pilot, race car driver and more? Calder probed how his difficult childhood shaped him, what fatherhood means to Poulin, and so much more. 

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