An American Icon: Catching Up with Margie Engle

Margie

With a career spanning 30 successful years and top placings all across the globe, Margie Engle has consistently demonstrated her talent, commitment, and strength in the saddle. This fall, the American show jumping icon turned heads with a pair of back-to-back wins at the HITS Thermal National Sunshine Series with new horse Abunola, and her veteran superstar Royce.

Engle’s determination and masterful strategies prepare her for success, and a strong stable management program allows her to compete at top venues while maintaining a talented string of horses and simultaneously helping to develop her clients. Her toughness over the years is well known, and well documented as she’s incurred and recovered from several serious injuries. One of her most serious injuries came in 1991, when a stallion crushed every bone in Engle’s foot when he fell on her leg. With severe nerve damage in her leg, she was told she would never walk normally again, but Engle was back in the saddle a week later and competing a mere two months later.

By facing challenging moments with the same strength and tenacity she carries into the show ring, Engle continues to captivate her audience and light up the ring with her electric rides and thrilling wins. Read on as she discusses the key components to success, as well as the talented horses she’s bringing along for 2016.

Q: How do you balance the management of your stable with competing at various events across the globe?
A: It’s definitely hard, especially when I’m away. Usually, I have people at the barn that can fill in the lessons and training while I’m showing, but when I’m home, I also enjoy teaching and riding as well. It definitely proves to be a hard task to manage alone. It takes a lot of hard work and organizational skills to keep things balanced, and we do a good job keeping barn tasks in order when I’m home and as I’m competing. I have a team at home that is invaluable to me and includes Bernie Maier, Blair Willmer, and Joy Montgomerie, in addition to a few other. There is also Bobbi Badgley, my good friend since we were kids at the barn in Miami, who helps with my bookkeeping and watches over my stable and house while I am away.

Q: What was your strategy going into Thermal this November that contributed to your back-to-back wins with Royce and Abunola?
A: Royce has been great all year. I’ve been very happy with all of his performances and at Thermal, he was very good and we were very much in sync. I was going for a clean round and he really shone. As for Abunola, she’s a newer mare. I was definitely pushing her a little more and going for a faster, tighter track around the course because I know she has the talent and fierce attitude to be in the top placings. I really like her and I was very pleased with both horses’ accomplishments.

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Engle & Royce in winning form at Thermal, November 2015 Ph. ESI

Q: How did Abunola come to you and what are your plans for her going into the 2016 show season?
A: I’m always looking for nice horses. I actually first found Abunola online, through a video, and then I saw her in the Pan Am Games [where she was being ridden by Argentina’s Luis Pedro Biraben]. I was instantly drawn to her and I really liked her, along with the potential I saw. She can do the bigger classes, but I’m just taking it day by day, week by week and getting a feel for her, as she’s quite new. She’s a really nice quality horse and she has a lot of blood. In 2016, I know we’ll be doing bigger, more technical classes, especially because she has all the talent and she can take some of the pressure off of Royce as well. Abunola is very smart and careful too, so I’m really enjoying riding her.

Q: What does your off-season look like in the way that you prepare your horses for the first show of 2016?
A: I try to alternate horses so they get time off. For example, Royce had the rest of the year off after Thermal. I really work hard to mix up the horses that show, so that the same ones aren’t competing all of the time. Most of the horses will take December off, so that we can give them a break from training. Some of my clients who haven’t shown anywhere and don’t really leave Wellington very often will also attend some of the shows in Florida in December. Though, for the most part, December is an off month for most of us. It’s a more relaxed time of year where we can do something different such as trail rides. We really try to keep things interesting for the horses to keep them happy.

Q: What do you think have been the primary factors to the longevity of your career?
A: I think I have a strong passion for the sport and I really love what I do, and trying to put the horses first is very important to me. It’s always a very interesting sport. With each new horse come new things to learn and new challenges. This is one sport you can never really master. I don’t think anyone, no matter their age, knows everything about it. Because of all the constant excitement and new opportunities, my passion and love for the sport grows stronger – and I’ve always had such a special connection with horses as well.

Q: You’ve endured several show jumping injuries throughout your career. What has motivated you to never give up?
A: I think it’s part of my nature, as I’m very persistent. It’s important to take the good with the bad. In hindsight, many of my injuries could’ve been prevented. Two of my injuries occurred while I was on catch rides. They were horses that I shouldn’t have been riding when I was younger. I loved the sport so much and the challenge that came with it and so I was willing to ride certain horses that others didn’t want to ride. People would come up to me and ask me to ride their difficult horses. Both times that I was approached like that, I was injured.

“It’s always a very interesting sport. With each new horse come new things to learn and new challenges.”

Looking back, when you’re young and feeling indestructible, you don’t really think about the outcome and because of this, a lot of my injuries were probably unnecessary. It’s about learning from your mistakes to move forward. Over the years, I’ve tried to be more specific when choosing horses to take on. Later in my career, I would sometimes take risks that I shouldn’t have, but you just have to persevere because there are always risks that come along with any sport.

Q: If you weren’t a show jumper, which career do you think you would have pursued?
A: Well, my mother was a school teacher and a principal, so I think I might’ve possibly gone in that direction. I also thought about being a vet because I love animals and I love trying to help them, but I don’t think I could’ve dealt with all the blood that went with being a vet. My husband is a veterinarian and so I went with him a lot of the time and helped him occasionally, but I had a hard time dealing with most of the stitches and blood!

Q: How do you select your grand prix horses and is there a particular temperament that you’re drawn to in a horse?
A: Well, everyone’s basically looking for the same type of horse; the modern, grand prix mount. You’re looking for something careful, scopey, with a great brain. We’re all searching for the same qualities. As for a particular type of horse, I prefer a horse with more blood, as opposed to a little bit colder mount. Nowadays, it’s so hard to find a great horse, forcing people to be less picky when it comes to selection. You have to see if the positives outweigh the negatives because you’re never going to find a perfect horse. It’s not like a car, where you can put in your order and get the exact model you want.

One thing I do really look for is heart. Some of my best horses may not have had all the scope in the world, but, Saluut, for example, was one of the best grand prix horses I’ve ever had. He had so much heart and he was super careful, with such good technique, as well. Where he lacked in scope, he made up for in heart.

Q: What do you think are the key components to success in the show ring?
A: Persistence and dedication are very important. Another key to success is that you must be willing to work very hard. This is a very demanding sport. So much effort is required to be successful, so a great work ethic goes a long way. It’s also very important to be committed, as there are always new things to work on and challenges to overcome.

Q: The LGCT has done much to elevate the sport of show jumping. In what ways have you personally benefitted from this tour?
A: It’s a fantastic tour. It has something for everybody and most of my clients really enjoy going. It has awesome venues, giving you the opportunity to compete in very unique places, such as Paris and even the show down in Miami. I never thought we would have a horse show right there on the beach! Also, because the tour has the top ranked riders in the world, the level of competition is much greater as well. It’s nice to be able to compete against some of the best show jumpers. It helps to you to elevate your own riding by learning from other people and watching them compete. When I went to Valkenswaard this year, they put so much money into it and so much effort into making the grounds and facility an enjoyable place. Everyone really loved it, as it’s a whole other level of competition and a whole other level for spectators, so it’s really amazing.

Engle walking the course in August at LGCT Valkenswaard. At top: jumping with Royce.
Engle walking the course in August at LGCT Valkenswaard. At top: jumping with Royce.

Q: Can you talk about any young horses you’re bringing along and what your plans are for them next year?
A: I have some very nice, young horses, but unfortunately, it’s all part of the business to keep moving and selling. I had one horse that I was very excited about that I think may be getting sold. He was a very nice 7-year-old gelding that I was bringing up. I have some other nice horses as well. There’s one that I’m also bringing along who is getting experience right now and Abunola is definitely a mare that I have high hopes for. She’s for sure going to help take some of the showing pressure off of Royce and I’m going to keep looking for other young, talented horses to pursue.

Q: Who has influenced you the most throughout your career?
A: To pick just one individual is so difficult. When I was a kid, the people I rode for were like second parents to me. They bought me a saddle and gave me my start in horse riding. Because I didn’t have a lot of money to be able to buy my own horse, they let me work around the stable in exchange for riding lessons and I got a job there. I worked for them, breaking young horses and ponies. They gave me the opportunity to show their horses as well and that was a really big deal to me. It got me into catch-riding and there were so many people along the way that helped me.

Different trainers let me ride horses for them and they also paid for me to do clinics. I took a clinic with George Morris and quite a few others, so it was really great, but I think the horses are some of the best instructors too. You can learn so much from a horse and I’ve been able to ride a lot and learn something new from each horse. I also loved attending the shows as a younger rider and learning from those around me.

Q: What do you think are your greatest strengths as a rider?
A: I try to take each horse as an individual, instead of trying to mold them into what I want. As a younger catch-rider, I had to adjust to new horses quickly, instead of them adjusting to me, so that was something I learned at an early age. With a lot of the horses I rode, I’d get on them at horse shows and I would try to get into their heads and listen to them and their body language. Rather than treating them all the same, I try to work with their individual needs to better accommodate different personalities and behavior.


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