During the $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Thermal CSI3*-W on Saturday, February 13th in Thermal, California, a challenging course separated three riders from a starting field of 20. Relatively unknown in a list that included the United States’ Will Simpson and Rich Fellers, and Germany’s Christian Heineking, rider Jamie Barge piloted Luebbo to a double clear, finishing 2nd to Egypt’s Nayel Nassar and ahead of France’s Eric Navet.
Although a fairly new pair, the 29-year-old American rider and the 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding(Lord Pezi x Stakkato) began collecting wins and top placings in California last summer. Their first major win came in July 2015 in the $30,000 Summer Festival Grand Prix at the Del Mar Horse Park, closely followed by victory in the $50,000 Showpark Grand Prix in August. In November, Barge and Luebbo finished second to the United States’ McLain Ward and Rothchild in the $100,000 Coachella Valley Classic at HITS Sunshine Series II CSI5*, also held at the HITS Desert Horse Park.
Barge started riding at the young age of nine in Pasadena, Calif., before moving to Connecticut, where she competed in the hunters and equitation throughout her junior years with trainer Val Renihan. In 2007, she transferred colleges from the University of Georgia to Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., to compete professionally in the jumpers on the West Coast. Training with Gabrielle Salick for several years, Barge has recently gone out on her own, basing her training business out of El Campeon Farms in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Exciting milestones are still to come for Barge and Luebbo after nearly winning their first World Cup Qualifier together; the class was the horse’s first WCQ ever, and Barge’s third time competing at that level. A lesser known fact about Barge is that she works around a hearing impairment that requires hearing aids and tools to help her hear the world around her. Read on to learn more about the exceptional rider and her approach to overcoming challenges to ultimately reach her riding goals.
Q: Where did you find Luebbo, and did you see him as a World Cup horse?
A: Luebbo came recommended as a nice fit for me through a good friend. I did see the potential in him as a probable World Cup horse.
Q: What did you study in college?
A: I studied sociology and coaching and graduated from Pepperdine University.
Q: Would you speak about your hearing impairment? How and when did you lose hearing?
A: Thank for asking. I was born with hearing loss. I had two hearing aids until I hit my head loading my pony for a show in Connecticut, and my hearing completely dropped in my left ear. Now I have a cochlear implant in my left ear and still wear my hearing aid in my right ear – however, that hearing has dropped significantly over the years. Without my hearing aid or implant, I hear absolutely nothing, not even a fire alarm. I travel with my service dog, Kylie, who will wake me at night if necessary.
Q: And what can you hear in the ring or on your horse?
A: When I’m in the ring I do not hear the buzzer or bell, so you will notice that I am always looking at the clock to pick up my starting queues. I am so glad Rolex and Longines sponsor so many events!
Usually my horse hears sounds that I cannot hear. This can be quite surprising. I recall a bad fall in Del Mar when my horse spooked at something that I never heard. Of course, that can happen to anyone in the sport, but I had no clue it was coming.
One of the difficulties is that I can feel a rub but cannot tell if the rail falls because I can’t hear it hit the ground. I prefer to look at the positive. I ride every fence as if there are no faults. I can always access crossing the finish line if my horse and I performed well, but for the actual result, I must look at the screen.
While I can’t hear the crowd’s applause, I can definitely see their excitement, and that is very rewarding.
In the warm-up ring, my groom is really good at listening and signaling to me about how many trips out I am. I also try to memorize the 4 riders in front of me so I can watch and monitor the pace that way. The in-gate people are the best and have always been patient to repeat questions that they probably just answered over the microphone and signal me when I can enter the ring.
So I have never considered my hearing a disadvantage. I just have to do things a little differently.
Q: Would you please describe the training tools you use to hear your trainers, clients, or interviewers?
A: For training, I have a wireless microphone that my coach can wear and a clip that fits on the back of my hearing aid. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have too wide of a range anymore so I ride to the middle of the ring for instruction and try again.
It was much harder when my hearing would drop and I still had to do equitation flat classes. One time, at Devon, Val taught us all signals for all the Eq commands and had her friends stand around the ring and signal to me the instructions of the flat class.
As for interviews, I rely on a quiet place and lip reading. My clients are pretty patient to repeat or ride in if they have a question.
Q: What did you think about the WCQ Thermal course? In what ways was it difficult and in what ways did it play to your and Luebbo’s strengths?
A: I thought the course was big and where it needed to be for a competition at that level. I thought the short line towards the gate was difficult and the short two to two combination at the end of the course was challenging. I knew I was going to have to say ‘whoa’ and make sure I was slow with my body so Bo could take his time to jump those and not jump too quickly towards the gate. These were especially difficult after the long line in the beginning across the middle that really got the horses going and thinking forward.
Q: What was your strategy for the first and the jump off rounds?
A: Honestly, for the first round I just wanted to have a nice relaxed round with no big mistakes so it could be a positive move up experience for Bo. I was shocked and extremely proud of Bo for going clear. As for the jump off, I wanted to be efficient but mostly to go clear.
Q: Did you learn anything about you or your horse from the experience?
A: I learned that in these big classes I need to get on earlier in the warm up as Bo got really amped with the atmosphere and the crowd. It took me longer to get him to relax and channel that energy into focus.
I would also like to thank Longines for sponsoring the class, HITs for hosting, and my sponsor Devoucoux.
Q: What are the goals you’ve set for yourself this year?
A: I would like to continue learning and to improve my training of horses and students. I would love to train more horses, and I am planning to go ride with Otto Becker in Germany for a little while to continue my training education.