ichael Jung. Ever heard of him? Of course you have (unless you’ve been living under a rock). He’s been beating the pants off everyone in the eventing world (and occasional show jumping grand prix) for the last decade. In case his name doesn’t ring a bell, suffice it to say he’s got a handful of gold medals hanging in his trophy room.
Up-and-coming American eventer Mike Pendleton received the surprise of a lifetime when he was told he’d be traveling to Horb, Germany to close out 2018 riding and training with Michael. Talk about an incredible Christmas gift!
The idea was sprung by Boyd Martin, for whom the 25-year-old has worked since 2012. Boyd, knowing the value and importance of education in the sport, approached some of his owners, who pitched in to help fund the journey for Mike.
"He really stressed letting the horse find the jump on their own."
The trip was an abbreviated one, lasting only six weeks, but was filled with lasting education and experiences that Mike will keep with him for the rest of his career. Mike knew he needed to take full advantage of his time with the greatest event rider in modern history (perhaps ever), so he made it his mission to become a sponge and soak in every granule of knowledge tossed his way.
What was it like, immersing oneself in the once simultaneous Olympic, World, and European Champion rider’s program? Do tell, Mike!
Mike Pendleton at the USEA Young Event Horse Championship. Photo by Erin Gilmore for Shannon Brinkman Photography.
1. Stop micromanaging. During the first few rides, Michael zeroed in on Mike’s tendency to micromanage. “My first lesson was actually a jumping lesson,” he recalls. “He really stressed letting the horse find the jump on their own, just letting them figure their feet out instead of managing every step.”
Watching Michael ride, it’s easy to see that he trains his horses to think for themselves and to trust their instincts. By instilling this concept early in the horse’s education, the training process is simpler, Mike says.
2. Be detail-oriented. Mike is used to a program that runs like a well-oiled machine from his time spent at Windurra with Boyd, but there is always something to be learned from time spent elsewhere. Michael has “his own program for each individual horse”, and he always knew exactly where each horse was in the process. This is no easy task, considering there are new, young horses coming in for training and evaluation on a consistent basis.
3. Put the pressure on, take the pressure off. Mike spoke of the manner in which Michael works with horses both young and seasoned. “It was really interesting to watch,” he says. “He would ask a lot of each horse, but they’d never come out flustered the next day. He knew exactly how much pressure he could put on each horse without it being too much for them to take in.”
Michael Jung and fischerRocana FST at the Kentucky Three-Day Event. Photo by Kaitlyn Karssen.
4. ‘Hands off’ training. Even if Mike was not receiving a full, 45-minute lesson, he quickly subscribed to the more European style of training in which riders help each other as eyes on the ground. Michael himself would ride alongside his students, issuing pointers or quick corrections during walk breaks.
“The cool part is he was always there, even if it wasn’t a lesson. He really keeps you from going off into space, always having something useful to say if he can see something that needs to be improved.”
The concept of the more 'hands off' style of coaching is one Mike enjoyed and one that lends itself well to the notion of not micromanaging every stride of every ride. He feels this style helps riders become more independent thinkers.
"You don’t feel a lot of difference in how the show jumpers were ridden versus the eventers."
5. Softer, longer, looser. Michael systematically encouraged Mike to ride “softer and longer”, stressing the importance of not riding with tension in his arms. “It’s good to have the reminder and to see how effective riding this way is, with young horses and with the horses who are older.”
6. Always integrate flatwork. Observe Michael riding or training in any scenario, and you’ll no doubt find that he spends the majority of his time schooling on the flat. His methodical approach transcends disciplines, as he frequents both the eventing and the show jumping circuits throughout the year. This simple but easy-to-forget concept is one that was driven home when Mike had the opportunity to ride both Michael’s event horses and his show jumpers.
“Really, each horse goes in the same style – flatwork first,” Mike recalls. “You don’t feel a lot of difference in how the show jumpers were ridden versus the eventers, which is because they’re so universally well-schooled on the flat.”
Mike Pendleton at the USEA Young Event Horse Championship. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld for Shannon Brinkman Photography.
7. The impeccably trained horse is priceless. Oftentimes, horses are trained in a certain rider’s style. This does not always translate into a horse who is responsive to just any rider’s cues. But Michael’s famed, retired partner, La Biosthetique Sam FBW, is an example of a horse who has been flawlessly trained. Near the end of Mike’s six weeks in Germany, he got the golden opportunity to sit astride the legendary gelding.
“The crazy part is he is just so obedient, you barely have to even think of what you’d like to do before he does it,” Mike marvels. “It’s just very cool to be able to ride a horse that well-trained and responsive.”
A compliant, universally rideable horse is difficult to produce, but Michael’s found a way. “I think it says a lot about how good the rider’s aids are when they can train a horse up and have anyone get on it and be able to ride it well.”
Now that Mike is back stateside and resuming life as usual, he says that the reinforcement of basic, fundamental horsemanship has been a nice reminder. “(Michael) is so detail-oriented, it’s easy to see why his horses and his program are so successful,” he says.
With several horses to ride under Boyd’s tutelage, including former four-star mount Steady Eddie, Mike says he’ll be practicing what he learned in Germany: don’t manage every stride, always incorporate flatwork into every ride, and pay attention to even the smallest details. After all, it’s those small details that are an integral part of the Jung empire’s success, and shrewd riders would do well to follow suit.
Feature photo of Michael Jung by Adam Fanthorpe.