Last fall, Adrienne Sternlicht served as the youngest member of the gold-medal winning squad at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Tryon, North Carolina. But years before her name was one of the most recognizable in U.S. show jumping, Adrienne was diligently studying the sport under a few of the sport’s finest, including Andre Dignelli, Laura Kraut, and Nick Skelton. These days, she's continuing to hone her craft with the legendary McLain Ward.
With McLain's help, Adrienne has already seen tremendous growth in her competitive career. Take a look at the 10 tips that McLain is passing onto 25-year-old rising star, Adrienne Sternlicht:
1. Have a plan: "When I first started working with McLain, he had me outline both my short- and long-term goals, including a plan for each of my horses. With some of my horses, I should have a short-term outlook, making specific goals for the year. With other horses, however, McLain has encouraged me to think long-term about my career goals and the necessary steps to build these horses to achieve them. Separating the two has certainly changed the way I approach my ring rides on each horse, and I think it has been a really valuable lesson for me.
2. Mental equilibrium: McLain has stressed to me the importance of reaching a sort of mental equilibrium. While I may not perform to my full potential every day, if I can ride at a certain level and maintain consistency, my results will improve, as will my horses.
3. Work smarter, not necessarily harder: Dedication and a fierce commitment to the sport are a prerequisite to getting to the highest level of the sport. However, it is equally as important to make sure to take breaks, for both the mental health of you and your horses by giving yourself other outlets to focus on. For every person these outlets are different, but for me it means keeping myself stimulated outside of horses by spending time with friends, working out, or doing volunteer work for a nonprofit I’m getting involved in.
4. Be responsive to your horse: As a rider, you may be able to handle a grueling, 45-minute flat session every day, your horse may not be able to take that same pressure. McLain has emphasized the importance of responding to the needs of the horse and leaving them fresh at home, especially when one of my horses is not in a demanding period of its schedule.
5. Organization is everything: It all begins with an organized stable. McLain’s stable is spotless and is always in pristine condition and that truly sets a precedent for his greater operation.
6. Less is often more: With McLain, this has several meanings. In terms of the horse’s fitness, however, horses tend to stay naturally fit when they are in season, and his fitness regimen for his top horses is not as rigorous as I would’ve imagined. He emphasizes simplicity in training of the horses, and his approach to teaching is very clear and direct.
7. Leave no loose ends: In terms of equipment, double-check your tack so that it fits each individual horse perfectly. All tack should be the correct length for the horse with no loose ends on the horse’s side. Because there are so many things that can go wrong in our sport, McLain has stressed the importance of eliminating the possibility of a tack malfunction — an unnecessary and avoidable problem.
8. Focus on riding the course as well as you can: While it is difficult to see the outcome as entirely separate, focusing on results will limits your success in the end. Especially since beginning to jump bigger classes, I’ve learned how important it is to be able to separate your riding from your score. When the track is difficult, McLain has taught me to simply focus on riding the course as well as I can.
9. Details of the course: When walking a course with McLain, he is incredibly detailed-oriented. He has taught me to pay attention to the terrain of the ring — not just on fields but also sand rings, as it affects how you should approach a fence. I also now pay attention to jump cups in the ring and how flat or deep they are. Sometimes the course designer changes out the cups on a fence between the first round and jump-off which can change the way you ride a fence or save you time where others may not have noticed.
10. Time allowed: McLain has stressed to me that your time allowed must be accomplished at the beginning of a course. In big classes, in particular, the courses tend to get more careful as they go on, and affording yourself extra time to set up a difficult turn at the end of the course can be very helpful. He also has suggested that with a tight time allowed, it can be very useful to glance at the clock at a midway point in order to gage your speed."
Read this next: A Gilded Year: Adrienne Sternlicht’s Path to the World Stage
All photos by Sportfot.