In my past days as a show jumper, I had trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan of North Run at the in-gate and by my side. I don’t compete these days, but she is still an elite trainer at the top of her game who is widely regarded as one of the very best in the business.
In general, I’m leery of people throwing around superlatives like “best,” but in this case, I happen to know it’s true from first-hand experience. She took me from being a local, green rider (on a good day) to being a professional show jumper who had the privilege of representing the United States on numerous occasions.
Last week, I sat down with Missy for a dynamic and far-ranging discussion about the equestrian life, the equestrian business, and equestrian passion. She’s a friend and role model of mine, and I’ve always held her in the highest regard. As we spoke, she talked about the things she’s learned over the years, and her guiding principles. I was struck by how familiar they all sounded, and not just because I remembered them from years ago, when she would share them with me daily. They were familiar because I still use them every day. It dawned on me that her lessons not only shaped my riding career—they have also shaped my life and my career, both past and present.
I can’t recount all of the many tenets of her life philosophy that came up during our hour-long chat (you’ll have to hope she writes a book someday), but I will share four of them that really resonated, because they are lessons I’d learned years ago and still live by today.
1. Never blame the horse.
You can have talent, you can have a good attitude, and you can be a hard worker, but if you don’t know how to handle errors (and take responsibility for them so that you can learn from them)— you’ll never be a champion. In anything, don’t blame the horse.
“I’ve always said you can take moments that are not great, or be in a situation where you’re having a bad day, and there are two ways you can handle it — it’s either going to make you weaker or it’s going to make you stronger. And I’ve always gone with Choice B.”
As she said those words, I told her I was having a major flashback, and Missy said I should he having a flashback, because I was “the poster child for that.” And she went on to say, “I remember in that one WEF [Challenge Cup] you were in the jump off, and you had two clears. You fell off Quincy, got up, dusted yourself off (literally), got on Corlett, and you won the class on her.”
There will be failure. Dust yourself off. I’ve lived with this. And I know precisely from whom I learned it.
2. Team is key.
Everyone always talks about the importance of “team,” and sometimes it can sound cliché. But what it really means is that you need to put as much effort into finding and developing your team as you do yourself. A team is built by everyone in it. You don’t just join it and everything changes. You build it over a lifetime. I have always been a believer in the North Run Team — when I was riding, I called myself “a lifer.” I still call Missy and John “my trainers” when I speak of them (which I realized I do often), and they will always be a part of my Team. Now it is just larger — I have built a family, become part of the Malvern Bank Team professionally, and cultivated the lessons she taught me about surrounding yourself with the best, and developing that Team.
3. Stay Humble
Equestrian sports are so unique because of the partnership between the riders and the horses. One day you can win the grand prix and the next day you can fall off (or do both in the same class!) Horses do not care who you are or where you came from, they live in the moment, and it forces us to do the same as equestrians.
“It doesn’t matter who you are in the sport, nobody has ever ‘arrived,’” explained Missy. “You know, you’ll have your good days and you’ll have your bad days. Whether you’re at the top of the sport, or you’re coming along and you’re learning. That should never be the measurement of your self-worth. If you have a bad day, that’s life with horses. Whether you’re the best of the best, or just starting out.”
4. Find What You Believe In, and Give Back.
Missy is on the board of the Philadelphia Urban Riding Academy (PURA), which was founded to preserve the life, legacy and culture of Black urban cowboys in the city of Philadelphia. Their first campaign together is the “Fresh Start for Philly Youth” initiative to help raise money for a new facility in downtown Philadelphia. This new facility will provide a unique space for children, teens and adults to experience horses up close and personal, and Missy will be donating her time to help with clinics for the students. To help support this program please visit their GoFundMe.
She has been an active supporter of Danny & Ron’s Rescue since I can remember, because of her love of animals, especially dogs, whom she would argue she likes more than most humans. Their mission to find homes for dogs suffering from abuse, abandonment and starvation is something Missy firmly believes and wants to support. To learn more click here.
I am proud that Malvern Bank is a supporter of these two charities through our Affinity Program, which allows customers to select a Malvern Bank Affinity Program charity for Malvern to support through donations on their behalf. To learn more about the Affinity Program at Malvern Bank click here.
Missy is bringing awareness to rider safety through the Kevin Babington Foundation, which supports a lifelong friend who suffered a catastrophic show jumping accident.
“This community stepped up, and a group of us formed the Foundation to support him further,” said Missy. “We need to educate the equestrian world to be more cognizant of safety. These safety vests are a great new development in the sport. If it can happen to an Olympic rider, it can happen to you, believe me. You might as well take your available options to make it safer. “
To continue to support our friend Kevin Babington click here.
Seated outside at her beautiful farm, North Run, in Wellington, we talked about life, family, and the success she and her students enjoyed during WEF 2021. She talked about the range of riders she works with and that her highlight from WEF was that each of them won a blue ribbon. I was reminded of how much love she puts into each of her students and the devotion she has to the sport and to what she believes in. That’s not to say there isn’t some stress and strain involved in the adventure. When I reflected on how difficult some students can be (myself included), she wouldn’t say anything negative. But on this walk down memory lane, I realized just how much of an impact she has had on my life.
Thank you, Missy, for helping me realize that the best trainers are the ones who don’t just help you excel in your sport. They do much more than that.