With the onset of the cold weather, it’s a great time to cozy up and get to know some of your favorite riders. We’ll be posting Q&As with riders throughout the upcoming months, giving you an inside look into their life as equine professionals and getting tidbits of advice that we can all put to good use. Do you have a rider you’d like us to profile? Email [email protected] and we’ll get the chinchillas on it!
Lisa Barry had a rocking 2014, ending with a solid completion of both the CCI2* and CCI3* at the Dutta Corp Fair Hill International with horses she’s produced herself — no small effort, especially considering it was her first time competing at “mini Rolex.” Now Lisa’s busy planning for the new year, and she kindly took a few minutes to chat with EN. Let’s get to know Lisa a bit better!
EN: What were the highlights of your 2014 season?
Lisa: There’s a couple. Certainly being second at Bromont was huge for me and Peanut (F.I.S. Prince Charming). And jumping around Fair Hill, that was the first time I’ve ever competed there, so obviously having a pretty significant placing in my first CCI3* with that horse was amazing.
Tackling one of the toughest three-star cross country courses in the world was pretty rewarding. I was able to get two horses around on their first try, and they’re both really good horses, but you never know what will happen on a track like that.
EN: What events are on your bucket list?
Lisa: I certainly want to try to jump around Kentucky, which — fingers crossed — will happen this year! Other than that, I groomed for Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch at Badminton in 2010, and I’d love to run around there. I don’t think I’m quite brave enough to say I want to go to Burghley yet, but maybe someday.
EN: Who was your riding idol growing up?
Lisa: Karen O’Connor for sure. I’ve been riding with her for almost 22 years now. I started taking clinics with her when I was 8 years old and I just wanted to be her, so it was really cool that I got to be a part of her training process.
I begged and pleaded to come and be a working student for her, and now we’re quite good friends and colleagues. She’s still my mentor. I ride with others here and there, but Karen is kind of like a second mother to me.
EN: What’s one of the best things you’ve learned from Karen?
Lisa: You have to enjoy the journey and have some patience and understand that everything is a process is one thing she’s always told me. You can’t expect everything to go the way you want it, so you have to be happy with things day to day and have big goals and small goals. You just can’t enjoy where you get if you don’t enjoy every day.
EN: What has been your favorite cross country course to date?
Lisa: I would have to say probably either one of the older Red Hills courses or The Fork. Both are done so well and they’re different venues. Certainly Red Hills, with the course going in and out of the trees and the crowds gives you a feel for riding in front of people. I love The Fork; it’s just a great event. The jumps are always really well done and the atmosphere is great.
EN: Do you have any lucky charms or superstitions?
Lisa: I’m not a very superstitious person, and I don’t have too much of a routine. I’m one of those people that always checks my tack, like if I have a working student or something, I always double check.
I used to not like to ride in white britches on cross country because I was afraid if I fell off in the water you’d see through them, but now I do it all the time!
I’m one of those crazy people who finds four-leaf clovers; they pretty much smack me in the face. If I find them, I generally pick them and give them to someone else, because I figure if I’m lucky enough to have that weird eye, then they get to be a part of the luck. Unless someone gives it to me, I don’t keep them. When I walked Jersey Fresh (last year), I literally picked like 14 or 15 — it was stupid.
EN: What would you say is your biggest strength/weakness as a rider?
Lisa: My weakness has always been emotions. I’m a very emotional person, so trying to keep my emotions out of my riding has been a lifelong task. I’ve always wanted to be really good at what I do, and I struggle with how badly I wanted it when something goes wrong and keeping my tears in check.
It’s a tough thing because I’m sort of known around our little circle as the one that cries. It’s never been like I’m not getting what I want; it’s just that I’m so passionate about what I do. It’s taken a lot of work with Karen and David to learn to take a breath and get my thoughts together. I’m certainly much, much better, but that’s been a weakness my whole life in lots of areas. I cry over commercials sometimes!
As far as strengths go, for one I was a very serious gymnast as a kid for 14 or 15 years, which I feel has given me a pretty serious advantage, in my own head, for my balance and my security up there.
I feel like I can deal with a lot because of what I did as a gymnast, and it’s definitely come from being in Karen’s program for so long as well. I feel like I can stay in the middle of the horse pretty well. I tend to not come off over silly things because I was trained so young to have a good center of balance.
EN: Do you remember your first event?
Lisa: No! I literally have been competing since I was 3 and eventing since age 6, and like all event people, I’ve certainly hit my head a few times! I do remember my first walk/trot class on a teeny tiny pony named David as a 3-year-old, and I got the blue ribbon, but I was upset because I wanted my ribbon to be pink.
EN: What are you doing when you aren’t riding?
Lisa: I like to relax and hang out with friends; wine at night is always a nice treat. I actually went to school for photography for awhile, so if I have a spare few moments when I’m not wanting to just do nothing, I’ll grab my camera and go exploring.
I love the abstract stuff, so I’ll lose myself in the woods somewhere. Once I was at home in Virginia, and it was one of those days where I didn’t have anything to do, so I grabbed my camera and was driving down the street and saw some pretty fall leaves in the creek. I parked on the side of the road and walked to start shooting, and I get these frantic calls from my friends because they’d seen my car on the side of the road and couldn’t find me!
I would love to be able to shoot more, but luckily I’m very busy with my horses.
EN: If you could take six months off without worrying about keeping your business going, who would you go learn from?
Lisa: There are so many people, but I would have to say probably Mary King. I’ve been around when she’s given some talks, like at the USEA meeting a couple years ago, and she’s “been there done that.”
She seems very down to earth, and I think it would be cool to see how someone with such amazing experience runs their program like that with horses getting a huge break. Realistically, here (in the U.S.) we hardly have a break, so I’d be interested to see if there’s anything different with how they run their program. It would be cool to learn that side of it and pick her brain about that kind of thing and get her opinions on the things I’ve learned.
EN: What horse would you take a spin on, past or present?
Lisa: Biko, without a doubt. I’d been around that horse for so long, and I remember watching him and Karen come through the sunken road at Rolex, and for an athlete like that to be so big and powerful with teeny tiny Karen up there, it’s just amazing — for such a large being to be so agile and completely in tune with what she wanted. I’m not a big person either, but to have that horse take me around would be amazing.
EN: What inspired you to become an eventer professionally?
Lisa: I’ve ridden my whole life, and I had to quit gymnastics because my body wouldn’t allow me to do it anymore. I had been eventing, so I just continued to do that. When I moved to Karen’s, it became very clear to me how special the sport is and how incredible the people and horses are.
I don’t know that there was a specific moment where I knew this was what I wanted to do, but I think as riders, we all go through highs and lows, and things that basically can make or break you.
I’ve certainly been through a lot of difficult horses; I’ve trained my own horses and faced some very serious medical issues with some of them. So we go through these big things, and the ups keep you in it and the downs make you question it.
When you come out on the other side of a down, you’re a better person for it. If it’s really in your soul, it keeps you going. It’s kind of like when you get taught as a kid that when you fall off you get back on.
If you’re really meant to do this, and it’s really in your heart, when you get knocked down you get back up. I’ve had very low moment,s and every time I feel like I can get back up and keep going and figure it out.
EN: What are your goals for 2015?
Lisa: For my two-star horse that ran around at Fair Hill (Rosie’s Little Miss Liberty), I’d love for her to come out and do a few Intermediates and a CIC and then try and do an Advanced HT.
I’ve got some really lovely young horses, so I’ll be staying in the tack as much as possible and getting them to progress in their careers. I don’t have a big group of upper level horses or any owners, but I do have some young horses that I’d love to see progress.
I’ve got a plan for Kentucky with Peanut and hopefully an Advanced with the two-star horse, and then we’ll just go from there. Eventually I’d like to get the two-star horse to get a trip to Europe or get on a list; we’re always trying to get on a list, but I try to be realistic. We’re still working on the dressage, so hopefully I can sort that out and get more on radar.