Doug Payne: Knocking the Rust Off

I’m thrilled to welcome Doug Payne as the newest member of the EN guest blogger family. Doug is back in the saddle after six weeks off due to hand surgery, and he has a fresh outlook on his business and goals thanks to the downtime — and freshly painted jumps for his arena to match! Many thanks to Doug for blogging.


Doug Payne and Crown Talisman at the Ridge's jumper show last weekend.

From Doug:


Coming off of hand surgery the Thursday of Rolex, I was unable to ride for about six weeks. I have to say being off for that long has it’s advantages; we painted all of our jumps and finally cleared my inbox and voicemail. Frankly, I haven’t been this organized in years, but having said, that it’s something I wouldn’t wish on anyone! I was lucky in that all of my horses at the moment are qualified for anything they needed, and they all have had a strong spring season. Thankfully, Jess kept a few of them going, but most had some time off. Life has a way of slowing you down; while the horses were on vacation, I was determined to make the most of the time out of the saddle.

I thought a lot about how to improve my approach to riding, training and business development. Unlike many, my personal goal in riding is not necessarily to go to the Olympics or World Games, but rather continue to improve my skill set, which will allow me to train each horse better and better through time. The international championships wins will come, but they will be the result of my training and planning rather than the focus of my pursuit. I want to show up at any dressage show, jumper show or event and not be seen as an outsider. I am driven to compete and win at the top level of each discipline. Looking around the world, while not explicitly stated, that is what it’s going to take to win medals.

So how do I get there? I am extremely fortunate to have a spectacular group of supporters behind me who have helped me develop one of the strongest strings of horses in this country (I realize I am biased, but it’s true!). These people include, and please forgive me if I forget someone, Amelia and Larry Ross, Kristin Michaloski, Kristen Burgers, Fred and Wendy Luce, Susan and Dave Drillock, Jane Dudinsky, our farrier Sue Donastoky, and Michelle, our superb barn manager. While this is a very strong group, I’m always looking for a way to lure talented horses to my barn.

Freshly painted jumps!

The problem I see is that there are a few riders in each discipline who have broken through the glass ceiling and seem to have the ability to raise infinite funds. To be blunt, I’m not there yet. Not one horse in our place at the moment was purchased for more than $25,000. I do, however, find comfort looking at the best in the world, nearly all of whom have brought their current stars up from the baby ranks. In my opinion, with a few exceptions in unique situations, the very best horses at the 1* level or up are not for sale. I can guarantee that if Andrew Nicholson or William Fox-Pitt had a special 5-year-old, it’s not for sale; however, the above average 5-year-old may be … for the right price. I also don’t think you can place the important of creating a life partnership with a horse; there’s a quality that isn’t quantifiable that can make all the difference. I think David O’Connor is exactly on the right track. He’s said many times now that we should be training excellent riders who will in turn produce excellent horses.

I have whittled my goals down to the following:

Horsepower — I need to continue to build upon a solid foundation of talent in the barn regardless of age. If it’s a talented 2-year-old, I want to take a look at it. If I think he’s got a chance to succeed, I’ll find a field to stick him in for two more years. Funding is a problem, but it’s much easier to raise $15,000 than $150,000.

Make every ride count — I’m lucky enough to be able to ride 10+ horses a day. Given the sheer time in the saddle, I have an extraordinary opportunity to refine my skills. While my results have been good in the past, they can be better. Good is not good enough. Horses are our best instructor; you can learn something new with every ride.

Compete — Training at home and competing are certainly linked, but they do present different problems. I pulled the records of the top few FEI ranked riders out of curiosity the other day. Most have 75+ starts this year with a majority in the international divisions. Nicholson has four CCI4* wins in the past 12 months!

I think competing in that shear number of events is difficult in this country; however, we do have the luxury of jumper and dressage shows every weekend and a number during the week throughout the year. I’m going to take further advantage of these, choosing a schedule that best suits each horse without exerting undue stress. The beauty of a number of the jumper shows in the area is that they are a circus. It’s an underutilized way to introduce atmosphere to young horses. Furthermore, rather than just competing to get in the ring, I want to get the most out of each performance and blow everyone out of the water! The added pressure on myself to master the ring craft will allow me to better handle the world stage when my horses and I get there. There is a palpable groundswell of support for the sport in this country at the moment. I’m going to make the most the opportunities presented, after all my success or failure lies on my shoulders!


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