At the 2017 CSI4*-W Royal Horse Show, François Lamontagne claimed the Moffat Dunlap Leading Canadian Rider Award, an honour resulting from his consistent top performances throughout the show’s international competition. The ground work that led to that award however was laid long before Lamontagne ever entered the ring for his international show jumping division debut in Toronto.
From Pony Lessons to Grand Prix
Rewinding back more than a quarter of a century, Lamontagne, a native of Quebec, was first introduced to horses at the age of seven. At the time, his mom sought out a lesson program in which to enroll both herself and Lamontagne, and they wound up at a riding school operated by Nicole Lapierre, the mother of fellow successful Canadian show jumping athlete, Isabelle Lapierre. There, Lamontagne progressed from his first pony lesson to his first grand prix. By the age 15, Lamontagne had won his first 1.40m grand prix and had realized that horses were his calling.
“At the beginning of high school, I was already saying that I was going to spend my life in the horse world,” said Lamontagne, now 34. “My parents are doctors, so they were like ‘okay, but please finish your high school first!’ I was just waiting to finish high school so I could leave from where I was.”
As soon as he graduated and turned 18, Lamontagne left home and went to work with a breeder, Carlo Zimmer, who had approximately 75 horses at Beaulieu Farm in Saint-Justine de Newton, Quebec.
“I was working for him, doing stalls, doing turn-out, feeding the horses, riding, and I eventually learned to start the three-year-olds, because I had never done that before. Before, I had been a student like everybody else; at 18, I kind of did that switch,” said Lamontagne, who continued to work for the breeder for nearly three years.
At the young age of 21, Lamontagne launched his own business, Lamontagne Farm, in Saint-Eustache, Quebec, and almost immediately grew a strong customer base of riders wishing to compete on the A circuit in Quebec. At the same time, Lamontagne was also focused on pursuing his own professional riding goals, claiming top honours throughout Quebec and in Florida, where he began spending the winter months.
A Game Changer
Amidst Lamontagne’s early successful mounts was one horse in particular that stood out, one named Undergroud des Hautes Droits, that is now known as Barron.
In 2011, Lamontagne and ‘Undergroud’ won the $10,000 Talent Squad Championships at The Royal and, in 2012, Lamontagne made his Nations’ Cup debut for the Canadian Show Jumping Team, riding the gelding in Argentina. There, the Belgian Sport Horse was spotted by and sold to Lucy Davis, had its name changed to Barron, and soon rose to fame as the young American’s mount for the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and the 2016 Rio Olympics, where Barron helped the U.S. claim a team silver medal.
“I bought Barron when he was young; I did my first Nations’ Cup with him in Argentina in 2012 when he was eight, and I jumped double clear there,” recalled Lamontagne. “That I had this horse, I bought this horse, I sold this horse myself; that was a really big game changer for me.”
After selling the horse that would become known as Barron, Lamontagne spent the next few years developing another promising and talented mount, the one that would later help him clinch the Leading Canadian Rider Award at the 2017 Royal and that would also be presented with the All-Canadian Cup as the leading Canadian-owned horse at the Royal Horse Show: Chanel du Calvaire.
“That mare that I have now means a lot for me because she’s as good as the other one, I think, but she’s not as easy as he was,” said Lamontagne in comparing Chanel du Calvaire and Barron. “For me, she’s got the same quality, same scope, same carefulness. She’s brave, but she’s more difficult in her canter and the way that she is. It’s a nice opportunity, because it’s not a horse that people want to buy from you because of that. So, that’s a horse that I have the chance to keep and to get back at this top level. It took me almost four or five years. Not just to find her, but to develop her.”
Lamontagne purchased the now ten-year-old mare from Belgium when she was five and has guided her up through the ranks. They have now successfully competed in two Nations’ Cup competitions together, representing Team Canada in Samorin, Slovakia, last summer, and being part of the winning effort in the Longines Nations’ Cup at CSIO5* Ocala, Florida.
“She’s a mare that doesn’t know what it is to stop,” said Lamontagne. “She wants to go, and she’s careful at the same time. It’s not easy to find a horse that is brave, not scared of anything, but is careful at the same time. Usually it’s like one or the other, but she’s both.
“She was always my wife’s favorite from the beginning,” continued Lamontagne, who married his wife, Elise, two and half years ago and with whom he now has a one-year-old son. “Chanel du Calvaire hears us from far when we come to the barn, and she makes a lot of noise. She talks a lot. She’s got a strong personality for sure!”
With a strong mount like Chanel du Calvaire and others in his string including a nine-year- old gelding named Vigo Massuere and a newly-purchased six-year-old, Lamontagne hopes to continue to represent Canada and climb the ranks on the international stage.
“The last show that I did before I started in Florida was The Royal, and that was for sure a big highlight of my career to be the Leading Canadian rider there and to finish second in the Big Ben Challenge in front of the number one and number two riders in the world!” said Lamontagne, who is spending his winter competing on the HITS Ocala circuit. “Now I’ve put my name in for the Nations’ Cup in Mexico in April and will see if they need me.”
From there, Lamontagne will let his results dictate his plan, while aiming to remain on a strong trajectory toward the top of the sport.