In the equestrian world, style is everywhere. Each season, companies promote new apparel and riders showcase their personality through what they wear in the ring. But when it comes to results, the most critical style factor in show jumping is how you ride.
Shortly after selling his winning mare Celena Z in 2011, Canadian show jumper Keean White took a step back. Methodical by nature, White took the opportunity to work on his technique and approach to show jumping, making adjustments he hoped would lead to good results on the international stage.
This move was prompted by comments made by some of the best eyes in the industry. “At the World Cup Finals in 2009, there was an interview with John Madden and Stephan Conter [Stephex Stables] and they both said at different points that if I really wanted to be successful, I was going to have to work at my style and how I was riding,” said White. “At the very top of the sport, I wasn’t going to be that effective.”
The Erin, Ontario, native took that advice to heart and for nearly two years took a break from international competition.
Countless articles have been published about the physics of jumping and how a rider’s weight and position can either interfere with or help the horse clear an obstacle. The way you shift your hand and leg at takeoff, your centre of gravity in the air, and position on landing are all examples of how a rider’s technique plays a role.
“I would get some very good results and some classes that were a disaster,” White explained. “At the top of the sport to have consistent results you want to jump a lot of rounds that you’re clear, have four faults, sometimes eight faults, but try to eliminate those disaster rounds.”
The key was for White to review video of himself and make adjustments in his training away from the show. “I kind of reworked the entire way that I learned how to ride and try to learn to sit softer and ride smoother.”
He also turned to some of the sport’s leaders for insight and inspiration. “I looked at McLain Ward, Kent Farrington, some very good friends of mine like Beth Underhill. Just going through and watching tape and studying and learning. Taking pieces from everybody, being willing to be your biggest critic and look in the mirror and say what you’re doing wrong, not just find excuses for life not going the way it’s supposed to.”
What he learned evolved into a new mindset for his day-to-day training. He also refined his plan for training his horses, identifying and improving upon their weaknesses while working with their strengths. “It took some time for me to realize that at the top of sport, everyone is very good, and just trying to survive on talent alone was not going to cut it. You still had to be a student of the sport.”
The way White sees it, being a show jumper is similar to being a professional golfer. “Every week is a new golf tournament; you have 70 or 80 athletes every week, so realistically to win every week is probably not something that is going to happen. But consistent top-ten finishes are what we really strive for and over the course of a year, if we can win three or four big events, then we’re really, really happy.”
The Growth of Angelstone Tournaments
While much of his focus during that time was to improve his technique, White’s break from competition allowed him to work on other aspects of his business and brainchild, Angelstone Tournaments, a venue he established in 2001 at the age of 18 which hosted its first international show in 2010. This year marks the ninth year that the venue will host five weeks of international competition on the Rockwood, Ontario, showgrounds.
In addition to creating a competition venue, part of White’s rebuild strategy was also looking at a new business model for acquiring horses, carefully assembling a new string. “We put together a brand-new group and bought some horses that were being developed and brought along.”
With White’s new winning trifecta ‒ an improved mindset, new techniques, and executing different training approaches with his horses ‒ a climb in consistency and results followed. “I’m far from being a finished product, but I’m always able to look at where I’m at and assess realistically what my short-term and long-term goals should be. It’s a process, one I’m still working on.”
Looking ahead, White’s current grand prix horses have already proven they can compete with the best in the world. He also has some exciting up-and-comers who will continue to advance along their long-term goals to move up to some of the bigger classes. His current top string includes Z Diamanty, For Freedom Z (his Coapexpan Nations Cup winning team mount), and the eight-year-old mare Leilani, on which he won the $35,500 Speed class at the Classic @ Palgrave II recently.
But White doesn’t rest on his successes; he remains humble knowing that ups and downs are all part of the game.
“You have to be willing to fight. This is a very difficult business and a very difficult sport. It’s a difficult career. It makes you very strong mentally; it teaches you a lot about life and how to fight and how to get through difficult times.”