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Kelly Davis: Success is the Journey

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Text by Heather Buchanan – Photo credit Equi-book

How do you turn an Olympic dream into a reality? In the case of top rider Lucy Davis, the answer is a support system of owners who are also parents, George and Kelly Davis. The Davis family encouraged a balance of sports, school, and family and now at age 24 Lucy has earned not only an Olympic Silver Medal with the US Show Jumping Team in Rio but a degree in Architecture from Stanford University.

Three Generations of Horse Lovers

Kelly Davis actually credits her own father with Lucy’s introduction to horses. Robert Barron Frieze had his heart in horse racing so it was part of Kelly’s youth and then Lucy’s. “From an early age Lucy visited my Dad in Saratoga in the summers,” Kelly recounts, “She was only six and sitting on the steps waiting for him at 5am to go to the track.”

Robert continues to be a family support and took Lucy to try her new horse Barron named in his honor. Kelly recalls, “He took her to try the horse because I couldn’t go. He called me and said, ‘There’s good news and bad. The good news is the horse was great. The bad news is you have to get your check book out.’”

The three generations celebrated the Silver Medal win in Rio ringside, and it was a true heartfelt moment. “Lucy’s grandfather had tears in his eyes and said it was the best day in his life,” says Kelly. “That’s where horses are about more than winning a grand prix. They bring families and friends together.”

Kelly’s background also prepared her to look at the economic side of horse ownership. “It’s my family business and what we’d discuss around the dinner table,” she explains, “Horses paid for my college tuition.”

From The Front Yard to the International Arena

For the Davis family horses are home, literally. “We live in Brentwood and have three horses in our front yard,” Kelly explains. Far from being a fancy show barn, it’s a community barn with not only jumping but dressage and western. “It was amazing the way people came together in such a positive way to support the US Olympic team and Lucy,” says Kelly. “It just shows you how the sport in Southern California is really growing.”

Part of the tough decisions along the road to success involve choosing the right trainer. Kelly explains, “We’ve been working with Markus Beerbaum for the past seven years. It’s been an incredible journey and relationship. He is a very gifted trainer and horseman. We spend a lot of time in Germany.”

For Kelly and George, supporting Lucy’s talents as she rose through the ranks involved thinking like both an owner and a parent. “As an owner we are working on developing younger horses. Early on we realized if we buy the right horses and they are developed under your guidance and training then they’re worth more money. We have a nice 7 year-old Caracho Lucy found in Hamburg in the spring which we bought especially to train and sell. As you move on it’s expensive so you’ve got to continue to do well and develop horses and figure out ways to keep it a business.”

Horse Sense

While some mothers and daughters enjoy buying clothes together, Kelly and Lucy enjoy another type of shopping. “I can’t tell you how many prospective horse videos Lucy and I look at,” says Kelly. “You always have to have your eye out for good horses. It’s something that’s been fun for both of us.” With connections in both the US and European market where Lucy now spends much of her time they have their finger on the global pulse.

Kelly also is committed to the welfare of the horses. “What makes Markus work for us is that the horses are always the first consideration, and it’s not just win, win, win. He also has really extraordinary instincts with horses and people, and with Lucy he knows when to push and when to back off.”

Balancing riding, family and school was another goal for the Davis family which includes Lucy’s younger brother Clay. Kelly says, “He is her biggest fan. He’s incredibly athletic and played every sport but had no interest in riding. We’d often be at his lacrosse tournaments on weekends. When Lucy was growing up and even now – we go to less shows than most top riders. We keep it more as a boutique operation so she can balance it with other things in life.”

One of them was college and riding as Lucy was poised for the Olympics. “As long as she was able to get her studies done and do well at college we were willing to support the effort,” says Kelly, “And during those four years she could show and tailor her class schedule. Stanford was amazing in helping her navigate that.”

The Olympic Experience

It was well worth it to participate in the Olympics. Kelly comments, “Rio was a fantastic experience and the amount of time and effort our federation puts into it is phenomenal.”

As the youngest member of the team, Lucy was hugely supported by her team mates McLain Ward, Kent Farrington, and Beezie Madden. “Beezie is one of the classiest ladies I’ve ever met. She’s an amazing role model,” says Kelly, “It was a pleasure to get to know McLain and Kent. They never made Lucy feel like she was the young rookie but they were also always there to help her and encourage her. Laura Kraut was also incredibly helpful. She is a real team player.”

And where will Lucy’s Silver Medal be displayed? Kelly says with a laugh, “Nick Skelton said his Gold Medal was his in his sock drawer. I hope it won’t end up in her sock drawer.”

Kelly adds, “In any situation you have to count your blessings and find a way to give back. Lucy is going to have a clinic here in LA and donate the money to charity.”

The Jumping Owners Club

Kelly Davis is also very aware of how to promote the sport as an owner. She states of her experience of the Jumpers Owner Club, “It’s a great way to bring owners together. They’ll arrange lunches or receptions and it allows you to meet the other owners and talk about issues. I recently sat next to an owner in France and we were trading experiences and ideas.”

Kelly sees the horse show experience as crucial, “It’s about thinking of ways for owners to have a better experience so when they come to the horse show they have fun and want to stay involved.” Attracting the audience is also paramount. She comments, “The challenge is to make the sport more understandable to the mainstream especially in the US. We spend a lot of time in Europe and in Germany the entire community shows up and they understand the sport and they have sponsors. People are more willing to watch when they understand. One example is the Masters Series as they make it fun and make the sport an event that people enjoy going to.” Lucy just finished the first leg of the Longines Masters in Los Angeles and will be heading to the Paris Masters in early December. The series which features show jumping, special entertainment, dining and shopping concludes in Hong Kong.

The Best and Worst Moments

In terms of the best and worst moments as an owner Kelly says, “The worst moments are when my horses don’t feel well. The best moments are not only when the horses are doing well but when you’re able to share it. It’s about the people around the horses. Some of the best moments are back at the stable after a show petting the horses and giving them carrots and talking about the day with everybody.”

And how about the best way to support her daughter?

“With Lucy she has her own goals and dreams and for me it’s easy,” says Kelly. “I just get out of her way so I don’t mess it up.”