Keep calm and carry on. In the frenetic world of high end show jumping, rider and trainer Brianne Goutal creates an oasis of grounded support for her clients. In a busy schooling area next to the Grand Prix field at the Hampton Classic where the pressure is as palpable as the barometer indicating the incoming storm, her cool demeanor and steady voice gently guide her students. While she can look quite serious, her smile broadens as her client Cloe Hymowitz enters the field to accept the Amateur Owner Junior (High) Championship on her horse Fineman.
Brianne, now 27, herself has competed at the Classic since she was a child with top two finishes in the Grand Prix. What is Brianne’s winning formula? “I’m super simple. I believe in basics and not overcomplicating things. You need to have a good connection with your horse and know how to make a horse straight. You have to know how to extend and collect. You have to know the functionality of the animal and what makes it work and what makes it fail. What makes them comfortable and what makes them nervous.”
While only some may have a natural talent and feel, Goutal believes consistent hard work in the sport does pay off. “If you’re not gifted at tennis you’re not going to the US Open,” she says with a smile, “But if you put in the time and the dedication in riding you have a good chance.” She also points to the payoff of the practice over a lifetime. She notes, “There was an Op Ed piece in the New York Times on the Olympics that if you’re young and athletic you’re a gymnast and if you have a long career you’re an equestrian.”
The Head Game
Psychological coaching is also a major part of Brianne’s training acumen. “The sport is 50% mental,” she reports, “The mind is really powerful – nerves can have a big effect. I’m very calm in general – I don’t think I make my students more nervous.”
She jokes she was so relaxed as a junior that Frank Madden would have to slap her on the leg when she was going in the ring. She laughs, “I was like ‘Yeah, it’s the last round of Maclay Finals, see you when I come out.’” That year in 2005 she not only won the Maclay Finals but also the USEF Talent Search, the WIHS, and the USEF Medal, the only rider to hold that honor.
Brianne describes herself as a peace and love relaxed personality. “I showed up to my first tour in Europe and I forgot my helmet,” she recounts, “I wore Georgina’s [Bloomberg]helmet the entire tour. It didn’t even fit – I had a huge mark on my head.”
The balance as a trainer comes in telling her students everything will be okay but also acknowledging the challenges, for example say they’ve been away at school and haven’t ridden for a month. “There’s a responsibility and a commitment to making them feel comfortable and you have to weigh that. Most importantly you never put a student in danger.”
In the elite world of show jumping there is also a close knit group of trainers. As each gains or loses a client, it can be awkward. “The horse industry is strange,” says Goutal, “There’s a protocol and it’s kind of like breaking up with one boyfriend and starting to date a new one. You like his friend but it’s his friend and it’s weird.” While some students are just a better fit with a new trainer it can make for an uncomfortable Thursday night at The Grille in Wellington. Brianne says, “The most important part is respect for everyone involved.”
Is Honest Horse Trader an Oxymoron?
The other reality of being a trainer is the buying and selling of horses, and with top show jumpers which can cost in the millions of dollars, money matters. Brianne has been on both sides of that paddock fence. “I was a client of many different people for most of my life and so I know what it feels like to be taken advantage of and I know what it’s like to be treated properly. Good contracts make good friends. Clients become friends so it’s complicated. A clear set of rules and guidelines and written documents are very important.” But there are no guarantees. As Brianne says, “Horses make liars out of everyone – I don’t care how good your intentions are. I’ve bought horses for myself I was sure were going to work and a year later I’m like how did this happen?”
She adds, “A horse is an animal – it breathes, thinks, feels, hates you, loves you. I want to be honest about the risk involved.”
Life Support Systems
Goutal credits her trainer Max Amaya as a huge influence. “I spent the greater part of my junior career, almost 11 years with Max. He’s someone who has impacted me on multiple levels, as a moral compass and guide to navigating the equestrian world. I still call him today. I rode with Peter Lutz and he greatly started out my dedication to basics and is another wonderful person. I don’t know if I got really lucky or my parents did a lot of homework.”
Family support is also of the utmost importance and Brianne and sister Clementine come from a very close knit clan that includes parents Toni and Jean Goutal restaurateurs, aunt Annick Goutal of the famous French perfume house and grandmother, Broadway producer, Terry Allen Kramer.
“This is a really expensive sport,” admits Goutal, “I don’t’ think you can do it without your parents not only financial backing but support of your commitment. Not only is it expensive but it’s a time and family commitment. Forget the week at Christmas or ski vacation because you’re going to a horse show.”
She also relates to her clients who are juggling school and riding. She attended the Professional Children’s School in New York to have the freedom to pursue her equestrian passion. “I was a good student and could compartmentalize,” she explains. A self-professed nerd, she majored at Brown in pre 18th Century American Literature. Teens today might be on Instagram while she was tucked away with Beowulf. Her favorite book is The Hours by Michael Cunningham.
Brianne is now expanding not only her brood of students which include Cloe and Lilli Hymowitz, Sydney Shulman, and Alexa Effron but also her personal brood. She just got married to Romain Marteau who is a former rider and in the jewelry business. (see our photo shoot with them on a luxury yacht here equestrio.com/reportage. She is sporting a gorgeous sapphire and diamond ring. “The hardest thing is to keep it clean,” she jokes. The happy couple is also expecting a baby in January.
For both Brianne and Roman family is of major importance and they will split time between the Cloverleaf Farm in Wellington Florida and their Manhattan apartment with Brianne using Sam Edelman’s barn in Sherman CT for spring and summer, what she calls “Arguably the most beautiful farm on the East Coast.”
On her future she says, “I like to plan. I’m a Virgo. I’m trying to figure out how things are going to change or not change. My fear is that I don’t see many women who have the family life at the really high level of the sport. Something has to give somewhere and you have to find what that compromise is for you and I don’t know where that goes.”
Yet the key to personal happiness can also be the key to being happy in the support, “There’s always another day,” she says, “You can come back tomorrow and yesterday doesn’t matter.” And the future for Brianne Goutal does indeed look very bright.
Photos by Catie Taszak