Learn more about up and coming show jumper Mary Frances Looke, who goes by Francie. She speaks eloquently about her perspective on the sport, her team and her goals.
How long have you been riding, and what got you into the sport?
Riding, to me, is like walking, breathing, smelling, seeing… It’s always been part of my life. I don’t remember when it began. Like with other things in that list, I have some very early, profound memories of riding, like riding bareback in big open fields on my family’s ranch as a child, but it’s not something that has a beginning in my cognition. My mother grew up riding Saddlebreds, so our family has an equestrian tradition. I’m sure there’s a “Texas joke” somewhere in all this. When I was ‘x’ years old, my mom and dad took me to out to an English barn. That’s where I started riding English.
What steps did you take to prepare to compete at the U25/1.45m level?
That level is a different animal. It takes complete commitment and dedication from all involved. For me it starts as a personal decision that is then communicated to the team. Once all the humans are on board, then you all have to get together and convince the horse. Actually, all jokes aside, one could say it starts with the horse. Your horse has to want it and be as committed as any other member of the team.
In the past year I stepped into the 1.40m and then up to some 1.45m. My trainer, Hillary Ridland, has been key to my development and success. When I first came to her barn, I had only shown at a 1.15m. During the past three years, working with Hillary, my riding has taken on a completely new level. I am extremely grateful for all the hard work she puts in (I hope she says the same about me!). My dressage trainer, Karen Ball, has also played an important role in getting me here. Flat work is extremely important for me in order to feel comfortable in the ring and have the adjustability I need. Mental focus before going in the ring is another aspect in order for me to succeed. This is the great thing about working with great people. When you’ve got an amazing team around you, it gives you the calm and the confidence to enter the ring completely focused on the task at hand.
Please tell us about your U25 horse & how long you’ve had her?
I just got Sea Coast Ferly (Caltao x Darco) in December. I am so thankful we were able to find her, she is the most affectionate horse I have ever owned. She really tries with her whole heart. I guess this goes back to the previous question. Sea Coast Ferly is completely committed. I believe the horse-rider connection out of the saddle is just as important as in the saddle. I try to spend as much time with her as I can. She’s a true gem and I’m so grateful she is part of my life. When you have a good mare, they will always try so hard for you.
What is the most challenging part of stepping in to compete at this level?
This goes back to what I said before about establishing mental peace and calm. For me, my nerves are my biggest enemy. I can get really nervous when people are watching me. This sport is extremely challenging. Two sentient beings, of different species, with no verbal communication, put their lives and well-being into each other’s hands as they push themselves, and their partner, to the limit. There’s really nothing like it. I owe it to myself and to my horse to enter the ring physically and mentally ready to compete. It really takes a team to make it all work
What do you value about the U25 program specifically?
The U25 program is a great way for young adults to step into the 1.45m without feeling overwhelmed about having to compete against all of their heroes and role models. I value the U25 program because it gives us younger riders the opportunity to step up and compete at the professional level without feeling like it’s impossible to place. Also, the U25 is an amazing way to step up into the Grand Prix.
What advice do you have for riders who want to compete in the U25 and/ or at the Grand Prix level?
Never give up on your dreams, but dreaming alone won’t get you there. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this is an individual sport. It’s a team sport, and if you’re going to compete in the Grand Prix, then you need a whole team of committed, dedicated squad. In the end, the champions are you, your horse, your trainer(s), your support team and everyone else who enables you to ride and jump your way to the top.
What are your goals with the sport?
Part of my training and the source of my focus is learning to stay in the moment. But we need to have goals, of course. So, my goal is short-term, but very defined in my head. My goal is to continue showing in the U25 for the rest of the year and get as many clear rounds as I can. This, of course, means constant training. I’m really loving the sport right now and for my foreseeable future. My thinking, my training, my dreaming… everything… focuses on the next event, from competition to competition.