Below is a full transcript of the Practical Horseman Podcast with Lucy Deslauriers.
Opening quote—Lucy Deslauriers: Growing up around some of my idols in the sport like Beezie [Madden], McLain [Ward], Laura [Kraut], etc … getting to compete on teams with them, that’s what I dreamed about. Who would’ve thought that that would’ve happened so soon. So, when you get there, you have to embrace it. You know, take that moment and make your results happen and not wilt from that place of being in awe that you’re competing with those people. It’s a mix of recognizing the respect and success and dedication that those people have put into the sport to become mainstays on the team. But, at the same time, recognizing that as a young rider, that’s your chance to prove that you belong there too and that you can make it happen as well. So, there’s that balance. I think at the end of the day, when you’re selected for those teams and you’re getting ready to go in the ring and once you get in the ring, there’s no time to think about who you’re sitting next to or who you’re competing against. You just have to get it done.
[Music fades in toward the end of Lucy’s quote and then back out at the beginning of the introduction.]
Introduction—Julia Murphy: Welcome to the Practical Horseman Podcast, featuring conversations with respected riders, industry leaders and horse-care experts. The show is co-hosted by Practical Horseman editors, and our goal is to inform, educate and inspire. I’m Julia Murphy and this week’s episode is with US show jumper and Olympic team hopeful, Lucy Deslauriers.
About a month ago, U.S. Equestrian announced the show jumping short list for the 2020 — now 2021 — summer Olympics in Tokyo, and 21-year-old Lucy Deslauriers was one of ten on the list. I was lucky enough to speak with Lucy shortly after she found out she was a top candidate for Tokyo, and she had so much to share with me. From her early riding days at a summer camp on Long Island to how she feels about being selected to the Olympic short list, Lucy was so real and candid to talk with.
As the daughter of Canadian Olympian Mario Deslauriers and international Grand Prix rider Lisa Deslauriers, Lucy is no stranger to the top of the sport. She’s trained with the best, including McLain Ward and her own father, and has been molded into one of the world’s most successful young riders. But, Lucy’s always been a talent — racking up success as a junior and now killing it as a professional show jumper at the young age of 21.
To name a few of her accomplishments: Lucy has won FEI North American Youth Championships medals, a USEF Junior Jumper National Championship, a USEF U-25 National Championship, plus numerous CSI4* and CSI5* ribbons — sometimes even riding against her father. She was also a member of the U.S. Jumping Team that brought home the bronze medal from the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
I actually had the pleasure of riding with Lucy about a decade ago when her father briefly trained at the farm I rode at on Long Island. Even then, when she was probably around 10-years-old and I was maybe 14, I remember taking lessons with her and thinking “wow, I wish I could ride like her.” I count myself lucky to have had the opportunity to train with Mario and ride alongside Lucy, and it’s been awe-inspiring to watch her grow into such a prominent and successful rider.
Now, for the podcast … Though many of us know Lucy well from her personal success and her family’s legacy in the sport, we’re going to start with the basics at the beginning of her journey as a rider and go all the way up to now when she found out she’d been selected to the short list. But, before getting into the conversation, I’d like to thank the sponsor of this week’s podcast, VitaFlex Pro, and share their message:
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Julia Murphy: Now, let’s jump into the conversation with Lucy. So, how did you get interested in horses and riding?
[00:04:52] Lucy Deslauriers: I’ve pretty much grown up around the sport, I would say. Both my parents—my dad still competes against me at the highest level—but my mom [when I was] growing up did compete in Grands Prix as well. I would travel with them to shows and I really started by going to pony camp down the road from us on Long Island when I was, I don’t know, 6-years-old, maybe. So, it was really presented as just this fun thing that I could do. I played a bunch of other sports and I have a twin brother, we did all of that together. And then, probably when I was 9 or 10, I decided to keep pursuing it more seriously, and it sort of just took off from there.
Julia Murphy: What is it about horses in the sport that has kept you involved for so long?
[00:05:43] Lucy Deslauriers: I think first and foremost, something that I feel—and I think a lot of other riders do—is just the connection you have with your horses. I think for me in particular, the horse I compete at the highest level—Hester—I’ve had for almost eight or nine years now, I want to say. Our bond is really the most special thing to me. Everything we get to do together in the ring just feels like an added bonus to that. So, that’s really what I always keep coming back to and trying to replicate that with other horses and build those connections that you see the benefits of in the ring years down the line.
Julia Murphy: Who were some of your mentors that have influenced your riding over the years? I imagine your dad has probably a big one and your mom as well. So, you could touch on both of them and anyone else who has influenced your career?
[00:06:37] Lucy Deslauriers: I would say right off the bat, both of my parents. My dad, especially, I feel like he’s really taught me the vast majority of what I know in the sport and what I continue to learn day to day. After him, I would say McLain [Ward] also has played a really big part in my career. I feel really fortunate to have had access to professionals like him, as a close family friend, from the time I started riding. Getting to learn day in and out from people like him, it’s something I try not to take for granted. I think he’s really helped me engage with the mental side of the sport and work on improving the mental skills that I can bring. Especially, when I’m called on for higher pressure moments and situations that I’m trying to prepare for and trying to get to a place where, by the time I get to the ring, I can handle whatever is thrown at me.
Julia Murphy: In all of your years of riding, you were very successful in the equitation too, and obviously now show jumping is your thing. But, as far as all the disciplines that you’ve ridden in, is show jumping your favorite? And if it is, what makes it your favorite?
[00:08:02] Lucy Deslauriers: Yeah, I mean, I haven’t really done other disciplines. I did equitation most of my junior career, so I definitely attribute a lot of the basics and the foundation of my riding to my time doing equitation. But, other than that, I haven’t really explored too many other disciplines, I would say. But, from that limited experience, show jumping is definitely my favorite.
Julia Murphy: What draws you into it? Like, what is the most exciting part of it that makes you just keep wanting to do that?
[00:08:36] Lucy Deslauriers: I think, in horse sports and show jumping in particular, we’re incredibly lucky that our profession gets to take us around the world to some incredible places. So, I think that’s something not to take for granted. But, mainly, I think the thing that I love most about the sport and being able to work with horses day to day is the process of trying to get better and working on the little things with each horse and really honing in on all the basic skills that you can improve on and then have them compound over time. And then, you see the results in the ring, but it’s not because of one moment or one action that you did to get to get that result, but all the little things that add up and all the time you spend in the saddle with your horses and all of the smaller, training moments that compound over time. I think that’s a really powerful thing.
Julia Murphy: Yeah, definitely. It’s so nice—you could be working on those little things in training, and then when it all comes together, it’s like the best moment in the world.
[00:10:00] Lucy Deslauriers: Yeah, exactly. And, I think that on a day to day, when you’re cantering around in circles for so many hours a day, it can be hard to remind yourself that those are the crucial moments. It’s not when you’re walking the course for a big class, but it’s all the time you’ve spent before it that’s going to determine how that class goes. So, that’s a fun mental challenge when you’re working so hard day in and out on something that might for some feel monotonous, but that’s all part of the game.
Julia Murphy: I get that. It can become tedious, but you just have to remind yourself that these are the little things that matter and they make up the result in the end.
[00:10:46] Lucy Deslauriers: Yeah, exactly. And, I think with horses every day is slightly different. You don’t know how a horse is going to feel on that day or what you’re going to be in the mood for or what their temperament is going to be like. In that sense, every day is different, but just keeping in mind that the process—that’s what it’s about. And then, results come later, it’s a cherry on top, but you have to really embrace that day-to-day with horses.
Julia Murphy: And just to touch on your horses again—you spoke about Hester a little bit—who are some of the most influential horses in your life?
[00:011:27] Lucy Deslauriers: [Hester] is definitely the number one now and especially because I’ve had him for so long, I’ve really just grown so much with him and I feel like he’s really taught me a lot of patience and also to believe in myself. Because, when I was 12-years-old jumping 1.20m on him as an 8-year-old, I had zero imagination that the two of us would be competing at Nations Cups together at Championships and trying to get to the Olympics. That sense belief is something that he’s definitely instilled in me.
I also had a horse—have a horse still—his name is Hamlet. I got him as a young horse, also, around the same time that we got Hester. He isn’t competing as much anymore, but, I definitely learned from a super young age about trying to bring up younger ones and the resiliency you need to do that. And again, the belief in horses and belief in a partnership. At the end of the day, horses don’t know how much they cost or what you, in your mind, are expecting of them or the plans you have for them in the future. It’s really about creating that bond, working with them day in and out, and learning together. And then, you see over time what that yields. I think I really learned a lot of that from, from the two of them. They’ve definitely been the two main horses in my career thus far—especially as a junior—and Hester now more so.
Then, I have a few other horses that I’m working with right now. A younger one, he just turned 8-years-old—Cantinori—that I feel really lucky to be riding. He’s owned by [Aram Ampagoumain LLC]. He’s another one where I would say learning about working with young horses is super rewarding. The few months I’ve had with him, it’s been really helpful for me.
Julia Murphy: Can you talk about some of the most important or favorable wins in your life?
[00:13:45] Lucy Deslauriers: Right off the bat, getting able to compete in Lima, Peru, on the Pan-Am team in 2019 was a real highlight for me and my career. Like I said, when I started riding Hester, I never imagined that we would be able to go to Championships together. So, having that come together and then trying to use that as a stepping stone on our way to reach the Olympic team is something that I really look back fondly on. As a kid, I had only dreamed that we would get to do as I watched my parents to compete at that level.
Similarly, getting into compete in the Nations Cup final in Barcelona in 2018. I jumped two clear rounds—I had a time fault in the second one, but that’s—was a really big moment for me. I was the youngest one in the team and it felt like it was one of those first moments where I really proved to myself that when the time came, I am able to get it done and not let the pressure or prestige of a given event get to me. Again, that time fault, I think about all the time. It was so long ago, but it makes me hungry to get back to those moments and be better and perform for my team. So, I think those are two of the biggest ones.
And then, this past fall, I won a four-star Grand Prix down here in Florida, and that was definitely one of my biggest wins. So yeah, those stand out. And, of course, other Nations Cups are always the pinnacle of the sport and something that you try to achieve time and time again. So, every one of those moments. I was on a team in Dublin, the Spruce Meadows Masters—definitely not taking those moments for granted as well.
Julia Murphy: And just to touch on the teams a little bit more, and you mentioned that age gap there, because you are pretty significantly younger than your other teammates. So, how does that make you feel? I’m sure you get this question all the time, but you’ve had so much success and you’re so young—you’re probably decades younger than some of the people who you ride on these teams with, especially looking at the Olympics. So, can you just touch on how that makes you feel?
[00:16:31] Lucy Deslauriers: Growing up around some of my idols in the sport like Beezie [Madden], McLain [Ward], Laura [Kraut], etc … getting to compete on teams with them, that’s what I dreamed about. Who would’ve thought that that would’ve happened so soon. So, when you get there, you have to embrace it. You know, take that moment and make your results happen and not wilt from that place of being in awe that you’re competing with those people. It’s a mix of recognizing the respect and success and dedication that those people have put into the sport to become mainstays on the team. But, at the same time, recognizing that as a young rider, that’s your chance to prove that you belong there too and that you can make it happen as well. So, there’s that balance. I think at the end of the day, when you’re selected for those teams and you’re getting ready to go in the ring and once you get in the ring, there’s no time to think about who you’re sitting next to or who you’re competing against. You just have to get it done.
Julia Murphy: Do you see yourself as one of those mainstays? Because, I think a lot of people do.
[00:17:58] Lucy Deslauriers: No (laughs). I still feel incredibly lucky every time I get selected, [every time] I’ve been selected thus far. It’s just about trying to establish a level of consistency and keeping my name in there if I can. But no, no. When I say [mainstays], I’m talking about, like I said, McLain, Laura, Beezie, Kent [Farrington], all of those guys who really lead American show jumping.
Julia Murphy: But that could be you one day! I mean, it’s probably likely to be you one day. So just that thought of—people will probably be saying that about you one day, which is really freaking cool.
[00:018:34] Lucy Deslauriers: Maybe one day, we’ll hope.
Julia Murphy: The shortlist just came out and obviously you’re one of the 10. If you could like build your own Olympic team, who would be on it? Like if you and three other people, and you could do the alternate, too, who would it be?
[00:18:58] Lucy Deslauriers: I’m not going to go there (laughs). Obviously, all 10. The other nine riders and horse-rider combinations have been incredibly successful over the past bunch of months and have earned their place up there. So, I think that it’ll really come down to who’s peaking in the next month or two of competition. And then, you leave it up to the selectors to pick their team for who they think will do the best job in Tokyo. But again, there’s obviously no wrong picks or anything, because everyone’s at an incredibly high level right now, and they deserve to be there too.
Julia Murphy: You talked about it a little bit before—Do you ever get nervous and how do you handle your nerves?
[00:19:49] Lucy Deslauriers: Yeah, I think it’s normal to be nervous. If you don’t sort of feel the importance of a big moments … I don’t know. I think for me, that’s part of recognizing where you are in this sport or at a show or being able to acknowledge that it’s a big moment or that you need to perform. But, at the same time, when it comes down to it, being able to put that in the back of your mind and just channel that into your job. When I do feel nerves or maybe a little bit anxious before a big class, I spend a lot of time repeating my plan and going through each step of what I’m going to aim to do on course and make it so that I get to a point where by the time I’m actually riding, I feel like I’ve already been through it. You know, I’m just repeating the process, repeating the steps and it’s almost like I don’t need to think about anything else on course. Getting to a place of like ultimate focus, because when you’re going, by the time you’re on your way to the first jump, there’s no room to be thinking about your nerves. So, really just repeating what I have to do and getting to a point where it’s already in the back of my head, and then I get to this place of comfort where I go in the ring and and I know what I have to do.
Julia Murphy: It’s kind of like a routine for you, then, to visualize like that. If you have a routine before big competitions, is that it? Or is there maybe something else?
[00:21:42] Lucy Deslauriers: I mean, I don’t have like a super strict routine or superstitions or things like that that I do before big grounds. But, just trying to do little things to get myself to this place of like calm focus, whether that be just going over my plan or drinking a lot of water or going on a walk or maybe listening to music. It sort of depends on the day. But, having a sort of repertoire of things that I can pull from, depending on what I feel I need in the moment to get to that right mental space before I get on.
Julia Murphy: You were talking about training the young ones and how you really enjoy that and really just training any of your horses. Do you have a philosophy that you like to stick to? Do you have a training philosophy?
[00:22:36] Lucy Deslauriers: I think you have to be very adaptable with horses. Every [horse] is different. Every horse is on a different timeline. So, I think being understanding of that is really important. And, at the same time, knowing that it just takes a lot of time and work and you’re not going to see results over night. It’s really just about the repeated actions that will add up and help horses advance and help partnerships with horses advance.
Julia Murphy: Do you happen to have like a favorite exercise that you like to work on with your horses?
[00:23:18] Lucy Deslauriers: We do a lot of like shortening and lengthening and proper flatwork. I really like poles on the ground as well, like little cavallettis—working on my eyes, the horses’ eyes, keeping them balanced, things like that. We honestly don’t do too much jumping at home, I would say. Especially courses. We rarely will just jump a lot of courses. It’s really the little [stuff]—sometimes gymnastics and things to keep horses and riders minds fresh. Change it up. I really like going on trails every week or so, or depending on their showing schedule, sometimes more. But, leaving the property, getting them to mentally relax as well, I think is really, really good for them.
Julia Murphy: What do you think is the hardest part of the sport? It’s horses and you can never predict anything, but if you had to pick one thing? I mean, it’s hard, everything’s hard, but if you had to pick one thing, what do you think the hardest part of this sport would be?
[00:24:23] Lucy Deslauriers: I think longevity. I think the people who’ve been able to have repeated success and sustained success for a very long period of time in the sport are really those to look up to. I think for me, being that I’ve only really had one horse at the top of the sport thus far, I have so much to learn and so much more to … just so much to learn about replicating that on other horses and what it takes to sort of create this multi-waved success, I would say. And, that even within the span of a week or a month or a year, you’re never going to just being going up. You’re never going to be going up just upwards. It’s inevitably going to go in waves—highs and lows and being able to just take that as it is and keep moving forward and keep working and coming to a level of understanding that, you know, if you have a bad day, so does everyone. Then, it’s about how you respond to that and learn from it and use that to fuel your future work and success.
Julia Murphy: And again, it’s such a hard sport with horses and everything is so unpredictable. When things don’t go as planned, how do you react to that? Like, say you don’t win a class or don’t do as well in a class as you would like. How do you deal with that?
[00:26:08] Lucy Deslauriers: It’s an ever-evolving process. I think learning to deal with that is something I really have to continue to work on. Especially when you have been successful with a horse or have had a good round the week before, it can sometimes feel like, “Well, how did that just happen?” or “Why didn’t I do better this time?” or something like that. But, I think trying to focus on how you can learn from your mistakes or what you can do to fix whatever went wrong in a given round is really the only way. Hanging on to the negativity, or dwelling, helps no one. Sometimes I get caught doing that and I’ll think be thinking about a round for hours, days, weeks after it happens. But, at the end of the day, that’s not the way to move forward and create progress. So, reminding myself that even as I’m sulking or something after a bad round, reminding myself that that mindset isn’t helping me get better. That at least helps me to begin pulling myself out of that funk, I would say. But, it’s a continual learning process.
Julia Murphy: I feel so silly asking this because you are so young, but I always ask, if you had any advice to give to your younger self, what would it be (laughter)? We’re talking about really young, but if you can think of anything.
[00:27:55] Lucy Deslauriers: Just keep working, keep working at it and finding what works for you and learning from everyone. There’s always more to be learned. I don’t think, I mean, I’m nowhere near this point, but I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I can’t continue to learn and get better. Keeping that mindset I think is super important.
And, we have to know, when you found out that you were being named to the short list—that you were named to the short list—how did you react? Like how cool was that?
[00:28:31] Lucy Deslauriers: (Laughs) I mean, obviously really cool. I think there was a mix of excitement and recognition that I still have a big job to do in between being named to the shortlist and then hopefully making the team. So, letting myself enjoy that I’ve made it past step one, but also motivating and staying focused on the shorter term goals.
Julia Murphy: Was your dad with you when you found out? How did he react?
[00:29:11] Lucy Deslauriers: He was also obviously excited. It’s a huge team effort. And like I’ve said, I’ve learned basically everything I know in the sport from him. So, it’s not an individual success, but a family success that team’s success to have made the ten. I think we both know that, so it was exciting for everyone.
Julia Murphy: And, he went to his first Olympics around the same age as you. By any means, very young. So, is that special for both of you to kind of look at each other and be like, “We both did it like, this is really awesome.”
[00:29:51] Lucy Deslauriers: (Laughs) Yeah, I think he was 18 or 19 at his first Olympics. But, I mean, I’m not on the team yet. Hopefully, I will be, so it’s not like I’ve totally made it. But, the prospect of it obviously is exciting and you just have to keep working and not get comfortable with the idea yet.
Julia Murphy: If you are picked to go to Tokyo, I feel like imposter syndrome is such a big deal for a lot of people.
[00:30:27] Lucy Deslauriers: Yeah, for sure.
Julia Murphy: Is that something that you think you would experience? How would you deal with that kind of thing?
[00:30:33] Lucy Deslauriers: I don’t know. I’m honestly not even bringing myself to that place yet because, like I said, there’s a lot of work left to do before I get there. But, I mean, the Olympics are the ultimate, right? Like, the Olympics are it. So, there would definitely be a level of trying to take it all in and appreciate what it is while also, like I said, reminding myself that like you’re there with a job to do. So it’s in that balance that I hope I have to deal with it.
Julia Murphy: You’ve probably imagined your whole life—and now even getting named to the shortlist, imagine even more—what it looks like to be at the Olympics. What do you picture in your head when you think about, if you’re named to the team going to the Olympics, what does that look like?
[00:31:31] Lucy Deslauriers: I don’t know (laughs). Well, I do think that this Olympics will be different from basically all other ones due to COVID and what the past year has looked like for everyone. So, I can’t really speak to that. I think there’ll be a lot of strict protocols in place. But at the same time, I can imagine there’s nothing like it. From what I’ve seen on TV and read and heard, it’s like this crazy sort of gathering of the best athletes in every sport from around the world. It’s hard to imagine the level of not only talent, but work and effort and dedication, that has gone into getting every single one of those people there. So, in the crazy event that I’m able to also be there, I can’t imagine how cool it would be.
Julia Murphy: Well, I’m rooting for you and I’m so excited for you. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me, and I know our listeners are going to love hearing from you. I think I can speak for almost everyone that we were all really excited to hear that you were named to the list and also we’re just excited at the potential of you going and representing the country.
[00:32:50] Lucy Deslauriers: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. I hope your listeners enjoy.
Julia Murphy: I’m sure they will. I’m sure they will. Best of luck, we’ll all be watching!
[00:033:00] Lucy Deslauriers: Thank you so much!
Julia Murphy: You got it.
[Music fades in and out]
[00:33:03] Conclusion—Julia Murphy: Thanks for listening to this week’s episode with Lucy Deslauriers and a big thank you to the sponsor of this week’s episode, VitaFlex Pro. Learn more at vitaflex.com. You can subscribe to The Practical Horseman Podcast on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Stitcher or wherever you listen. While you’re there, please rate and review the show. I’m Julia Murphy and you’ve been listening to the Practical Horseman Podcast.
For more exclusive international show jumping updates with Vita Flex (http://bit.ly/vita-flex-pro_tokyo) leading up to and including the Games, visit practicalhorsemanmag.com/summer-games-2021 and follow along with Practical Horseman’s coverage of #USARidesToTokyo2021 on Facebook and Instagram.