Clark Montgomery and his wife, Jess, have grown accustomed to the nomad lifestyle. For the better part of the last 10 years, the Montgomerys have packed up their lives and moved across the pond to train in England and now have settled into their new home base in Lexington, Ky. For Clark, whose primary focus while in England was the competition of his four-star partner, Loughan Glen, the recent months have been a process of building an up and coming string to have another go at the top levels of the sport and the championship teams of the future.
“It’s very much needed to have a string if you want to be competitive at the top of the sport,” Clark said. “You certainly don’t want to make it a numbers game, and you also don’t want to make a career only out of one big goal, but you do need to have a plan in place.”
To that end, following the retirement of Loughan Glen from upper-level competition in 2017, Clark has spent the last few months sourcing talent that he feels has potential to be a star in the future – and he’s finding that talent right here in the U.S.
I think that a lot of the focus on dressage has gotten riders thinking they need a heavier, flashier horse to be competitive.
“I was long overdue for a Thoroughbred,” Clark joked. “I think that a lot of the focus on dressage has gotten riders thinking they need a heavier, flashier horse to be competitive. Even in England, you don’t see a lot of the top riders riding the heavy horses. You need a good amount of blood. So you don’t see those riders selling their four-star horses because they know how difficult it is to find and produce them. What you see often being sold and imported here is the heavier horses that will do well on the flat.”
So with that thought in mind, Clark turned to a resource much more readily available in the States versus in the UK: off-track Thoroughbreds. He now has several in his program, notably Caribbean Soul, an 11-year-old mare owned by the Caribbean Soul Syndicate, Dewey Square, an 8-year-old gelding owned by Nicholas D’Amore, as well as Williamette Valley, a striking 5-year-old dappled grey mare owned by Phil and Laura Holoubek.
Of course, you have to see a few before you find the right one sometimes, but the horses are there, and they’re beautiful.
For Clark and Jess, who run a full-scale training and sales operation in addition to Clark’s competition horses, it’s all about finding a balance and making the right connections as opposed to be loaded with extra cash.
“Top horses are very difficult to come by,” Clark said. “I have been hugely impressed with the horses coming off the track. Of course, you have to see a few before you find the right one sometimes, but the horses are there, and they’re beautiful. You don’t need a million bucks or even $100,000 to start building up your stable.”
And it’s also about building and maintaining relationships, especially in a niche industry. “Jess and I have lived the nomad life for awhile, and it’s hard to have those long-standing relationships when that’s the case,” Clark explained. “Now that we’re starting to really settle down in Kentucky, we’re really starting to build and expand because we have that stability. That’s where you then start to see the support coming in the form of clients and owners or syndicate members.”
With exciting young horses coming up the ranks now, Clark is able to really apply the knowledge he acquired during his time in England. One thing he carries with him is the untapped potential he was able to capture with Loughan Glen, and how that concept pushes him to be a better rider with all of his horses.
“Going over there (to England), it’s so competitive,” he said. “Those riders are so excellent on the flat that they can take an ordinary horse and be near the top, and so I really had to tap into what I didn’t know either of us had to really be competitive. Glen was not the easiest on the flat when I first started, but as I got to know him better, it got easier to get those competitive scores. I had to tap into something I hadn’t seen yet.”
I think it’s important to have all the pieces rather than focusing on a single phase.
And on the flip side, Clark also knows the roller coaster feeling of being so close to victory and seeing it slip away. “I’ve been out there a lot and finished well, and I’ve also finished well down when I started in front,” he said. “I think you do see a lot of that in this sport, and I think it’s important to have all the pieces rather than focusing on a single phase. Cross country is still proving to be very influential, even with the increase in focus on the dressage, you still need a lot of Thoroughbred blood. For me, having a horse that will fight for their performance in all three phases is what creates a champion.”
So it’s all systems go for Clark, who has penciled in plans of having a new Advanced horse or two in the coming months. “Inevitably, you’re always going to have a horse get injured, or peak at the wrong time, or not end up being the top horse you might have thought,” he said. “It’s hard to go through the lull of not having a top horse, but you definitely have to be able to give each horse the attention and high standard of care it deserves. That’s as much of a part of rebuilding as anything else.”