While Hurricane Irma barreled through Florida last September, U.S. Olympian Kent Farrington, the world’s No. 1 show jumper, was in Calgary competing in one of the sport’s most prestigious horse shows. But he was watching the news and hoping for the best.
Fortunately, Farrington’s 13-acre training facility in Wellington did not sustain any damage from the powerful storm. But he saw the destruction elsewhere, and it moved him to action. He decided to donate his earnings from the Rolex Central Park Horse Show in New York City two weeks later to Direct Relief, a nonprofit humanitarian aid fund. His donation: the entire first-place prize of $71,280.
“I feel very fortunate to have the career that I have,” said Farrington, who earned a silver medal as part of the U.S. team at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. “I have a great team of people around me who have helped me get to where I am today and continue to help me grow further. I wanted to help the people less fortunate than myself from the hurricane, and it was my way of being able to give back. It’s the right thing to do, and it feels great to help. Part of the thrill of succeeding is being able to do things that can have an impact and make a difference.”
Helping others is not a one-time thing for Farrington, who turned 37 on Dec. 28.
He is a national ambassador for Autism Speaks, in honor of a family friend who has autism. Farrington also advocates for the United States Pony Club, which is where he first learned to ride while growing up in Chicago.
“That’s where I started, and it’s humbling to give back to the organization that helped me,” Farrington said. “They’re a grassroots organization where you learn basic horse riding skills. I like the energy of the kids there.”
Farrington helps the Pony Club in several ways, including having a contest where the winner and their family receive a trip to Wellington where they tour his facility and follow him while he is competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival.
Veteran rider Jimmy Torano has known Farrington since he was coming up in the junior ranks. He wasn’t surprised by Farrington’s generosity.
“He’s a very generous person,” Torano said. “We saw that when he donated his winnings from the Central Park Grand Prix to hurricane victims. He’s great with his friends and all the people around him.”
Farrington was very, very good in 2017, winning more than 12 Grand Prixes around the world, including several major competitions at WEF, en route to the No. 1 world ranking, which he has held for the last nine months.
He returns to action in the 2018 season in Wellington with many of the same horses that shined so brightly last year, including Gazelle, a 12-year-old bay mare, and Creedance, an 11-year-old chestnut gelding. But he will also introduce some new, younger horses into the competitions at WEF.
“My goal is to have a broad view, to produce future stars while resting some of the older horses,” Farrington said. “Wellington is a great spot, since we are here for a long time. I get to spend a lot of time with my younger horses.”
Torano has always been impressed with Farrington’s riding.
“I actually met him in what they used to call the $5 ring, when he was back there schooling some horses, as a kid,” Torano said. “He was impressive even back then. I always say Kent is a genius. He’s extremely smart in every way. I think that’s why he is where he is today. He puts it all to use in his training, and he obviously has an unbelievable program.”
Beyond horses, Torano likes spending time with Farrington.
“On a personal level, he’s one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet,” he said. “One of the best guys to just hang out with, whether it’s just sitting around the table discussing training of the horses, or going out for a fun dinner.”
Farrington’s training methods seem simple enough.
“Get and keep the horses really fit, manage their schedule so they don’t over-compete and have a big team so there’s not all the pressure on one horse,” Farrington said.
Each horse is ridden and trained as an individual. One might be better indoors, another performs best on a large, grass field.
“There’s a lot of management and attention to details that go into it,” Farrington said. “It’s super complicated. It’s like a Formula One driver — you don’t just turn on the key and drive it like it’s a Ford Taurus.”
Farrington trains hard himself, exercising daily but eschewing weights to concentrate on flexibility and balance. He also follows a super-clean eating program, meaning no sugar or processed food, and has a chef prepare his meals.
Farrington said he always trained and enjoyed it, and over time his eating habits changed as he learned more and more.
“My father died of cancer when I was young, and an experience like that pushed me in a different direction, and eating healthy was part of it,” Farrington said.
Farrington follows other major sports and enjoys watching other elite athletes competing. He was drawn to basketball, with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dominating his childhood years.
“He [Jordan] was a dynamic figure to watch,” Farrington said. “I can appreciate any sport at the highest level. I just like watching great competition. I know the dedication they have put into it.”
Many athletes are superstitious, but not Farrington. He doesn’t have a pair of good-luck socks or eat the same meal before each competition.
“My confidence comes from methodical training, being well prepared, knowing that I have practiced over and over,” Farrington said. “I think that’s more effective than a lucky pair of socks.”
Torano doesn’t believe that being No. 1 in the world has changed Farrington.
“His philosophy has always been to develop the young horses and get them to the Grand Prix or championship level,” Torano said. “I don’t think that will change. I think being No. 1 was always part of the plan, so I don’t think we’ll see a big change in him.”
That’s because he’s passionate about working with the horses.
“They’re amazing animals,” Farrington said. “It’s really gratifying.”
To learn more about Kent Farrington, visit www.kentfarrington.com.