Michael Pollard and Schoensgreen Hanni, owned by his wife Nathalie Bouckaert Pollard, finished second overall and harvested team gold at the 2011 Guadalajara Pan American Games. The US three-day riders made history by finishing on their dressage scores with five double clear rounds to claim all but first place.
Michael and Nathalie had been friends since their teens, but it took many years for their courses to merge in marriage. They have a son and twins, with their fourth child expected in January. Nathalie admitted: “It isn’t always easy. It’s a bit hard for me to watch and sometimes I would prefer to be at the barn, not at home with the kids, but we’re at a different place in our riding careers. I’ve given Michael my horses to ride. I expect a lot and tell him what he needs to do. He’s a good rider. It helped him a lot to have the support of the team. He deserves success. Guadalajara was an amazing experience.”
Sidelines: How difficult was it to manifest your dream and ride for the USA?
MP: In hindsight, it never seems difficult. You do the best you can everyday and you make realistic goals. I’m really happy to be where I am. I still have a lot of goals that are a long way away. I have a lot of work to do. You have to be cognizant of the fact that to achieve your goals you have to be consistent about them every day and work hard. It takes consistency and drive: that’s what has gotten me here.
Sidelines: You held second place from dressage onward and finished in front of Hannah Sue Burnett and Buck Davidson: in the individual jumping round, two rails dropped you to fourth. What was the lesson that cost your individual medal?
MP: I’ve been surprised how everyone was so nice to me about that. Hanni [pronounced Honey] was jumping fantastic. I felt it was important to be up on the clock and make the time. I wanted to stay on my score. We did the first three fences quickly and I was probably five or six seconds up on the clock and would have been fine, but I let my concentration slip a little to the combination. The other thing is you don’t change your mind three times to one fence.
Sidelines: Is Hanni really a honey?
MP: Bettina Hoy found her for us at a Young Horse championship. I’d taken all of Nathalie’s horses and we wanted to find something suitable that she could enjoy. We went over and she came home with us. Hanni’s been absolutely fantastic. She’s wonderful to ride every day. She’s great on the flat, wonderful cross-country and a fantastic show jumper. The two rails for the Pan Ams were the only ones she had all year. Nathalie’s been really gracious, but she’s also the most demanding owner I’ve ever had. If I make a mistake, she lets me know.
Nathalie: My mom’s the strong, silent presence. She helped us to purchase the mare that took Michael to the Pan Ams.
Sidelines: How do you balance business and riding?
MP: I do the best I can. I work hard for a year or two to get a business established, and then I’m there to oversee. For the Pan Ams, I talked to the partners and they felt it would be okay for me to take the time off. We make the products that go into carpet manufacturing – stain blocker, etc. We re-process and sell a lot of things that come out of the carpet industry: a million pounds of stuff that would have gone into a landfill. There are so many new applications for recycled materials.
Sidelines: Who were your mentors?
MP: Casino Sam was a small horse, bought off the racetrack. He was the first horse I competed at a high level, the horse I took with me when I went to Denny Emerson. I rode him for three years and Sam got me from Beginner Novice to Intermediate. He was honest and bold and would do whatever I asked.
My dad, Jack Pollard, bent over backwards to do everything he could to make sure I had horses to ride. He held sponsor parties. When we didn’t have money, he found ways to help with the bills at competitions. He makes me crazy, he’s a terrible nag, but he’s generally right. He saw my passion for horses and always helped me.
Denny Emerson took me from being a ‘back-yard rider who wants to have fun’ and taught me about real horsemanship. He’s a great horseman, classically trained and really smart. I learned as much from listening to him as I did riding with him. He’s a real Renaissance man.
I had talked with Carl Bouckaert many times over the years and I asked him to help me get dressage training. He invited me to come to his facility and he’s been a fantastic supporter. He’s a great sounding board and so upbeat.
Nathalie: Daddy’s the ultimate optimist. If there’s a problem or an issue, he’s always there to talk to you. He picks us up when we’re down.
-By Lauren Giannini