By Lauren R. Giannini
Missy Clark believes in the basics: The first is proper position, because riders can’t function without correct form. Then she believes riders should understand the value of correct flatwork and the importance of consistent and thoughtful horsemanship.
An experienced trainer with extensive hunter and jumper mileage of her own, Missy is very successful and produces competitive riders. She makes it clear that equitation, including the Big Eq division, is not an end in itself, but an extraordinary phase in a rider’s development.
“I teach equitation because it’s the proper stepping stone to whatever you want to do, whether you want to be the best jumper rider or the best hunter rider,” said Missy. “It’s the time in your career when you can really focus on your riding, take a lot of lessons and fine-tune many details. Good riding is good riding and that’s why I teach equitation.”
Missy’s history with horses and showing began when she was very young. She was fortunate to work with some really great trainers. “I was lucky.” Missy said, “My mom, Doris Clark, rode professionally before she got married and she was the one who taught me how to ride from the very beginning. The first time I rode with George Morris — I think I was only 13 — was at a clinic at the Buffalo Saddle & Bridle Club. After that, I worked with George whenever I had the opportunity and our relationship and friendship has continued over the years.”
Missy was showing at the Erie County Fair the day that Chuck Graham, a well-known professional from the Buffalo, New York, area, saw her ride and offered to take her on as his working student. “He approached me – I can’t remember how old I was, maybe 15 – to come and be his working student and his rider,” recalled Missy. “In those days he didn’t have another professional rider in the barn. So I rode everything from green horses to the jumpers. Chuck was a great old horseman and I learned a lot – the importance of a work ethic, the value of a program, consistency with your flatwork and all the things that factor into making a young or green horse from scratch. What I learned from Chuck has served me well in my life.”
George Morris proved to be a long-term, albeit unofficial, mentor for Missy. “George has been such an influence on me in so many ways,” she said. “I couldn’t afford to ride at Hunterdon full time, but I would be in and out for lessons or I would go for a weekend or meet him at shows. When I was in my 20s, he helped me with my jumpers. I have always appreciated everything George has done for me. He has meant a lot to me throughout my career.”
When asked her favorite show as a junior, Missy didn’t hesitate and said, “I always loved going to the Garden – it was magical. That’s the only word for it, magical. It was just so amazing; nothing can compare with that show. I was so fortunate to be able to show there. My students competed there later. The very last year of the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden (2001), my student Brian Walker won the Maclay Final on Grappa.”
In 2000, an Irishman named John Brennan joined forces with Missy. They married three years later. Their partnership has added to the success of their farm, North Run, as they continue to coach and produce champions and successful riders from equitation to grand prix jumpers. Through the years, a number of North Run riders have continued on to ride on the U.S. show jumping team and for their own country’s equestrian team in international competition.
“Darragh Kenny from Ireland began working for North Run in 2009 and won his first Grand Prix on one of our jumpers, Gael Force,” Missy said. “Another North Run rider, Hillary Dobbs, became the youngest jumper rider to win a million dollars in prize money. Sheila Burke, one of my first students back when I was in my 20s, rode with me for years and years. She ended up winning the Dublin Grand Prix and rode in Europe on numerous occasions for the U.S. show jumping team.”
Currently, Missy is working with a group of great students, including Tori Colvin, Michael Hughes and Sophie Simpson, to name a few of the North Run young riders. “I feel I am really lucky to have such a talented group of kids this year – I’ve got a lot of great ones,” she said. “I see any of these kids doing whatever they want to do in the sport. I’m very proud of my riders.”
When asked what her favorite show is today, Missy said, “Washington International Horse Show – I love that show. Of all the shows, it’s the one that is most reminiscent of the Garden. It’s right in the heart of the city. I love it. It has great atmosphere. My favorite outdoor shows in the USA are Devon and the Hampton Classic. I also love going to Spruce Meadows In Canada.”
Being a professional means training and showing with integrity, being straightforward and honest, and doing the best job she can. “One of the things that makes me most proud is how so many of my riders, after their junior years are over, go on to long and successful amateur, professional and grand prix careers,” Missy said. “I really enjoy seeing so many of my North Run students continue on in the sport.”
About the writer: Lauren R. Giannini is an award-winning journalist, specializing in stories about the equestrian world. Crazy about horses all her life, she craves more stable time, especially in the saddle. Right now, she rides her beloved MacBook, a genuine work-pony, and reads voraciously to escape the everyday world.