Last Saturday afternoon at the American Gold Cup, we managed to track down show jumper, trainer, and coach Quentin Judge after he wrapped up a 1.50m class and before he headed off to work with one of his riders. We questioned him about a week in the life of his horse, HH Conrad (hint: we’re jealous of a horse); we got him to reveal a secret talent (hint: if you think you can guess what it is, “you’re dead wrong”); and we even quizzed one of his amateur riders, Caitlin Creel (you may know her from PonyApp or the high AOs), about the ringside phrases he yells most often.
We were delighted that Quentin made time to chat with us despite his busy show schedule, and though his successful track record proves that his eyes are fixated firmly on the prize, we got the feeling that he’s also having a lot of fun along the way.
Walk us through a day in the life of Quentin Judge, starting from when you hit the ground here at the American Gold Cup.
We started showing here on Wednesday, but we came here on Tuesday to set up. We’re lucky that our home farm, HH Farm, is just ten minutes up the road. So this is kind of like our home show, I would say. I’m riding here, and a few of our clients are showing as well. The first day is always about getting horses settled. For my grand prix horse, HH Conrad, he spends the first half of the week just kind of hanging out and getting loose. He’s an older horse. He knows his job really well, so he just kind of hangs out until it’s his time to jump. For our clients, the first couple days are just really getting everyone in the groove, making sure they’re comfortable and ready for the weekend. For me, there’s a bit of a lull during the week until the big classes start.
How do you handle protocol and scheduling?
I try to be organized, but it always goes awry. I make a plan the night before about when the horses show and when we’re going to ride in the morning, but it always seems to get somewhat messed up as the day goes on. I try to look at the orders of go the night before, and we have a really good team of staff working for us, so I try to always think about them and how to make the day work for them. I try to plan for everyone to be off their horse or done longing for an hour before the class. This gives some time for the team to give the horses a bath, put the blanket on, or get done anything else that should be done. I do try to always pad a bit of extra time if I can, especially because some of my clients, occasionally – not naming names (Caitlin) – show up late to ride.
So would you say that you rate last?
Yes, and that’s my own decision. I try to plan everything I can for our clients and still give myself time to ride my horse. But, we’re trying to really build up our client side of the business so I think it’s really important to put a lot of emphasis on that. Lately I’ve been bringing a few horses less than I normally would to the shows. I bring two or three instead of four or five, and then I try to do the client side really well.
Run us through your week with HH Conrad.
Tuesday I flat at home then move into the show. With my horses, I do all of my training and work at home. When we’re at the show I think this is the time to just have them prepared. Of course, it’s different for every horse but Conrad needs very little work. He doesn’t have the most energy, so I try to save it. Wednesday I’ll walk him for thirty minutes and do ten minutes of work, just so he’s light and feels good. Maybe the same thing on Thursday, plus a little bit more just to make sure he’s listening and he’s with me. Friday we show in the qualifier. Saturday, the day before the grand prix, again I will walk him for thirty-five minutes followed by ten minutes of light work to make sure he’s good, and he’s fresh, and he has energy for Sunday’s grand prix. It’s different for every horse, but with Conrad specifically, I try to make sure he’s loose and feeling good, but I don’t do any work that will deplete his energy.
What kind of body work do the horses receive before they show?
We have a couple of very good osteopaths that we work with. They meet us at shows, and since we’re not always in the same place, we do see a few different people. Conrad was seen on Thursday afternoon by Ilija Lucik. We’ve been working with him for years, and he does a lot of myofascial work. He does some chiropractic work, but it’s also a lot of stretching. He knows Conrad very well, and he told me that his body feels good this week.
I have a few things that I use on Conrad, too. I have this thing called the Jeanie Rub. I think it was meant for horses originally, and then people started using it. I use that on Conrad as a massage tool. I’m very interested in preventative care, as everyone is, but I’m really crazy about lactic acid, and getting lactic acid out of the muscles after the horses work. So I’ll use it right after Conrad jumps, and again the morning after, to kind of get everything moving and make sure nothing stays stagnant. I think it helps…I hope it helps!
So you recommend the Jeanie Rub?
Yeah. It’s cheap! And there’s this thing called the Theragun. It’s meant for people, but I use it on our horses, and my wife gets mad at me because I take it all the time. They seem to really like it, especially in the major muscle groups.
Do you ever get nervous?
I do get nervous sometimes. Not all the time, but sporadically. I don’t really know what brings it on. It’s not necessarily before the big class; it can be a random Wednesday class. I occasionally get nervous in the traditional sense, and probably more than I think I do. I also get amped with a lot of adrenaline, but not all the time.
Do you have any special lucky items or show-related superstitions?
I don’t have any real superstitions. I have this book called This Is Water by David Foster Wallace. It’s really short. It was actually a commencement speech he gave, and it has nothing to do with horses or sports psychology. I don’t know why, but I read it all the time and it puts me in a good headspace before I show. It takes about 25 minutes to read, so I’ll read a little part of it. It gives me something to do, since the time between when I walk the course and get on and show is when I’m most nervous.
Are there any Quentinisms?
Caitlin can tell you, I’m sure. I give her free rein!
Caitlin: There are a bunch of them. We all tend to be a little “pully” and Quentin likes a forward ride. We hear a lot of, “Kick once, you still won’t see it, so kick again!”
What is your biggest pet peeve?
As a trainer, people not going forward through the turns when they’re riding. That makes me crazy! We talk about pace a lot!
In general, when I know someone is deliberately ignoring my calls or texts and they don’t just answer the phone. I hate having to hound someone on the phone when I need something. At least send a thumbs up!
Your greatest fear is…
Becoming stagnant. We do the same thing every year, but I hate to think of plateauing, not getting any better, and not changing at all. The idea of flat-lining and not reaching my goals is a constant fear.
What is your next goal?
I want to get back up high in the rankings. Two seasons ago we had a great group of horses. I was doing really well in the big grand prixs, and I was going to Europe on the teams. Two of those horses have been retired, and I really have had a bit of a lull with just one main horse to show in the grand prixs these days. It’s been a little bit of a downswing, and I’m really hungry to get back up there. We have a good group of young horses now. I’m jumping the 5* level now, but I want to get back to where I was a couple of years ago, and keep pushing myself along.
If you were not a professional rider, you would be a…
I don’t know, it’s all I’ve ever done!
Are you a coffee or a tea person?
Coffee. I never really drank coffee, but in the last couple of years I’ve started drinking a lot of it! And I’ve gone from drinking lattes to black cold brew. Kids…kids and clients!
Any advice to your twenty-one year old self?
Be patient. Good things will come. I’ve always felt like I was one step behind. I’m very happy where I am now. I want to do more, but I’ve made it to a good spot in my career, my riding, and my lifestyle. I’m riding that wave! Good things will come!
What are the three most used emojis on your phone?
I’m sure they’re bland. I respond a lot with the thumbs up because I hate when I get a reply message from someone and it’s just, “okay.” What does that mean? Are they happy? I think a thumbs up is generally pretty well received as a good thing. I also use a lot of claps for my clients. And I call all the horses princes, I don’t know why. We all seem to say it, like, “That horse is such a prince today.” So I use a lot of crowns!
The three most used apps on your phone are…
We use PonyApp! Instagram. And I use myShowAdvisor which has all the show schedules and dates, and is really helpful to keep me organized. If someone asks me what happens September 12th I have no idea. I think of it in terms of “the Thursday of the American Gold Cup.”
You drop a quarter in the jukebox to listen to…
I’m very into music, and I have a very wide array. Right now, I’m very into this band called Boy Scouts, so anything by them.
Tell us about your tattoos.
I have two on my wrist. One says “lady,” because that’s what I call my wife. And the other says “Rhodes,” which is my son. My wife is pregnant now, so I will have another one as some point!
A few years ago our very dear friends Sophie Coppedge and Andres Rodriguez passed away in a car accident. I have a replica of Sophie’s tattoo. Her mom took several of Sophie’s close friends to get them, so that one is in memory of her. Finally, I have a star on my shoulder that I got when I was eighteen. I thought it was really cool and hard-edge at the time. But I know nothing about football, and apparently it’s the Dallas Cowboys star, so sometimes if I’m wearing a white shirt or if I’m sweaty at a show, someone will say to me, “Yeah, Cowboys!” and I have no idea what they’re talking about.
What is your most treasured non-living possession?
Coffee ice cream, and I like cheap ice cream, too. Sometimes Breyer’s Coffee Ice Cream just does the trick.
What was the best gift you ever received?
My son! But, also, HH Conrad was a very good gift!
What was the best gift you ever gave?
I always try to buy my wife very nice gifts, well beyond my means. I would literally drain my bank account to one dollar every Christmas, so this is probably a better question for her, but I did give her a Balenciaga Spy bag when they came out years ago. I got one of the last ones at Barneys, and she freaked out. It was not expected, and I shouldn’t have bought it at that point, because then I had no money left, but she loved it.
If you could travel anywhere that is non-horse show related, where would it be?
I’m dying to go to New Zealand and spend a few weeks there, to really travel and explore. This fall my wife and I were supposed to go to southeast Asia and possibly New Zealand, but she’s pregnant so the plan got scrapped. Someday, though…
What is your greatest indulgence?
Coffee ice cream, and I like cheap ice cream, too. Sometimes Breyer’s Coffee Ice Cream just does the trick.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d like to be Beezie [Madden]. I’d love to have her feel on a horse.
What is your life’s mantra?
You are where you are; you’re not where you’re not. It’s very important for me, because I always want to be doing better and doing more, so living in the moment and trying to do really well at what I’m doing right now is hard, but important.
Also, stay calm. I don’t practice it very well. Everyone is always telling me to stay calm!
Tell us something unexpected about yourself.
It’s really vulgar, but I can fully rap “Dead Wrong” by Biggie. It’s terrible, but it’s great. And I don’t know why, but since I was a kid I’ve loved that song. I was ten years old rapping it and my poor mom was like, “What is this?!” It’s so bad. I honestly probably shouldn’t even have said that.
Okay, can we just pause this interview for a few minutes so we can video this?
A show jumper, a fox hunter, and a cowboy walk into a bar…
They all tell each other that they don’t know what a real horseman is, and then…fist fight, for sure!