Individuality is key in hunt seat equitation trainer Missy Clark and John Brennan’s program at North Run located in Warren, Vt. Rider Luke Jensen has been the shining example of this with his successful last season as a junior aboard Jamaica, a horse who required patience and dedication.
This fall, after patiently developing their relationship, Luke and Jamaica took the champion title at the 2022 Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final and were reserve champions at the 2022 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Final – East.
“He brought out the best in that horse, there's no way to word it differently,” Missy said. "That horse became so relaxed in the ring with that boy, and his riding style really suited Jamaica. Luke is so soft, yet effective, but he's never over-pressuring the horse, and he [Jamaica] really flourished under that whole partnership.
“I'm a real believer in each kid keeping their own style, just like Marcus Ehning’s style is different than Daniel Deusser’s, and Deusser’s is different than McLain’s [Ward], and McLain’s is different than Kent’s [Farrington], but they're all getting the best out of all of their horses,” she said. This is exactly what allowed Luke and Jamaica’s partnership to flourish.
However, it wasn’t only Luke’s incredible release and natural, empathetic feel for the horse that created such a special partnership. Jamaica had quite the journey before he fell into Luke’s care.
Missy Clark was first introduced to Jamaica when Stephex Stables sent him to her farm to be sold as a jumper in the winter of 2020. Tomi Yofre, one of North Run’s current riders at the time, showed Jamaica in the 1.40m and 1.45m divisions. Jamaica did not sell by the end of the season and was sent back to Stephex Stables in Meise, Belgium. He ended up being sold to another rider, but after realizing it was not the right match, the new owner decided to send Jamaica back to Stephex Stables yet again. The Belgian operation reached out to North Run and asked if they could take Jamaica instead, and they immediately agreed. But when Jamaica arrived, he no longer looked like the equine athlete they had known.
“When he got off the trailer, we were all shocked at what he looked like,” said Missy. North Run began the process of bringing Jamaica back to fitness, implementing a new feeding program, getting him veterinary care, and giving him lots of turnout and hand walking.
“I think we could all tell there was a lot to work with and that he was special,” Luke said of Jamaica. “There was a lot of grumpiness going on and he was difficult in the stall, the cross ties, and to handle. He was not aggressive, but if you made a movement too quick, he would feel threatened, and it was difficult to deal with because he would bite and kick out. But I recognized that he had a lot of heart.”
It was a big team effort behind Jamaica’s transformation, and everyone at North Run played a role. Luke was grateful for guidance from Missy, John, assistant trainer Maggie Gampfer, and barn manager Nikki Arnold during the entire process.
“I think the main thing was just spending as much time as I could with him, to be honest. I think he recognized when you would make that effort, and it told him that you are on his side,” said Luke. “So whether it's extended grooming or just being in the stall with him, taking him out for grass or hanging out with him in the paddock—that type of stuff really helped make that team and bring out the animal we knew was in there.”
With Luke’s patient and thoughtful horsemanship, he gained Jamaica’s trust, and a special bond began to form.
"Luke is such a conscientious person, and he's very thoughtful and calm in the way he interacts with all the horses and the people. Nevermind his talent, he's just truly an outstanding talent, that kid,” Missy said of Luke. “It really blossomed into a great partnership, and it didn't take long to notice that that was going to be a winning combination for me.”
In March of 2022, Luke and Jamaica won the Winter Equestrian Festival Equitation Championship—Jamaica’s first major equitation win. It proved that all of Luke’s time and hard work was paying off, and North Run purchased Jamaica from Stephex Stables. Luke and Jamaica’s went on to more success, culminating in the Hunter Seat Medal championship in October.
“I think it to put it in one word, it is mostly gratitude, to be honest,” said Luke of his feelings about his successful last season as a junior aboard Jamaica. “To [Jamaica], first and foremost, for allowing me to go on that journey with him. So gratitude to him for being so special. Also, for our team we have at North Run and John and Missy to make that match. They’re genius matchmakers in that way. They gave me the opportunity, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Although Jamaica has made leaps and bounds, he still has some funny quirks that make Luke, Missy, and the team at North Run giggle.
"He's funny,” said Luke. “Even now, you can walk up to his stall door and straight away he’s pinning his ears and his mouth is gaping wide open like he's going to try and bite your head off. But as soon as you go in, he backs off and pricks his ears up, and he's ready to hang out and kind of do whatever, so I think that's indicative of his whole personality.”
Luke loves going into his stall, taking him out to the paddock, and just hanging out with him in a non-competitive environment because it plays such a huge role in their relationship.
Luke is embarking on a new journey this year as North Run has hired him to be their rider. The whole North Run team is very excited to have him take on some jumpers this season. As for Jamaica, he will remain at North Run forever and Ellie Aronson will take the reins for the 2023 season.
“I am excited to see what Jamaica does and what the future is,” said Luke. “I am excited to see how I can take the next step and use what I learned with Jamaica to take the next competitive step in my career.”