Lucy Davis is an anomaly in equestrian sport. One year after graduating from Stanford University with a degree in architecture, she was standing on the Olympic podium in Rio holding her silver medal high in the air. Now, she’s launching her own, innovative App while she continues to compete at the highest level.
Upper Echelon Academy: Everything we talk about here comes back to balance: of academics, riding, and other things in life we love to do, need to do, and make us who we are. Your ability to work up to that Olympic achievement—all the while perusing a challenging degree from one of the best universities—doesn’t just impress or inspire. Put simply… this blows my mind. I need to ask you: Did it ever feel like it was all too much?
Lucy: Absolutely. I started missing school for horse shows at such an early age that time and experience helped me create and adapt a certain program for myself to handle both schedules. BUT, when I started Stanford, another element was introduced into the fray: a college social life. I wanted to have the full college experience at Stanford, and that is when things became overwhelming.
During a hectic winter sophomore year (when I was commuting to Wellington almost every week), I attended a talk on campus that was SO critical. The lecturer was Atul Gawande—a surgeon, author, public servant, and father…just to name a few of his many award-winning roles. After speaking about the winding path towards all his accomplishments, someone in the crowd asked him this same question: how do you balance it all?! His answer was that life isn’t about balancing…it’s about juggling. This transformed my outlook on life, since I always thought that I had to do it all at once—to ride, to be a straight-A student, to spend time with friends.
The reality is that it’s more of a juggling act than a balancing act, and you have to know when to give the appropriate amount of focus to your goals. This is why I decided to take a quarter off of school during my junior year, in order to try and qualify for the WEG team in 2014. I knew that if I wanted to make the team, I couldn’t do it all at once. I also took some breaks from competing to be at school, to do my work and see my friends when there were less pressing competitions. Moving forward, I think it is hugely important to remember this. You can do it all, just not all at once!
📷Upper Echelon Academy: … And how did you manage to stay calm and determined? What tricks, techniques, hobbies, etc. do you have for staying focused under pressure or when things feel overwhelming?
Lucy: I found out at an early stage that the more I have to do, the more I do. I am a huge procrastinator, so having a busy schedule was actually key to motivate me work the most efficiently. I think that this actually helps me to deal with the pressure in the ring as well. I am most focused when I don’t over-focus. This may seem counterintuitive since important competitions, exams, etc. inherently require full focus, but I do think that there is something to studying hard, preparing well, and executing. It doesn’t help to dwell on pressure or uncertainties.
More specifically, I would say that taking care of yourself, and your body, is hugely important when things become stressful and overwhelming. Making time for small breaks to exercise and/or socialize is essential. Eating well is crucial and sleeping enough is probably the most valuable, and most hypocritical, piece of advice I can lend!
Upper Echelon Academy: Having spent time with you, I know your intellectual cravings lead you to read, sightsee, and look outside the equestrian bubble when you’re at shows or on the road. Of all the places you have competed, where has been the most interesting for cultural/historical education and exploration?
Lucy: One of the most amazing aspects of our sport is the opportunity to travel to so many cool places!! I think one of the cities that I have enjoyed most, as an architecture student, is Rotterdam. I took an architectural theory course with a favorite professor where we read a lot of Rem Koolhaas’s work, which I love. Koolhaas is originally from Rotterdam and so I asked my professor if he could suggest some places to visit while I rode in the CSIO there. Rotterdam is an entirely underrated city in general, but its modern architecture is particularly underestimated. I got to see the progression of Koolhaas’s style when visiting his early and later buildings. There is something about actually experiencing the structures, artworks, and cultures that you study in a classroom that I believe truly enriches, and cements the process of learning about it all.
Upper Echelon Academy: I understand that you are pursuing a career in showjumping, but riding won’t be your sole profession—we want to know about the Pony App! How have your academics prepared you for a career both in and around showjumping?
Lucy: Since I no longer have school to juggle with riding, I had to find another project to work on! The PonyApp came about in a very natural progression. Studying in the tech capital of the world inspired my partner and I to address a true need that I feel permeates the equine industry. So, at its core, the PonyApp will be a platform that funnels all of the management, invoicing, and social aspects of our sport into one place. I’m looking forward to launching it in Wellington this winter, after almost two years of research and work.
If people ever ask me for advice on how to get to the top level of the sport, the one thing that I always say is go to school! We are lucky to be able to pursue this sport for our whole lives if we want to, but we can only have a high school or university experience once. For the many, and inevitable, “ups” and “downs” that this unpredictable sport and horses bring, my education has allowed me to pursue other interests and meet other people to supplement my life with horses. Not to mention the fact that the many subjects and practices that you learn is school can obviously prepare you to run an equine business and deal with the pressures of competition as well.
Upper Echelon Academy: Finally, what advice do you have for equestrians heading to college, who want to continue riding and get the best of both worlds?
Lucy: Spend as much time in college as you can! I am, sadly, one of those poor people that will always claim that my college days were the best of my life. This experience is something that you can never get back, and luckily, the riding and horses will always be around if you want them to be. Definitely remember that it is a juggling act, and if there are times where you can take a month or so to just stay at school, do so. You will learn skills and make friends and connections that will last a lifetime. Those will not only make you a happy, balanced person but also likely help you in your sport as well!