From Ponies & Hunters to WEG: Six Questions for U.S. Jumping Athlete Adrienne Sternlicht

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WEG – Mill Spring, North Carolina, USA. – Adrienne Sternlicht competed in hunters and jumpers as a child but became seriously focused on a competitive riding career during her college years at Brown University. Her passion and talent for jumping have taken her to the top echelon of equestrian sport, but she’s also an athlete outside the riding arena and has competed in several other sports, including skiing and squash. Sternlicht graduated from Brown in 2016 with a degree in public policy. The same year, she began training with two-time Olympic gold medalist McLain Ward, who also is her teammate on the NetJets U.S. Jumping Team at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ Tryon 2018. This is her first WEG appearance.

Your relationship with your horses clearly is paramount to you, both for your success as a horse-and-rider team in the ring but also, as you once put it, because horses are “intrinsic to my happiness and sanity.” How does McLain Ward’s “minimalist” training program help promote your horses’ happiness and your relationship with them?

McLain’s program gives me the opportunity to spend time in the saddle with my horses that is not strictly about ring work. I spend a lot of time trail riding and wandering around the farm—I believe that my horses should have diversity in the work and enjoy both the work time and the relaxed time they spend with me. I think our training program keeps horses fresh and happy to do their job, which lends to longevity in their careers. McLain stresses treating each horse as an individual both in and out of the saddle, which means knowing the horse’s quirks, preferences, and limitations. His ideology has helped me get to know each horse intimately and the norms and idiosyncrasies in their behavior.

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Adrienne Sternlicht (USA) & Cristalline

You’ve competed seriously in several sports, such as skiing and squash. Do you feel that your experience as a competitive athlete has contributed to your equestrian career? If so, how?

I think competing under pressure in any sport affords an experience that is translatable to other sports. Of course, the pressure and intensity change as you move up levels, but learning how to handle competition and zero in at pivotal moments is an invaluable skill. It’s a practice that I believe is impossible to perfect, but each time I’ve competed where there has been more at stake, I try to see it as another opportunity to develop mental tenacity/fortitude. I definitely think my competition background was useful this summer during the observation process and helped me to dig in during CSIO 5* Dublin, in particular—the most pressure I’ve ever ridden under to this day!

I understand you’ve found a lot of value in yoga and even have been trained as a yoga teacher. Can you describe how yoga plays a role in your riding life—and in your life generally—and what you feel equestrians can gain from it?

I absolutely love yoga and have come to see it as part of my self-care routine. Yoga forces me to slow down, as my tendency is to gravitate towards fast-paced, higher-intensity exercise. Especially when I’m having an off day, I find it to be an incredibly cathartic experience. For equestrians, I think yoga is an amazing way to improve balance and flexibility, which I think is underrated in importance in our sport! Most riders tend to favor one side of their body, and I’ve found one-legged yoga asanas are a great way to address this imbalance.

What’s your favorite fitness exercise?

It depends on the day! When I’m not competing, I definitely train more rigorously. I love workout classes, and there is such great variety in New York City. I usually try to couple a serious training session or cardio class followed by yoga later in the day. Before competing in an important competition, I always find time to go for a run outdoors and stretch or do yoga. It’s become somewhat of a ritual and calms my nerves.

You’ve described yourself as a highly intense competitor, and you’ve noted that intensity can be a double-edged sword. Can you describe some of the strategies you’ve developed to channel your intensity into focus and make it work for you rather than against you?

I think developing a pre-show routine has been crucial to helping me channel that energy in a productive way. I stick to my routine very rigidly before a big competition, and meditation is a very important part of that structured time. Like yoga, it helps me connect to my breathing and feel grounded in my body. I always try to organize my day so that I can do a longer meditation before I walk the course to get me in the right mindset, and I like to do a shorter one using the Headspace app right before I get on my horse. I also listen to audiobooks before I compete. Right now I love “Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender,” by David Hawkins. While I don’t always have ample time to follow my routine step by step, I find comfort in falling back on it in pressure-filled moments.

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Adrienne Sternlicht (USA) with trainer McLain Ward (USA) during one of their course walks at the Devon Horse Show

You’ve competed against your trainer McLain Ward fairly often, and now you’re on the WEG team together. What’s it like to be teammates and how do you think you complement each other?

McLain is unbelievable to work with! We have a really close partnership and our teams at home are quite integrated, so regardless of the format of the competition, we’re always on each other’s team. McLain knows me inside and out as a competitor. He is always very aware of my mental state and, in turn, the key moments to give me that extra boost of confidence. As far as complementing him myself, I try to stay out of his way! I can read his mental or emotional state pretty well by now, and I try to be as respectful as possible of not projecting my anxieties on him!

Source: Press release by Glenye Cain Oakford for US Equestrian / USEF – United States Equestrian Federation

Photos: © Adrienne Sternlicht / Jumper News / JC Markun / US Equestrian  / Taylor Pence