Equestrienne Lucy Davis on recovering from burnout and giving back to her sport

The American won silver at Rio 2016, but then suffered from burnout that took two years to recover from. Now, through her business, she's giving back to equestrian.

Lucy Davis isn't your typical Olympic medallist: the equestrian rider went to Stanford University and studied architecture while she was there.

"Stanford's a lot of people doing elite, cool things. They're at the top of their sport, or their study," she says.

It was no different for the then-18-year-old Davis, in her first year of her studies. She had to juggle the demands of university coursework with Olympic qualification trials for London 2012.

The snag? Those trials took place in Florida, on the east coast of the United States. Stanford is based in California, on the west coast.

"I was basically commuting for these trials weekly. I would take Wednesday red-eyes and fly back every Sunday night for about eight weeks in the winter."

Ultimately, she didn't make it. But she did finally become an Olympian at Rio 2016, aged 22.

Then, after winning silver, she suffered from an extended bout of post-Olympic blues, which took her two years to recover from.

The Olympic Channel Podcast sat down with Lucy to discuss what happened to her, and how she eventually managed to regain her love for equestrian.

Lucy Davis of the United States rides Barron during the Team Jumping on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Equestrian Centre on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

Starting out

Davis was born into a family with a love of horses. Her grandfather, Robert Barron Frieze, was a jockey's agent.

But it wasn't until she was 15 that Davis settled on trying to make it in horse sport.

"I was very into soccer, and played that pretty competitively," she says. "I got to the point in high school when I was about 15, where I really had to make a decision on what to focus on and I definitely wanted the horses."

After missing out on a spot at London 2012 — "I think I was 10th on the list for London" — she finally broke onto Team USA in 2013, representing her country in the FEI Nations Cup.

But her goal remained the Olympic Games.

"It became more of a reality once I started competing at a higher level and particularly when I started riding Barron" — named after her grandfather — "who I knew really had the ability to take me there."

His name is Barron

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'I felt like it was my fault'

The call finally came in 2016. But her team missed out on gold in Rio. USA had to settle for silver.

In equestrian jumping, each team has four riders, with the best three scores counting towards the team's total.

But Davis' teammate Beezie Madden's horse, Cortes 'C', suffered an injury in the first round and could not participate in the final.

This left the USA with just three riders, all of whom would count in the team's final score.

"Kent Farrington, my teammate, went in, went clear, had one time fault," Davis recalls. "I went in and had an unlucky rail at the end. My horse kind of spooked going into this triple combination and we finished on four faults - one rail.

"There was still a chance, but then the third French rider went in and went clear so then we knew before our third rider, McLain Ward, was going to go in that he was basically riding for silver.

"I was devastated because I felt like responsible a bit for that. If I would've gone clear, we could've still been in the running for the gold."

"But then once we actually got silver, it kind of hit that I'd won an Olympic medal and I didn't care what colour it was."

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Losing motivation

Like so many Olympians before her, Davis struggled mentally after Rio, although she tried her best to put off the post-Olympic blues.

"I kind of extended the high for a couple of weeks. I basically kind of kept competing, had a bunch of family parties and celebrate the medal and all of that.

"Then I went back to the small town, this time in Holland, but it got colder, it got a little bit lonelier, and I didn't quite have that goal.

"I didn't want to work out. I didn't want to bike to the barn in the rain."

"I kind of lost a lot of motivation. I tried to set other goals for myself in the sport, but it was definitely more difficult for me to kind of really see those through, and I think I was just a little bit burnt out in the end as well."

Eventually, she moved back to the States and started a business. But it took two years for Davis to "figure out my place and get back to loving the sport."

Lucy Davis of the United States rides Barron during the Team Jumping on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Equestrian Centre on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

Giving back to the sport through business

That business is PonyApp, which Davis co-developed in her time at Stanford with business partner Lindsay Douglass.

"We kind of pivoted towards more of a rider, client, horse owner-focused platform," she says. But it's now taking on a new dimension.

"We thought that 'all the professionals are under-served by tech and we have to go out and solve this', but it really turned to 'wow, there is this community of people, of young people, around the world that love horses and maybe go to pony club once a week and have no outlet for it'.

"So we're trying to galvanise that energy and in time, direct it towards the sport and its exposure and its athletes."

Silver medalist Lucy Davis of United States riding Barron celebrates before the medal ceremony after the Jumping Team competition on Day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Equestrian Centre on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Tokyo 2020

Away from running her business, Davis continues to compete with Barron and a new horse, Caracho 14, with an eye on next year's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

"I'm re-motivated for sure. Barron has been in and out of injury for the past almost two years, so it's been a long grind, but he's now jumping again and looking forward to 2019.

"I've been working with another horse, Caracho, now for two years who I kind of got as a young horse and I've been developing with high hopes. He's now just blossoming and Barron is now healthy, so I'm really excited for 2019 because I can start to really focus on it.

"We definitely have a two-year plan [towards Tokyo], we've got to work back from that and each step of the way keep it all in check."


United States of America
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Number of medals

1 Olympic medals


Olympic Games

1 Olympic Games

Lucy Davis was this week’s guest on the Olympic Channel Podcast.

Each week we find athletes and speakers to talk about the biggest Olympic talking points.

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