Sometimes, it takes a change of place to help a rider move up from one level to the next. For American show jumper Michael Hughes,  the proof was in the pudding last week in a big way: the 22-year-old took home his first grand prix win at the Bonheiden CSI3* in Belgium aboard Zerlin M (Berlin x Concorde) as the rider for Enda Carroll’s Ashford Farm, in nearby Bocholt.

Hughes, who previously spent time working for Dietmar Gugler in Germany and Missy Clark in the USA, has been steadily improving his results at the CSI three- and four-star level since he started working for Carroll last fall, taking over the reins on Zerlin from longtime Ashford rider, Marlon Modolo Zanotelli. “Living in Belgium [is] a lot of fun. I have a lot of really nice horses, a lot of eight-year-olds, and one or two older horses to show,” Hughes says, adding that Enda is especially easy to work for. And while every life change comes with its fair share of ups and downs—including the occasional bout of homesickness—it’s clear career-wise, Hughes is making all the right moves at Ashford.

Last week in Bolesworth, we caught up with Michael to chat about what he’s learned so far working for Carroll at one of Europe’s most successful sale and sport horse barns.

1. Self-Reliance

Enda does all of our show planning and [figures out] what works for the horses we have. But in the past, in the day-to-day, I always depended on Missy [Clark] to know what my planning should be and what each horse does. Now, it’s more my decision to make because I’m riding them.

2. Flatwork

We have a dressage trainer that works with us and Gerry Flynn has just recently started helping us. In America, we honestly don’t do that much flatwork, and I think that’s one of our big problems. Over here, I’ve learned a lot about flatwork and getting [the horses to be] lighter. You see all these horses going around in such beautiful shapes, and they all look so nice to ride.

3. Selecting Prospects

Enda has a really good eye for horses and sometimes, I’ll jump a horse around and it’s not one that I particularly like when we try it. Then, two weeks later, after I’ve been riding it, I’ll really, really like it—which is something I think you just learn [to spot] over time.

4. Managing Young Horses

There are many more younger horses at Enda’s then I’m used to, and it doesn’t take a lot to keep them sound and to keep them doing what they’re doing. They’re a lot stronger at this age, and the oldest horse we have is 12. Most of our horses now get out twice a day, and we have a great manager at home, Cecilia [Feretti], who has been with Edna for a long time.

5. Embracing Change

It’s really nice over here in that all the horse shows are close and everything is more convenient. You can do more right from home. I’m a little homesick—I miss my friends a lot—but everyone is pretty much over here in Europe now for the summer, so it’s nice.

-Photography by Erin Gilmore.