It’s not unusual for people who have had a great mentor to be a great mentor, and that’s certainly the case for Darragh Kenny. During his five+ years working for and learning from trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan at North Run Farm, Kenny honed the coaching skills that he’s now passing on to a new generation of young students, and one of them is Kerry McCahill.

At age 21, Kerry is already making major strides in the pursuit of an international show jumping career, spending her last three summers training and competing in Europe. This winter back in the States, the New Jersey native is kicking off her season in Wellington, where she competes her top horses, Charly Chaplin S and Vatson Sitte, in the Under 25 and two-and three-star level classes.

From setting goals to making mistakes (yep, it’s how you improve!) here are 10 important lessons Kerry has learned from Darragh Kenny.

1. Be patient and work hard and you will see the results.

Darragh has been such a huge inspiration to me as a student. Everything about his work ethic has really influenced me as a rider, pupil, and friend. Sometimes I can get a bit antsy about seeing results, but one of the things he has taught me that has really shown itself to be true is that if you just stay patient and work hard, the results will come. That’s something, especially over this past year when I took a gap year to ride, I can really attest to and understand.

2. Positivity and focus.

Sometimes I can be a bit negative and overthink. However, when you’re in the ring competing, this is not the mindset you should have. Through my time with Darragh, his positivity and confidence has really impacted the way I ride. Also, his focus and determination through difficult situations is something I really value. It’s easy when showing a lot to lose focus and begin to let your mind wander, but if you dedicate your time to that focus, I think you can really set yourself up for a good day of results.

3. Trust yourself.

As a young rider, it can be a bit overwhelming being surrounded by some of the best in the world. Sometimes, not always, the experience others have can cause you to doubt yourself. Something Darragh has shown me is that even if you are unsure while in the ring, you have to trust yourself and know that you’re good enough to be there.

4. Set yourself up for success.

Good preparation is a key element to success in competition, and lots of that starts before you enter the ring. Setting yourself up as a rider means showing up on time, acting professional, and giving 100 percent once you get up on your horse.

5. Set goals for yourself.

Setting goals is something that Darragh has shown me can be very useful for overall progression and results. I usually am not the type to plan ahead too much, so this has been a great tool when creating our schedules for the upcoming season. Even if it’s just through the course of Wellington, goal-setting is something you can keep with you no matter what level you ride at, and can really push you to be ambitious and to create results you wouldn’t have thought you could reach before.

6. Know when to ride to win and when to ride for your horse.

With Darragh, it’s all about the big picture. When it comes to winning, we of course try to always be competitive. But sometimes you have to ride for your horse, and that can occasionally mean sacrificing a winning result. Especially when on a younger horse, or a less experienced horse in general, you have to think about the future a little bit. Sometimes you have to be okay with just trying to smoothly go around and give them a good ride and provide a good experience for them in the long run.

7. Challenge yourself.

During the two and a half years I’ve trained with Darragh, I’ve been challenged so many times in ways that I didn’t expect. Whether it’s in training or in competition, Darragh’s thorough mentality of pushing yourself to get good results has really stuck with me. I’m not someone that is necessary a risk-taker, but through Darragh’s program, I’ve learned that sometimes the best results come about when you’re being challenged. So now I always try to look for that challenge and to push myself constantly to be better.

8. Having great position.

As a junior, I did the hunters and equitation. However, until I moved to Darragh, I was unaware of how much a role your position plays in relation to jumpers. As I’ve moved up to the bigger classes both in Europe in the U.S, I’ve found it’s absolutely vital to have good position to execute a clear round over a 1.50m track or even a 1.45m. As I’m moving up to the five-star level with some big 1.55m and 1.60m tracks, it’s something I really value, and I think it’s something that makes clear rounds much easier to achieve in the ring. Darragh has amazing equitation on a horse, and luckily, I have him as my trainer to learn from and emulate. So this is something I consistently try to use to my advantage and to improve upon on a daily basis to keep moving forward.

9. Rider/trainer communication.

Great communication between a rider and trainer is vital to success. As Darragh and I have really gotten to know one another, we are able to communicate much more seamlessly now than a year ago. This allows for clarity and mutual understanding, which helps us to react to every situation efficiently. Whether in the warm up, schooling at home, or at the in-gate, good communication is something I’ve learned really makes a difference, and it’s something we try to improve constantly.

10. It’s okay to make mistakes.

During the past two summers, I’ve been lucky enough to show in Europe and watch some of the best riders in the world. It’s been a huge learning experience for me thanks to Darragh’s encouragement to get me to go over there to learn and ride. However, from watching so many rounds, I’ve noticed that even the best in the world make mistakes in the ring—and it’s okay! I can be a bit of a perfectionist, so I can tend to be overly critical about my rounds and over-think. Darragh’s understanding and relaxed mentality when I come out of the ring, especially after I make mistakes, has really shown me that it’s okay to mess up sometimes. After all, you end up learning more from the bad rounds than from the good.

-Photo credits: Matt Cartmell, courtesy of Kerry McCahill. Meghan Bacso.