Wellington, Florida – They say no man is an island and Marcus Davis knows that better than anyone. The 20-year-old is making a name for himself, and the nation of Bahamas that he represents, with the help of his family and trainers as he competes for the first time at the highly competitive Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL.
Growing up in the Bahamas, Davis followed in the footsteps of his older sister, Hailey, and was first introduced to horses at a local riding school. He began his riding journey with Kimberly Johnson at Camperdown Riding Club in Nassau and, as his skills improved, so did his quest for knowledge in his chosen sport of show jumping. A fateful meeting with 10-time Canadian Olympian Ian Millar during a visit to the Winter Equestrian Festival as a spectator led to Davis training full-time with the Millar family and the team at Millar Brooke Farm.
Having competed at such impressive Canadian venues as Spruce Meadows in Calgary, AB, and Wesley Clover Parks in Ottawa, ON, Davis was ready to make his Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) debut. With 12 consecutive weeks of competition sanctioned by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), WEF is the biggest show jumping circuit in the world and annually attracts thousands of competitors from around the globe.
To compete in such a pressure cooker environment, Davis had to move past the intimidation of going up against so many talented athletes and focus on his own development.
“At first it was overwhelming to compete against such a huge amount of people,” said Davis, who started the circuit contesting the Low Junior/Amateur-Owner division which consists of two classes and a Classic each week. “My Classic could have 100 horses in it! It is pretty intimidating to go against such a high calibre of riders, some on multiple horses, who compete all year round. I have built up my self-confidence to go against them.”
While some competitors focus solely on their sport, Davis balances his training and competition schedule with full-time studies at Queens University in Kingston, ON, where he also works as a residence facilitator. With classes being held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Davis had the flexibility to be based in Wellington, FL, but also the responsibilities that come with being a serious student holding down a part-time job.
“I knew it was going to be a challenge to balance everything,” said Davis, a third-year student majoring in Applied Economics. “It’s been a lot of pressure because I want to put equal amounts of effort into both my sport and my studies. Sometimes I want to take advantage of being in Wellington and watch the grand prix but I have to make sacrifices for school. On the other hand, when I compete and step in the show ring, I can put everything else out of my mind and focus solely on myself and my horse. When I come out of the ring, I can redirect my focus back to school.”
Davis has a partner he can rely on in the show ring; the 12-year-old El Porvenir Crono, better known as “Crono” for short. Davis began leasing the horse from owner Stefano Baruzzo in April of 2020 and hopes to continue his partnership with the chestnut Argentinean-bred gelding through to the fall.
“He is very trustworthy; I know I can rely on him,” said Davis, who plans to move up to the Medium division by the end of WEF. “He is patient and takes me along the way. If I approach a jump and I don’t quite know my distance, he’ll always go and take me to the other side. He’s brought me a long way in terms of my riding, all the way up to being comfortable at the 1.30m height.
“He is really friendly in the barn,” continued Davis of Crono’s personality. “He likes to look around and might seem spooky but when we get in the show ring, he focuses on what he needs to do.
Coaching Davis ringside are Amy Millar, who has followed in her father’s footsteps as a Canadian Olympian, and Millar Brooke Farm’s assistant trainer, Alexander Grayton, of Calgary, AB.
“It has been a pleasure to work with and train Marcus,” said Amy Millar of Perth, ON. “He is dedicated to learning and improving all the time and horses love his kind nature. Marcus is very appreciative of the opportunity to be learning and competing at WEF.”
Davis is equally appreciative of the coaching and training system he is part of.
“The Millar Brooke program is theoretical in terms of breaking down what I need to do and how it will help me,” he explained. “Amy and Alex are very patient in finding what works, and they really want me to be successful. Their horsemanship is something that I really respect; they always put the well-being of the horse first. Instead of pushing me to go higher, they take it slow and make sure I’m ready to move up and move up safely. They are always considering what is best for both horse and rider.”
While fully supported by his coaches and family, Davis does feel pressure competing at WEF as the lone FEI-registered representative for the Bahamas. Davis is the first athlete to be entered at WEF by Equestrian Bahamas since the national federation was officially recognized by the FEI in 2019.
“It’s truly a unique and special feeling,” said Davis, noting the impact that Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic have had on the Bahamas. “It makes me appreciate the opportunity even more because I’m establishing a presence for Bahamas in the sport here in Wellington. It’s a country that doesn’t have a name for itself at WEF. It feels surreal to be the only representative for the country. I’m thankful for the opportunity to promote my country with its beautiful beaches and friendly people and hope people consider visiting Bahamas to help with the continued economic recovery.
“I also owe it to my mom and dad, and to my coaches, to make sure I’m ready to walk in the ring on Crono ready to go and ready to do my best every time,” continued Davis. “They are allowing me to have this experience and I appreciate their efforts and everything they have put into it for me. I’d like to thank my parents, coaches, and those behind the scenes who have helped me get to Wellington. I am eternally grateful for their generosity.”
In addition to working on his own skills in the saddle, being in the epicenter of international show jumping also affords unique opportunities for Davis as he ascends through the levels.
“The quality of the show and how internationally known it is, how many different people are here, is amazing,” said Davis, who has recently become a brand partner for Levade Equestrian, developers of an innovative app that can store photos and videos along with advice given in lessons. “I realize how fortunate I am to experience this and really value my time here. I can watch a grand prix that has not just one but several riders who are ranked in the top 10 in the world. To see them in person, especially the riders from Europe, has been great.”
With an attitude of gratitude, Davis is taking advantage of all that his chosen sport of show jumping has to offer.