If there is one thing that I learned from watching Michael Jung compete and win with fischerRocana FST (“Rocana”) at the 2016 Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event presented by Land Rover, it’s that nothing is arbitrary when it comes to his horses. People often joke that he is “The Terminator” and that he has “ice in his veins,” but if you have the opportunity to hear him speak or to watch any of his interviews, you will hear Michael say over and over that his focus is less upon winning and more upon good experiences for his horses. At the final press conference following his 2016 win in Kentucky, Michael said “it’s important to win but it’s more important that you have a nice feeling for the horse.” He’s also stated that he does not pressure his horses, even when he’s coming off of a big win in Kentucky and heading to Badminton to try to clench the Grand Slam of Eventing, because pressure leads to mistakes and he is committed to the happiness and well-being of his horses, which he often refers to as his “friends.”

While it is easy for riders to say that their horses come first, Michael also puts it to practice in his riding and his horse care. For example, Michael stated during the first press conference at Rolex this year that even though the trip from Germany to Kentucky is long and expensive, he advocated to bring “Rocana” back to Kentucky partly because he feels that she likes the event. I also had a chance to watch him warm-up for his dressage test at Rolex and to see him finish his cross-country ride and in both instances he stayed focused on his horse, paying little attention to the scoreboard or to the other competitors. After cross-country, he walked “Rocana” around himself, carefully inspecting her legs and saddle area, especially, and he helped his team cool her off all with an arm draped lovingly over her neck. Take a closer look at Michael and I think you’ll find that his riding skills are championed only by his love of the horses which have put him on the map.

Michael Jung's fischerRocana FST at Rolex - photo by JJ Sillman

Michael expounded upon his mindfulness for his horses through a line of bits that he developed with Lorenzini Titanium Horse Equipment which are all designed to be soft and comfortable whilst still bearing effectiveness for common horse-related problems. Michael developed five different bits with Lorenzini and for all three phases, he rides “Rocana” in the simplest of the five; his “Eventing” bit, which is a gentle egg butt snaffle designed with smaller rings. Considering the hardware which is sometimes seen in the mouths of upper-level horses, especially on cross-country, this is pretty impressive. Michael said that when he was developing the bits with Lorenzini, “We made a few things softer in the corners so it’s more comfortable for the horses. I used the bits and worked with them and then I said ‘this is good, this is not so good’. In the last year we found very good things in the product in the end and it works very well. The horses are very happy with it, I think”.

In addition to the “Eventing” bit, Michael developed the “Kentucky,” which is a variation of traditional “gag” bits and which is meant to help with horses who lay on the bit or easily fall onto the forehand, the “Pelham Special,” which has a moveable center to encourage the horse to more easily accept the bit, the “Control” which is an egg butt snaffle with bridle holes added to the rings to help pacify more nervous horses, and the “Relax,” which is a rubberized mullen mouth with a titanium center designed for very sensitive horses.

Kitty Garrity, owner of L’Apogee Saddlery and Lorenzini Titanium Horse Equipment retailer, explains that Michael tried Lorenzini bits and liked them so much that he asked the company to make a few different styles that would eventually become his exclusive line. “All of these bits are so kind to the horses,” says Kitty. “They taste good, they smell good, they reduce TMJ and relax the jaw, they promote salivation, they’re hypoallergenic.” “There isn’t another bit,” explains Kitty, “that is made of the pure [titanium] metal like this.” The Lorenzini bits in Michael’s collection are hand-tooled and not dye-cast like most other bits. These bits launched shortly before Rolex in 2015 and Lorenzini won a global titanium award for Michael’s line.

And the bits aren’t just laden with Michael’s name; his exceptional horsemanship and thoughtfulness are truly reflected in the design. The eventing world is so mesmerized by Michael Jung – “how does he do it?” “what is his secret?” At the end of the day, perhaps it’s no secret at all and Michael wins because he is such a good horseman.