JN Exclusive: The Pursuit of Excellence with Michael Burnett

Striking out on your own as a professional in this industry can be challenging, but 26-year-old Michael Burnett is taking it all in stride. With two talented horses to carry him up the ranks, a partnership with the legend George Morris himself, and a supportive barn family, Michael is pursuing excellence with every step of the journey. JN caught up with Michael to share his successes at WEF and his plans for the future.

Working with the Legend

Michael caught the horse bug after attending the Trader’s Point Hunt Charity Show with his father. He began taking lessons by the age of eight and found himself in love with the sport. It was roughly a year and a half ago that Michael decided to step out on his own and pursue a career in the hunter/jumper world. He established his farm Burnett Farms in Lebanon, Indiana and began picking up students with whom he could share his knowledge.

“I’m obsessed with the fact that the basics don’t change in our sport, no matter what the culture is,” Michael shared with JN. “The type of horse may vary, but the principles do not.” Michael focuses on instilling those basics in not only his students, but riders across the country. He will be returning to the Hoosier Horse Fair and Expo in Indianapolis, Indiana this year as a clinician for the second time.

Michael serving as a demo rider in the St. Louis stop of George’s clinic schedule. Photo by Jennifer Kaiser.

After participating in a large number of clinics with George Morris, Michael was invited back to become a demonstration rider for a portion of George’s 2017 clinic schedule. After riding for George in Chicago, Sacramento, Portland, Birmingham, and St. Louis, George decided it was time for Michael to take the next step in his career. He took Michael on as a student and has been instructing him through the 2018 WEF circuit, a decision that has greatly impacted Michael’s riding and career.

“If you watch George work a horse, you’ll see that by the end the horse starts to look more intelligent. The horse accepts and listens to the rider. This only happens through disciplined riding,” said Michael. “His instruction helps me to better train my horses properly on the flat.”

If there is one bit of instruction Michael has received from George that has stuck with him, it is to strive for excellence. “I admire George’s insistence on being excellent every single day, with the emphasis being on every single day,” he shared. That strict attention to detail has refined Michael’s riding style and opened his eyes up to how each detail counts in and out of the ring.

Winning at WEF

Thanks to his pair of talented horses, Michael has had an immense amount of success in Wellington. With ribbons in nearly every class he has entered, it is clear that his hard work is paying off in the ring. While his primary focus is on the jumpers, Michael has also spent the winter showing a handful of hunters as well.

With wins at WEF in the 1.35m and 1.40m classes, Michael’s main mount, Iron, has been performing consistently this winter. “Iron is very experienced as this is our 11th year showing together. He had a great career in the Junior/AO Jumpers, and following that he’s been top three in around 30 Grand Prix classes,” shared Michael. The duo also recently qualified for the International Omaha’s InIt2WinIt $100,000 Championship and will compete in Omaha later this year.

Watch Michael and Iron take home the win in a 1.40m class at WEF this winter.

Michael’s other mount, C-Max, is not to be underestimated either. “C-Max is fun because he gets better every class and that’s a great feeling as a trainer,” Michael said of the nine-year-old Hanoverian gelding. “He has all the quality that Iron does and just as much personality!” Together the pair has had great success including a second-place finish in the Minnesota Harvest $25,000 Grand Prix last fall. 2018 looks to be an exciting year for this young horse as Michael also qualified for the InIt2WinIt $100,000 Championship with C-Max as well.

Achieving Excellence

Michael intends to remain at WEF and potentially show in weeks seven, eight, ten, and eleven with his jumper mounts. Upon the conclusion of his winter in Florida, he plans to show at the Omaha International, followed by some down time for him and his horses, and then aim for Spruce Meadows this summer. While he has goals of competing in International Grand Prix classes, he places more of his focus on the here and now.

Photo by Jennifer Kaiser

“My short-term goal is just to become an excellent rider and go to the top horse shows. Competing against globally ranked riders is the best way to get better because it forces you to raise your own standard.”

JN wishes Michael all the best in his pursuit of excellence. There is no doubt that his name will be one we will continue to hear through the 2018 season and look forward to what he may accomplish.