By Mike Schuh

MONKTON, Md. (WJZ) — In some sports, the greatest athletes become household names: Ray Lewis, Cal Ripken and Johnny Unitas come to mind.  But, as Mike Schuh reports, there are times when the world’s best could pass by you unnoticed.

Originally from England, Jill French has ridden horses her entire life.  And at her age and even on a cold day with a borrowed horse, this former riding instructor still knows a trick or two.

Years ago at a show, a horse trampled her and she nearly died. 

Also remarkable is the one student who really stood out.  That student is her son, John.

“I’m so proud of him,” French said.

He’s a two-time world champion and has a talent for making riding horses look effortless.

“People call me the human tranquilizer,” he said.

“He has patience, is quiet,” Jill French said.

He now lives in California but grew up in Cockeysville, Columbia and Monkton.  From humble beginnings, he is now sought after worldwide.

“Dublin, I’ve been to Sweden, Denmark,” he said. 

In the past year, he’s been to England, France, Germany and Belgium.

At 48, he doesn’t know how long he will compete but at many shows, he rides different horses, competing against himself.

“Every horse, no matter how bad or good, will go beautifully for him.  Some people call it the touch; he has the touch,” French said.

It’s a career which brings his teacher great pride.  And he says his most influential teacher was his mother.

“He’s done it all by himself,” she said.

“I’m very lucky to do what I love doing,” John French said.

After spending Thanksgiving with his 80-year-old mother and father in Monkton, John will jet off to Toronto and London to look for promising horses.


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