He credits one of his early instructors, Julie Proulx, with being one of those empathetic, caring coaches who is a major influence in launching youngsters’ riding careers. “She was really good, and very patient – she really made a difference.”

François progressed to taking lessons with Isabelle Lapierre at La Chaudiere farm in Breakeyville, QC. At 14 he entered his first national grand prix; at 15 he won his first grand prix aboard the Thoroughbred mare Amazing Guess, a horse with “a really good heart.”

Following several years working and gaining experience in the horse business in the US and Europe after he finished high school, François returned to Quebec and the Lamontagne family bought Ferme Lamontagne in St-Eustache in 2005. François, his parents Aline and Yvan, and his younger brother Hubert have developed the property into a top-calibre training, coaching and sales facility that currently has 29 horses in residence. Hubert, six years his junior, followed in his big brother’s footsteps and won a grand prix at the age of 16. Currently, Hubert is attending university and his time in the saddle is limited to riding for fun and helping François by exercising horses when he’s home. The last couple of years have been extremely fruitful for François, a testament to what hard work and focussing on goals can achieve. In 2010, he won the $60,000 World Cup Grand Prix at Blainville and the $30,000 Ocala Horse Properties LLC Grand Prix in Ocala with Anton, his 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding. He topped the Seven and Eight-Year-Old eastern division of the Jump Canada Young Horse Series with Arise Z, who won the Grand-prix Concours Hippique de Lévis and was named provincial champion. With Unik Circa, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Sarah Lemieux, he won the Grand Prix Concours Hippique du Parc and also the provincial championship that year.

Highlights of his 2011 show season include being named the 2011 Jump Canada Talent Squad Final champion at the Royal Horse Show aboard his own Underground des Hauts Droits (“Under G”), and winning the 2011 Jump Canada Cup riding Unik Circa. He also had numerous grand prix wins with Anton, while Arise Z, his nine-year-old Zangersheide mare, had great success in the 1.35-1.40 m classes.

François headed for Ocala at the end of January with Under G, Captain Quebec – a promising six-year-old Holsteiner gelding he owns – and a client’s horse. (Anton suffered an injury last August and is currently doing flatwork. “He will be back on the circuit in the spring,” promised François. “I don’t want to push him for Florida; he has already done so much for me.” Arise Z, who had been laid off since May, will also start back this season.)

François counts the Ocala circuit among his favourite shows. “I really like Ocala; I know other people prefer to go to Wellington, and I did Wellington for a few years, but I’m going back to Ocala for the third year.

“I like to try different shows. Last year I did Jacksonville and really enjoyed it. A show I really like to do in the spring is Saratoga. It’s a very historical city – it’s like a movie set. They have a big Thoroughbred race there, so the stalls are all around the racetrack.” His proximity to Blainville, only 20 minutes away, also makes it an appealing show venue. “I can come back to my house at night. That’s really nice in the summer.” And while many other riders would list Spruce Meadows at the top of their favourite show venue list, François has never shown at – or even visited – the world-class Calgary facility. “I’m going to wait until I compete there,” he said, laughing.

While he is adventurous when it comes to exploring new show venues, once there François tries to keep things familiar. “I try to have a certain routine for me and my horses, and try not to change things for no reason. For instance, I always ride with the same boots – I don’t use half-chaps at home and boots at a show – I always ride in the same thing so there is not a different feeling.”

While he does not train with anyone on a regular basis, François said, “I like to have the experience and the tips of some riders. I like to ask Beth Underhill for help when I’m at the shows.” François is an EC/FEQ Level 2 coach whose past students include James Gillam and David Arcand.

When time allows, François likes to go to the movies with his girlfriend, Elise Boucher, who is also a rider. “I enjoy playing badminton with my brother and father and Alain (a customer),” he added. “I spend a lot of time watching videos of horses and I look the results of shows from all over the world.”

François is always quick to credit his family and girlfriend for their unwavering support as he pursues his goals, and also thanks the Brichart family in Belgium, who helped him get his start during a stint working, training and horse-buying in Europe. “When I went to see them the first time, they took me seriously and with respect even though I was a ‘nobody’ and I didn’t have a big budget.”

So, where does this talented 27-year-old rider see himself in ten years? “For sure I would like to keep up my progress, always have better horses and ride at a higher level. I also hope I’ll have the chance to wear the red jacket a few times!”

While his newest acquisition, Under G, an eight-year-old Belgian Sport Horse gelding purchased last May, looks to be a promising horse for the future, François knows that in this business things can quickly change. “Maybe one day I will sell him,” he admitted. “I’ve never had a sponsor or owner to buy horses for me, so I need to do it by myself. Sometimes the decisions are not easy – the ones that are not winning, you can’t sell for a lot of money. You have to think about it if you get an offer on a good horse.

“Even without sponsors or owners, I think I will get there (to the top) anyway. If you work hard enough, you get what you want.”