Sarah Braun was on top of the world in 2012. She had just come off of winning team gold placing fifth individually in the CH-Y** at the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships and was confidently eyeing a move up to Advanced with her then 12-year-old OTTB mare, Perfect Intentions.
But her big Advanced move up, which she prepared for under the watchful eye of coach Hawley Bennett-Awad, was not to be that year. Just days after Sarah and Hawley had discussed their plans post-Young Riders, Perfect Intentions, known as “Candy” in the barn, broke her hip in an apparent pasture accident.
“I had just started her back to work after Young Riders, and I came out to the pasture to catch her,” Sarah said. “She normally walks right up to me, but this day she was out in the field and just looking at me. I knew down in my gut that something was wrong, and when I put her halter on, she couldn’t walk.”
Candy’s right hip was broken, and there was no evidence to be found as to how it had happened. The mare spent the better part of a year rehabbing before briefly returning to competing in 2014.
Sarah regrouped and again began planning an Advanced move up with her mare. Once again, however, her plans were dramatically thwarted when Candy suffered an episode of colic that required emergency surgery. Ever the fighter, Candy spent the next several weeks at San Luis Rey Equine Hospital, battling pneumonia while recovering from her surgery.
“She was in the hospital for just over three weeks before she came home,” Sarah said. “Then she got pneumonia twice after she came home, and the medication wasn’t helping. She then had to go back to the hospital for another 12 days to clear that up, and — knock on wood — she’s been completely fine ever since.”
Nearly two years after her success at Young Riders and the initial plans to move up to the Advanced level, Candy was finally ready to start her comeback tour with Sarah.
They returned to competition this past January in the Preliminary division at Galway Downs. They added eight faults in show jumping to finish in fifth place — a win for Sarah no matter what color ribbon she brought home.
“It was pretty emotional crossing the finish line after cross country,” Sarah said. “I just started bawling. I couldn’t help it. She knew exactly what her job was, and she was just so happy. You could tell in her eyes how happy she was to be back.”
It’s been full steam ahead for Sarah and Candy ever since. After placing competitively in their next two events at the Intermediate level, Candy was finally ready to take the next step that Sarah had been planning for so long. The move-up date was set for Copper Meadows Horse Trials, held this past weekend in Ramona, California.
“Hawley told me she had a small gift for me, and she handed me a box. I opened it up and inside was a necklace with a lucky horseshoe and Candy’s name on it,” Sarah said. “She hoped it would be our lucky charm for our first Advanced, so we started the weekend off on the right foot.”
Sarah and Candy didn’t quite have the dressage test or show jumping round they hoped for, but Sarah did her best to take a deep breath and shake it off before heading to tackle her first Advanced cross country course.
“Hawley told me before we went in the box to just think of it like another Intermediate round. I took a deep breath as they counted down, and Candy literally launched out of the box and was foot perfect the whole way around. We had a couple of hairy moments, but she handled everything perfectly and did everything I asked,” Sarah said.
“I gave Candy a huge hug after we finished. Hawley was the first one to come running over and give me a hug. It was such a special moment.”
Sarah and Candy ultimately took home a blue ribbon in their first Advanced start, finishing the weekend with a clear cross country round and 7.2 time penalties.
She credits Hawley, who she works for as head groom at Hawley Bennett Eventing, for a lot of encouragement along the way. As tough as the road to get here has been, she can look back knowing she learned important lessons.
“The majority of the time I’ve been here (working for Hawley), I didn’t have a horse,” she said. “She always told me to keep my chin up and fight the fight. I wouldn’t be where I am without Hawley’s undying support and faith. I’ve experienced things I would have never thought possible, traveling the world and getting to watch the best in the world.”
Quick to thank each and every person who has helped her and Candy on their path, Sarah has a list of important people whose help has been invaluable.
“Even though I met my vets, Dr. Korin Potenza and Dr. Nick Huggons of San Luis Rey Equine Hospital, during really unfortunate circumstances when Candy colicked, I’m so grateful that our paths crossed. I haven’t known them very long but they have become a huge part of my life. Not only did they save Candy, they have also given me the opportunity to have the ride on their OTTB, Crowning Event, who has really started to come into his own,” Sarah said.
“My parents have been my biggest supporters and fans who have helped me get to where I am today. They not only support me emotionally and financially, but they gave me the greatest gift imaginable when they purchased Candy for me for Christmas seven years ago.”
We are thrilled to see a happy ending for Sarah and Candy, although it’s by no means an ending to their story. Here’s to a new beginning and a well-deserved one for Sarah and her Perfect Intentions.