Amateur eventer from Tennessee, Sarah Clark, was recently selected as the winner of our contest to give away a spot in William Fox-Pitt’s upcoming Ocala clinic. For her entry, Sarah wrote the following essay about her history with horses and eventing. You won’t want to miss it!
I Was Lucky to Be There
I was lucky to be there, in the car that day with my mom, when at just two years old I saw someone riding a horse and begged her to turn around. I needed to see it, to ask where they got it. My mom told me, “Sarah, it doesn’t matter where they got it; we aren’t getting one.” But I never dropped the matter and was gifted my first riding lesson for my fourth birthday.
I was lucky to be there, not at the hunter barn close to my house, but at the much further away and highly recommended Fairfield Farm, a place with strong ties to eventing, the origin place of the Stones River Pony Club, the place where kids like me were turned loose to just be wild, horse-loving children. The place where there was no fancy equipment, but everyone made do with what was available, and what was available was plenty of cute but stubborn ponies, helmets that were ‘items of apparel’ only, standing martingales made of old stirrup leathers, and miles of trails. What was available was nothing short of some of the most important life lessons that I carry with me to this day.
I was lucky to be there, in my teens, riding care-leased, half-broke horses that I somehow found the tenacity to compete through training level. On the borrowed pony I took to my C-3 rating in Pony Club, where the examiners pulled my parents aside, after we passed the certification, and hesitantly told them they needed to consider getting me a bigger horse. When the same instructor who generously opened her home to all of us angsty teenagers who needed a safe place to talk and be ourselves, took me on my one and only international trip, back home to see her family in England. When she picked me up off the ground after a fall and carried me, unable to walk, off the cross country course.
I was lucky to be there, in my early twenties, riding a Tennessee Walking Horse at a hunter show, trying to get this talented gelding some jumping experience, when I met a fellow eventer in the warmup. We saw each other and had a moment of mutual recognition, a fish-out-of-water moment, and instantly became life-long friends. When I found a young warmblood for sale cheap in the local newspaper classified ads, bought him with a loan from a family member, and took him to my B rating in Pony Club about a year and a half later.
My life has taken me to some interesting places, mostly due to horses. But the thing that horses have brought me, the thing that I feel luckiest to have found, is family. The coach who carried me when I was injured is not only my mentor, but a precious friend and confidant. The person who owned the Tennessee Walking Horse I was jumping is the wonderfully generous friend I stay with each time I visit Lexington, KY. The other fish-out-of-water at the hunter show is now my coach who not only teaches me but also matched me with the horse I currently ride- a perfect fit for my goals, my abilities, and my personality. These people are my “horse family.” They are as true to me as the ground beneath my feet.
As an adult, I have spent too much time out of the saddle, pursuing other goals. In May of 2021, my father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and over the months, as his health declined, I knew I needed horses back in my life. I started taking lessons in the spring of 2022, riding yet another borrowed horse (generously provided to me by the same friend who continues to match me with great horses) and set a goal of attending the Barnstaple Educational Three Day Event in November 2022.
After a lameness issue caused me to swap horses, I qualified for the three day at starter level. However, my dad entered hospice care at the same time I would have been hauling down to Florida, and my coach ended up riding in my place. I was home with my dad, helping tend to his final needs. I was laying next to him when he died, and I was lucky to be there.
The year since my dad passed has been one of the most difficult years of my life. My barn family has been indispensable during this time. Finding the words to describe all the ways in which they have helped me get through this grief is impossible, but I have leaned on each one of them. I have ridden more consistently during this time than I have in many years, and this has been therapeutic for my body and my mind.
My usual lesson group is half middle schoolers and half 40 (ish) year olds. Our lessons are the perfect mix of serious riding and playful laughing. We support each other at home and at shows, we loan and borrow horses, we groom and tack up for each other, we hug, we cheer, we cry, and we never do it alone. These are my people, the horse girls and barn rats, and I am so lucky to be here.