Between the Ears with Mia Farley

These days, we often view each other’s lives through the lens of a highlight reel, glimpsing the incredible trips, impressive jumps, and moments we’re proud enough to share on social media. What we don’t often discuss is the immense pressure this places on athletes on both ends of the news feed. Whether professional or not, riders feel compelled to post content that portrays them as cool and successful. As consumers of this content, we are left with a distorted perception that the sport is easy and that failure might suggest one isn’t cut out for it. These interviews are part of my mission to shed light on the reality of the challenges faced by everyone, regardless of their level, at some point in their journey.

On this edition of Between the Ears, I caught up with 5* rider, Mia Farley (Age 24). Mia made a splash last fall with her mount Phelps, who was purchased for $1, at the Maryland 5*. The dynamic duo was the only pair to finish double clear on cross country, despite being rookies to the level. Coming off of another inspiring performance at the Defender Kentucky 5*, I got to catch up with Mia to reflect on her journey in horses so far.

To read more Between the Ears interviews, click here.

Mia Farley and Phelps. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

How did you get into eventing?

I grew up on the West Coast, and I started riding and going to the barn every day when I was 3 years old. Initially, I did the hunters, but I did my first event when I was 7 years old. There were a select few eventers who rode at the barn when I was growing up, and seeing them inspired me to try the sport- who wouldn’t want to jump solid obstacles?! For a while, I dabbled between the two sports, and it wasn’t until I moved to the East Coast to work for David O’Connor that I fully committed to the sport of eventing.

What inspired your move to the East Coast?

I had gotten somewhat burnt out riding before my move east. I have a lot of respect for the barn that I rode at in California, but the culture was a bit- you go to the barn, you ride and then you go home. That combined with the fact that there were not very many venues for shows in California left me feeling like I was doing the same thing over and over again. To be honest, I wasn’t having fun anymore. I was young, and not sure what I wanted from the equine industry, and right when I was at the point where I felt like I might take a break from horses to go to college, I met David at a clinic in Temecula. I didn’t think I was going to go, but my mom and my family (thankfully) essentially kicked me out and told me to take advantage of the opportunity. The O’Connors showed me more things to do in the horse world and how to make it more interesting. There was so much more than just the riding, and between all the groundwork and horsemanship that I was taught along with the ability to travel to so many new events, I rediscovered my love for the sport.

Mia Farley and Fernhill Fine Diamond. Photo by Abby Powell.

Has there ever been a time when you lost your confidence in competing?

When my last upper-level mount, Firecracker, moved up to the 4* level, I started with a few bad shows. I got pretty nervous, but with the support of the O’Connors, I took a step back down a level and built my confidence up before I attempted to compete again. It had happened somewhat in the middle of the show season, and I had been going to a show every 3 weeks. I essentially took a break, came back to ground zero, and fixed the holes that were causing the problems that I was having. The process involved a lot of groundwork and understanding how horses see things and understand them. In a way, losing my confidence set me on the path I needed to take to fill the holes in my riding and horsemanship knowledge.

Even working through some of the technical issues that I had with Firecracker, I also had some soundness obstacles with her. It was very disheartening to do everything that I realistically could for the horse, vet work-wise and she still wouldn’t stay sound. At the time, the only other horse that I had was Phelps and I remember feeling somewhat lost because I thought Phelps wouldn’t be able to do anything above Preliminary – it’s funny how things work out. Through it all I’ve learned to trust my horses and focus on building partnerships, the successes come naturally from there.

What obstacles have you faced in your journey up to the 5* level?

Eventing is a huge mental game, so that’s been an obstacle for sure, but I think the biggest thing is that even when I feel confident in myself and my abilities, I still struggle with the confidence that I’m going to be able to financially continue in the sport. I’ve gotten the experience of calling people and asking for help and I am so grateful to everyone willing to be a part of my journey, but it’s still something that I stress about a lot. I am currently starting to break off on my own, and looking into things like buying a truck and trailer, which seems impossible. I own a 3* horse who is very nice, and I know selling her would be a huge help to my financial situation, but I also think she’s an important horse to keep for my career. So finding a balance between the pursuit of my goals and the realities of life is an obstacle I am still facing.

Mia Farley and Phelps. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Is there any advice that you would give to someone in the sport who is currently facing adversity?

Knowing how much David and the O’Connor Event Team have helped me, I feel like I have to say that surrounding yourself with the right people who are going to help you through tough times is critical. There is always another door, and even when it feels like one is shutting, you just have to keep your head up and look for the next opportunity. That being said, it’s up to you to change the thoughts that you are having about yourself and your situation. You are in charge of your brain, and you have to be disciplined about picking the right thoughts that are going to help put you on the path toward success. Taking ownership of my situation- through good times and bad- has made a difference in my career so far.

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