Strides for Equality Equestrians (SEE) was formed in 2020 and immediately set off to help grow our sport through increased representation and opportunity for riders from diverse backgrounds. The fruits of this labor manifested in a large way with the creation of the Ever So Sweet Scholarship, in partnership with the USEA Foundation and Edy Rameika. The scholarship provides opportunity for a deserving rider to spend time, fully funded, training with Sara Kozumplik at her Virginia and Florida bases. Now into its second cycle, the Ever So Sweet scholarship for this winter was awarded to Pennsylvania-based Sierra Lesny, who joined Sara and her team at their Ocala base last month with her partner, off-track Thoroughbred “Pea”.
While I was in Ocala last month, I stopped by to meet Sierra and see what she’s been up to since arriving in Florida. Sierra has had a whirlwind of a winter so far; she won a sweepstakes put on by Phillip Dutton and Cosequin, traveling down to his new Wellington base before going to Ocala and even taking a spin on his Olympic mount, Z.
Sierra grew up with horse influence from her grandparents — her grandmother ran a lesson program, where Sierra would spend much of her childhood. From there, Sierra found she had aspirations to progress with her riding. She spent as much time as she could at the barn through middle and high school, working student at a variety of hunter/jumper barns. After taking time to go to college, focusing on her studies and working at a suicide hotline while horses took a backseat. She then took a job as a middle school teacher, but when she returned home on break and saw her saddle sitting, she felt the bug flutter again. So it was back to grooming and working at barns, and eventually getting back in the saddle.
Sierra stumbled upon the Ever So Sweet scholarship online and applied mostly on a whim — “I didn’t think I would hear anything from it,” she admits now, and she was pleasantly surprised to learn that she’d been awarded the scholarship for the winter term. Around this time, Pea’s owner offered Sierra an ownership share, and soon enough she was packing up to head south to learn with Sara. “Both of us are kind of learning at the same time,” Sierra laughed, noting that this week had been her first time sitting in a dressage saddle or putting on a cross country vest.
Sierra aspires to become a professional in the long run. “I’m not sure exactly how I want to be involved,” she mused. “Most of my background has been working with the ‘bad’ horses, working with young horses. But I do have a competitive streak and I do like to compete. I definitely do want to make this a full-time career, and there are so many amazing horse people in this industry from all different backgrounds that if I can learn from someone else, it’s really helpful.”
Sara has been teaching Sierra both on Pea as well as resident schoolmaster Sebastian, and leading up to her first eventing experience she’s gone cross country schooling for the first time ever, attended some educational seminars put on by the US Eventing Grooms Association, scribed for and ridden with dressage judges, and spent as much time as possible in the barn learning how a top-level operation runs. For her, this opportunity is all about seizing the day.
“There’s so much to do here, I’m really happy to be here just to learn and see as much as I can,” Sierra said. She’ll spend the next couple of months in Florida before heading back north. “Ocala in general is a much different area than what I’m used to. I’m still getting my feet wet, and the biggest change has been learning about eventing in general. Sara is so helpful when she’s teaching, and even though I’m very out of my comfort zone she has been really encouraging. It’s really interesting learning how much she really breaks her training down and about each phase of eventing.”
Over the weekend, Sierra officially came over to the dark side (welcome!) and competed in her first event at Majestic Oaks, winning her Novice dressage with Sebastian and going on to finish third in the division. We think she may have caught the bug!
You can follow along with Sierra (and future Ever So Sweet recipients) on Instagram and Facebook, and you can also keep an eye on the SEE website for updates on the next round of Ever So Sweet applications if this article has given you FOMO!