Memoir

Why I’ll Never Forget My Roots

©Dawn Sparks

Equestrian sport is not known for being particularly humble.

In fact, I would say most people would consider it a somewhat elitist past-time, at least at the higher levels. With equipment more expensive than your average car and horses worth more than a house in downtown Toronto (my fellow Canadians will get that one), it’s easy to get caught up in the glitz and glamor of top level competition. I feel quite blessed that I’ve been able to compete at a high level and have too, enjoyed my fancy boots and tack while revelling at the feeling of being at A-circuit or international competitions around the world.

Truth be told, I’ve lost my taste for those types of competitions and no longer get the joy I used to experience going to an A-circuit show. Over time, the stock I used to place on having the “in” style of bridle or show jacket dwindled, and I found myself no longer enjoying the luxury and pomp.

I still enjoy the competitive nature of national level shows, but lately I’ve been reminiscing about my roots. There was a certain kind of simplicity and joy in those early days of competition before I propelled myself into the pro ranks—a more innocent version of myself that loved horses just for being horses and competition as just pure fun, not ribbons or prize money.

I grew up in a small, somewhat backwards town in Northern Ontario with not a lot of activities going on for excitement.

When I first started riding as a kid, we had a small local schooling circuit, a Pony Club and one or two provincial level shows, which were always a huge deal. The next nearest provincial show was about four hours away and the closest A-circuit show…EIGHT hours away! Competing on the A-Circuit was considered a huge luxury only wealthy and connected families got to do, and most of the time felt so out of our league, even in terms of our calibre of horses and riding skill.

I still cherished those fairs and small schooling shows, however, and some of my best childhood memories come from days spent in a grassy field at a small local fair, sunburnt and exhausted, but so blissful.

It was one of the most terrifying and satisfying experiences of my life.

At my very first in-house schooling show, I won several first place ribbons on an adorable Arabian mare who I swear could count strides and memorize courses. I remember wearing a handmade olive green jacket that my mom had sewed for me to save money, and faux-leather tall boots with an old-fashioned velveteen hunt cap. The thrill and excitement at performing in front of a crowd, trying to remember my hunter course and mostly just trying not to fall off in front of my parents. It was one of the most terrifying and satisfying experiences of my life, and from then on, I was hooked.

It wasn’t ribbons I was after, though.

I just loved spending an entire weekend at a horse show, grooming and riding, and getting to show off all of the things we had been practicing so hard for weeks.

I never had fancy horses growing up, mostly OTTBs. But I loved them with all of my heart and poured everything into showing them off. I spent hours bathing, brushing and braiding, and even loved waking up a 5a.m. to lunge and prepare. One of my favourite times at the show was just as the sun was coming up—the showgrounds were usually so peaceful and dead-quiet before the bustle of the show day, and I got to spend time just soaking it in, communing with my horse in the silence.

The few provincial shows we attended a few hours away were always the best. I usually got to take an extra day off from school or my part-time job, and spend the weekend with my mom. It was like going on a fun road-trip to see new horses, riders and classes to win.

I loved everything from packing the big rig, to doing all of the chores for my horse over the weekend and, of course, prepping for my classes and seeing all of my friends. There were usually Friday or Saturday night barbeques and people camped out in tents in the fields, all set up to be like a mini-vacation rather than a horse show.

There was a fair share of drama amongst the girls, of course. But, in the end, we all had fun and loved travelling and being horse-show friends. Those friendships tend to last a lifetime and most I’m still in contact with today.

I just loved spending my summers in wayward motels or campers like we were on a spontaneous getaway, our days spent memorizing courses and being out in the hot sun, enjoying every minute on horseback. I’m sure the tears and sad memories have been mostly erased at this point—forgetting a course or leaving a step out in the five-stride.

All I can remember is excitement, joy and fulfillment—doing what I loved to do most.

Those humble beginnings taught me how to have a work ethic, to have good sportsmanship and, most of all, that riding and showing is about love and fun. Remembering these roots has allowed me to come back to the A-circuit with a different mindset. I go into my competitions now just looking for a good round, having some laughs with friends and just enjoying the atmosphere of getting to compete on these incredible animals.

It never hurts to take a step back and remember those grassroots you came from.


About the Author

Sarah Eder is an avid blogger, horse professional and closet fashionista trying to live a balanced life with her crazy Grand Prix horse and boyfriend in tow.