As riders, we know there’s a special connection between us and our horses that’s hard to put into words, but this bond is so strong that even non-riders can sense it. In an effort to better understand this relationship, our staff Photographer, Kristi (one of the few non-riders at SmartPak), will be visiting a different SmartPaker’s barn each month to watch them interact with their horses and learn more about their story as a pair. She will document her experiences in this monthly blog series along with some of her photography, because we all know that a connection so special is hard to describe simply in words.
This month, Kristi headed out to Valinor Farms with Sara from our Creative team to meet Sara’s horse, Diem.
Sara Florin stands on a mounting block armed with a grooming towel. Carpe Diem puts his ears back and closes his eyes while she wipes his face. She kisses her horse’s nose and giggles. This is a woman in love.
It’s early on a Sunday morning and the barn is quiet aside from the distant bark of a dog. I can tell she’s excited about her photo shoot from the care she’s taking in Diem’s grooming and in her own. Her outfit is well put together and pristine, made up of Bradley breeches, SunShield Shirt and Ariat belt. She looks every bit the part of model and rider. Today I’ll be playing the part of Photographer, Interviewer, Ring Crew, and Mom (I showed up that morning with husband and baby in tow). My husband walks the grounds, pushing my 6-month old son in his stroller and I begin my interview with Sara. We talk about riding while she tacks up. Mostly, we talk about Diem.
When asked what she loves the most about riding, she talks about feeling the connection between herself and her horse. She says it’s great when everything comes together on the course. “Out on cross country, there’s an exhilarating thrill in the combination of speed, bravery and precision it takes to get through the course. When that all clicks, it’s such a rush.”
Sara and Diem first met a little over 5 years ago at a barn in Groveland where she was taking lessons, mainly on boarders’ horses. Diem came to the barn off the track as a sale horse, and Sara started to take some lessons on him. Before she knew it she was in love. The jokes from her trainer about buying Diem only made the fact that she couldn’t afford him all the more painful. When her trainer approached one day and said it was time to get the photos posted for his sale, she was spurred into action. Feeling the first pangs of what life (and riding) would be like without him, she became determined to buy him. And that’s exactly what she did. It wasn’t easy; in the beginning she had to take on another job to make it work. “He’s the best first horse I could have asked for!” she says, and when I see them together I don’t doubt it for a second.
Sara continues to groom Diem to perfection (after all, you don’t get a personal photo session everyday!). She answers my questions fluidly, only pausing to kiss and nuzzle her horse. With the way she works you would think she had been doing this her whole life, only she hasn’t. Though the horse bug bit her early on, she was unfortunately very accident-prone and her parents wouldn’t allow her to ride (“I fell down a lot” she says with a sigh). To compensate she read every horse book she could get her hands on. By the time she was able to start riding at age 12, after begging and pleading with her parents to take lessons, she was well schooled in all aspects of riding and horse care. She knew what posting diagonals were before ever sitting on a horse!
Sara and Diem now compete in eventing together, and he’s becoming a pro at Novice level. She talks to him while she rides, which I find completely charming. She says it’s mainly for her own benefit, but I suspect he likes it too. For their photo shoot she has set up 2 jumps in the ring and as the sole member of the Jump Crew, I periodically set them higher at her request. I can hear her talking to him and saying “good boy” after each jump. He gets an affectionate pat on the neck and I can tell he loves his job. Not being a rider, I feel like an outsider looking in on something very intimate. Watching them together is like watching a Conductor and his Orchestra, or a ballet…I don’t understand it completely but it’s mesmerizing. I can’t wait for the next shot…
Check back for another “In the Tack with the Pak” update from Kristi next month featuring another one of our SmartPak horse/rider combos.