I grew up in Southern California and started riding at 9. Hooked from day 1. I was a once a week lesson rider and was lucky enough to lease school horses for three summers in high school. Worked at my barn's riding camp, sat on anything and everything. I never got to show other than my barn's home shows, but groomed and braided for other folks.
In college, I rode IHSA for one year, but the barn was 35 minutes from campus and the shows were all close to two hours away. It was fun, but not a super strong community, and after my freshman year I stopped due to the time commitment.
Fast forward to 2009. I had ridden very sporadically for 8 years and had just been hired to work at Smith as an Area Coordinator in the department of Residence Life. I ventured to the barn a few times, watched some lessons, and then talked to Sue and joined the (at the time) Tuesday evening adult lesson.
After a year and a half of lessons at FMF (and moving from the Tuesday evening lesson to Sue's Saturday morning adult lesson), I was convinced by several IHSA students at Smith to ride as an alumni in Zone 1, Region 3. We had an active alumni group and I thought it would be a wonderful way to get to show.
At this time my stepdaughter was also riding at FMF, and she joined the first IEA team at the farm in 2012. We spent hours at the barn, cleaning stalls, grooming, riding. I met tons of community folks and also knew a huge cross-section of Smith students that I wouldn't have normally met in my job on campus.
My first year riding in alumni IHSA classes was a trip. I'm pretty good over fences, but not known for my flat equitation. I enjoyed getting to know the Smith team (because they adopted my California self), as well as the other coaches and alums in the region.
I qualified for regionals and then zones over fences. At zones I had a mantra "no matter what you'll get a really big ribbon" and as someone that had never won a really big ribbon ever (and the only two championships in my life had been at FMF shows the preceding summer)... I figured that zones would be a great learning experience and that I'd get a swag bag and look forward to the next season.
Wrong. After my round, Sue said to me "that was really really nice - probably in the top 3"... pshaw. I didn't believe her. Then I got called back to test. Against the Tufts coach. Most of us figured it was a test for 2nd and 3rd to see who would get that second elusive spot to nationals.
I went in to test, no longer nervous because I couldn't believe I had made it that far... waiting for the results was excruciating. Reverse order. I wasn't nervous until they got to 3rd. 3rd wasn't me. No matter what I was going to nationals (the tears and shaking started then). And then. THEN! I won the class. Sue's reaction was priceless, and I was flabbergasted.
I went to nationals in Raleigh that year (2012). Was super nervous, made plenty of rookie mistakes (why are the nationals horses so nice? So adjustable?), but Sue was there and I still have the voicemail she left me while I was flying home telling me how proud of me she was and how much fun she had at the show.
The next year I got to zones again over fences. And thanks to Chuck from Mt Holyoke, finished second and punched my ticket to nationals again. (no test this time, but equally as shocked at my placing).
Sue and I went to Harrisburg in 2013. Again she was with me every step - extra lessons, lots of tips. I rode tremendously better, and finished 11th, just out of the ribbons. I would never have thought to ride as an IHSA alum if not for Smith and FMF, and I certainly would never have gotten to nationals twice if not for Sue.
I bought my own horse in 2011 and she lived at FMF for 3.5 years. I loved the barn community, the IHSA team, the kids, and especially the horses. I moved away a few years ago, and I have yet to board at a nicer facility, or to have ridden in a bigger or better indoor. I still go up to Northampton in October every year to help with the Smith home show, and am deeply upset that the college that I worked at for 7 years has made this decision.
This is a loss for Smith students, for alums, for local riders, and for anyone that has ever driven by and stopped to pet someone that's turned out in the front. There are no facilities in the immediate area that can touch this property in terms of class, location, and opportunity.
- Sara Sandstrom, University of California San Diego Class of 2000