23 June 2009

Sharon White: "You Can’t Beat Something that Makes Your Heart Pound".

We’re lucky that fate would bring Sharon White from Alaska to horse-country Virginia.  Lucky because who knows if she would have ridden had she stayed in America’s last frontier?  And if she had never ridden maybe she never would have evented.  Which would have been a pity as we never would have seen her win the 2008 Bromont Concours Complet  CCI***, or place 21st out of the Top 50 2008 Leading Riders, or take her mare, The King’s Spirit, in 2008 to the Top 10 Leading Mares.  Sharon White has been selected for the USET Developing Rider Program six different times.  She has trained with the top talent in eventing including Bruce Davidson, Torrance Watkins, and Jimmy Wofford.  She’s sweet, smart, quick to laugh and wholly devoted to her students and her horses.  Not to mention a gifted eventer.  Yes, it’s a good thing that fate is on our side. 

photo credit to Mike McNally

Q.  How did you start riding?
A.  I started riding as one of the many things your mom made you do when you’re trying to find out what your kid wants to do.  Ballet, piano, flute lessons.  And then came riding lessons and that was it.  My mom had always wanted a horse and never had one.  I started at the Great Falls Horse Center when I was twelve.
Q.  Where are you from originally?
A.  I actually grew up in Alaska.  I did not ride in Alaska and I didn’t really know it existed.  It’s not a good place to be an active event rider!  I came to Virginia when I was ten or eleven.
photo courtesy of Last Frontier Farm

Q.  What was the name of your first horse?
A.  The first horse I owned was Sprite–the epitome of the wrong horse!  Green horse and green rider combination.  She was a four-year-old horse off the track and I knew nothing.  I think I fell off her every day but I loved her to death.  I think in our first event we had about 300 penalties because it was before you got eliminated for having four stops.  For everyone out there struggling through some phase in eventing–I’ve struggled through all of them, with Sprite.  I remember when she first moved up to Training:  I couldn’t get her through a triple to save my life.  Like I would fall down, pull her over…It was a complete nightmare!
Q.  What’s your favorite thing about being an eventer?
A.  That would have to be cross-country!  That’s definitely why you do it but then it becomes so much more than that.  You end up learning so much about your horse and I think that’s so special.
Q.  How did you decide on orange and white as your colors?
A.  I decided on orange because it was a happy color.
photo courtesy of Kendall Church

Q. Tell me about your farm.
A.  I love my farm.  I feel very lucky every day.  It’s called Last Frontier Farm, named after the State of Alaska which is the last frontier.  Not after Star Trek which some people think!

Q.  Do you have any pets?
A.  Oh yes.  I have two dogs: Butter and Theodore.  Butter is a Lurcher who I got from the Davidson’s and Theodore is a hairy terrier who I got from the Murray’s.  The Murray’s event as well, so they’re eventing-bred dogs.  And I have numerous stray cats that sort of move into the house because I’m not home often and I leave the door open and animals just move in. It cracks me up.

Q.  Do you have a favorite horse?
A.  Oh, my favorite horse would definitely, well, the most special one would be my first Advanced horse.  She was my first Advanced horse, first 4-star horse.  Ready About was her name.  She just taught me a lot.  She taught me a lot and there’s something about your first Advanced horse.  I made lots and lots of mistakes on her and she always came through for me.  We were atrocious in the dressage!  It was before you had to get a qualifying score.  I had to retire her when you had to get a qualifying dressage score even though we had already gone around Rolex!
Sharon White on Ready About

Q.  How would your friends describe you?
A.  I don’t know.  My best guess would be some version of out of her mind for how much she tries to do.  But I would hope, also, hope they would think very willing to help everybody.
Q.  Are you in a relationship?
A.  I am.  I have a fabulous, Swedish boyfriend.  It’s been almost two years together.  And he does nothing with horses.  And, in fact, I think I scared him off of it completely.  He wanted to ride a little bit and he had done a little riding in Sweden.  I had this fancy six-year old that was so tall and beautiful.  I figured I’ll put Henrik on him since they’re both so tall and beautiful.  But it was a green rider and a six-year old horse…not my best idea!  I think he said he was never going to ride again!
photo credit to Mike McNally

Q.  Have you ever had any challenging moments that made you reconsider eventing?
A.  Every day.  It’s a labor intensive sport.  It’s a labor of love.  You’re certainly not doing it for the money!
Q.  How did you know you were going to be good enough to make this your career path?
A.  Oh, I don’t know.  I always thought I would be a great groom.  And it turned out that I could do more than that.  Another super thing I feel lucky about.

Q.  What would you have done if you didn’t event?
A.  I did have other plans because my mother is very successful and I always thought I would follow in her footsteps–like a doctor or lawyer or something like that.

Q.  What are you proud of in your riding?
A.  I am proud of the hard work I’ve put into it and what I have managed to achieve.  I hope I’m a long way from being as good as I could be.  That’s what I think is such a special thing, too, that it’s a process and I feel like I get better every day.  I never stop working at it.  The longer you do it the better you get.  That’s really nice.  You have a moment where you learn something new.  You can’t beat that.  You can’t beat that, and you can’t beat the competition.  You can’t beat something that makes your heart pound.
Q.  What is your schedule like?
A.  (Laughter).  Oh.  We’ve got about twenty-five horses in work.  We compete pretty much every weekend and I teach a lot, which I enjoy immensely.

Q.  Where do you compete?
A.  Everywhere on the East Coast.
Q.  What are your career hopes?
A.  Oh, I would like to have done Burghley and Badminton a bunch of times before I die.  I would really like to produce lots of nice advanced horses. I breed horses and also train young horses.  I bred Ready About, my mare, and she has had two foals.  I’ve bred a couple other three-star mares.  I’ve home bred five.  And I also produce the young horses; people will send me horses or I’ll find a young horse.  I have some wonderful owners who are more friends in my life who have a passion for the horses like I do.
Sharon White fans show their support

Q.  Tell me about the Professional Rider’s Organization (PRO).
PRO is an organization that we’re starting to give more of a voice to the riders in eventing and to get the passion for the sport and the love of the sport out there, especially when there has been negative publicity.  People have focused more on the negative than the positive.  We have a fabulous sport.  I don’t think there’s a more well-cared for horse than the event horse.  The sport is fun and there’s a great group of people that do it.  We’d just like the world to know and, in particular, the United States.

Q.  Is there anything you would like to add?
A.  The owners are what makes it possible.  The owners are so important, my staff is so important. I have the world’s best groom now.  My owners are my friends and it takes a lot of synergy to give it the time to get the horses to the advanced level and stick with it because it is a labor of love for everybody involved.  
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