Sara Farris of Denver, CO volunteers as a groom and rider for the Changing Leads branch at Hobby Horse Farm in Firestone, CO with trainer and Board member, Angelika Beutel. Here is her story!
"I had the fortune of growing up around horses my entire life. We always had family riding horses on our small farm, and my dad bred and raised Thoroughbreds for racing as a side hobby. I began my formal training as a rider in the hunter/jumper world under trainer Kathleen Zins, showing in my first walk-trot class before the age of five. When I was a teenager, our barn evolved into an eventing barn, and I showed my Thoroughbred, Monty, up to training level before I went off to college and took a break from the competition world.
To have grown up in a small town in East Texas, we were very fortunate to have had such a knowledgeable and talented trainer who gave us all a great foundation and helped us achieve our goals. Some of my fellow barn mates would go on to ride at the top levels of eventing and even make the Olympic hopefuls list, but I wasn't that ambitious and was a bit of a timid rider in my younger years. It wasn't until I played polo at Texas A&M that I really got over my timidness and learned to be more assertive in my riding.
After college, I eventually retired my horse, Monty (he's now 35+ years old and enjoying the green pastures on our farm and flirting with our broodmares). While living in Houston, I decided to take on the training of one of our home-bred Thoroughbreds who had recovered from an injury that sidelined him from racing. That was my first experience with retraining an OTTB. Going from riding a made horse that I had ridden for 20 years to sitting atop a 4-year-old green horse was quite the change for me. I thought I was a decent rider, but Little O exposed every weakness and ounce of inexperience I had. He was my first guinea pig, and in hindsight, I owe him a lot of treats and apologies for my lack of patience and knowledge at times. I've since had other OTTBs that I've taken on, retrained and sold to good homes as sporthorses. With each project horse, I got a little better as a rider and quasi trainer, and I started to enjoy the rewards that come from working with a young horse.
When I moved to Colorado, I decided to sell my current young OTTB to a friend and took a break from riding for a couple of years until I joined up with my current trainer and Changing Leads Board member, Angelika Beutel. When I started riding with Angelika at Hobby Horse Farms, I was just hoping to take some lessons and get my seat back and potentially connect with people who might need a catch rider from time to time. Soon after arriving, though, I got the opportunity to ride a couple of the Changing Leads horses that were at the barn. The very first horse I rode I fell in love with from the time I led him down the barn aisle. I've always been a "bay horse" girl, but there was something about the little chestnut, Jack, that touched me. Little did I know at the time how that horse would later become a part of my future.
Over the course of the following months, I got to ride several of the horses from Changing Leads, and it really affirmed my desire to continue working with young horses. Winning ribbons or awards and competing at a top level aren't really things that motivate me anymore, but getting to see a horse rise to its potential and playing a hand in that is where I get my fulfillment.
While all of the horses that come from Changing Leads have different strengths and abilities, they all come with a good demeanor and foundation, which goes a long way in my book. With every ride and with the encouragement and helpful guidance of my trainer, I learn more about each horse and how to tailor my ride to their needs and abilities. While I hope I am benefiting the horses and helping them realize their potential, I undoubtedly benefit as much if not more from what they teach me as a rider and a person. That's the beauty that comes with being a volunteer. Whatever you put into volunteering, you always get more out of it.
I cried the day the first Changing Leads horse I rode left for his new home. I knew then that these horses weren't just another project or ride for me, but they were an important cause for me to support and advocate for. I was fortunate that the first horse came back to our barn after the owner realized he wasn't the right fit for her because he happened to be the perfect fit for me. Now, Jack has a permanent home at Hobby Horse Farms and in my heart, and we continue to build our partnership together. While Jack gets a lot of my attention these days, I still enjoy working with the other horses from Changing Leads because they all have their own forever homes to find, and hopefully I can help be a part of that process."
When Sara isn't at the barn, she is working as a public information officer for her local fire department, handling communications, public relations, and community outreach. She also enjoys traveling, snow and water skiing, hiking, cooking, golf, college football, and live music. Thank you, Sara, for so generously donating time to the Changing Leads horses at Hobby Horse Farm!