Her whole life, she envisioned becoming a dressage champion — and it all started with a one-eyed pony.
Sarah Lockman’s first horse wasn’t exactly a championship-caliber ride, despite her father’s best intentions.
“He had gone through a discount magazine, probably equal to our Craigslist nowadays, and he had bought a 32-year-old, one-eyed pony,” Sarah recalls. “My mom, she was not crying happy tears; they were sad tears. But that was my first horse. (Dad) was very proud of it and I was inseparable from that horse from the moment we got him.”
What Sarah’s dad lacked in equine acumen, he made up for in instinct. Some 28 years later, his little girl grew up to become a Pan American Games gold medalist this summer — one of the stars of your Team’s outstanding showing in Peru.
“From that first horse, I was completely hooked, and I’ve been riding and competing from a very young age,” Sarah says. “When I was 10 years old, I told my trainer, ‘I want to be a horse trainer and I’m going to go to the Olympics.’”
And she just might get that chance next year at the Tokyo Games, if her Pan Am Games’ showing is any indication. In her first Team appearance, Sarah, 31, rode First Apple to an individual dressage gold for Team USA with a personal-high score of 78.890% in the Intermediaire I Freestyle. The duo beat out Canada’s Tina Irwin, riding Laurencio, by a single percentage point. Team USA’s Jennifer Baumert secured the bronze with Betsy Juliano’s gelding, Handsome.
Sarah’s gold marked America’s ninth individual dressage title in the history of the Pan Am Games, dating back to 1951. “It was an incredible feeling to be on the Team,” says Sarah. “All the hard work feels like it was worth it.”
Sarah says that despite some pre-ride jitters, everything in Peru was what she expected and prepared for — except for one thing: the feeling of riding for her country.
“The first few days in Lima, walking around in our red, white and blue jackets with ‘USA’ on them brought an amazing sense of country pride,” Sarah says. “You realize that you’re riding, competing and performing for a bigger picture. You’re really riding for your country.
“To watch the American flag, go up and hear the national anthem and know that my performance put that there was such an amazing feeling.”
An Unspoken Language
Based on her chemistry with First Apple, Sarah’s prospects look bright for representing Team USA next year in Tokyo.
Even though she’s only been working with Apple for about a year, their connection was instantaneous — the kind that, Sarah worried, might be too good to be true.
“He’s a really special horse,” Sarah says of the 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion owned by her sponsor, Gerry Ibanez. “When I first rode him, one trip around the ring and I already had tears in my eyes.”
Having spent her whole life around horses, Sarah believes horses speak a silent language that sometimes takes time to understand. Not so with Apple. “We spoke the same language from the very beginning,” she says. “We didn’t need a translator.”
That special synergy between horse and rider is what drives the success of so many incredible combinations. Just think of Debbie McDonald and Brentina or Steffen Peters and Ravel. The unspoken language flows naturally between horse and human.
To those who watched the Pan Am Games, it appeared Sarah and Apple might just have that same star quality. “We’re both very similar in that we love the limelight,” says Sarah. “Personally, I’m like, ‘The more pressure, the better.’ It was a cool feeling to have a horse that was right there for me, very honest, and giving me 110 percent every single ride.”
Grit and Gratitude
To achieve her childhood dreams of equestrian success, Sarah has also given 110 percent, right from the beginning. She was homeschooled throughout her youth so she could work for trainers and pay for lessons without straining the family’s modest finances.
She even went so far as to live in a tent outside her trainer’s house. “I was willing to do whatever it took to reach my goals,” Sarah says with a chuckle.
And now, Sarah is known for her gritty, never-give-up attitude.
“I’m known for long hours, going above and beyond and always having a really positive attitude,” she says. “I didn’t grow up in the perfect setting to become a successful international dressage rider. Nothing was ever handed to me.”
Sarah credits her sponsor, Gerry, for providing her with incredible opportunities. And she gives special acknowledgment to supporters of the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation — people like you who empower athletes like Sarah to live out their dreams, no matter the odds.
“I think it’s amazing that there are people willing to support our sport and our athletes and our horses,” Sarah says. “There is something so special about dressage. I’m so thankful to everyone out there helping us out.”