Horses and People cover story
The July-August edition of Horses and People magazine’s front cover features up-and-coming youth Sara Leitch riding her mother’s Paint horse Duke (a.k.a. BPS I’m Obsessed), by the Quarter Horse An Obsession, and out of Ransoms First Priority.
The beautiful and serene scene captured by Louise Sedgman instantly caught my eye when I was searching for a candid image to portray that unique bond we develop with our horses. That Sara is confidently riding Duke bridleless through Hastings Pony Club grounds shows this pair have it.
“Mum bought Duke for herself and I stole him” laughs Sara after describing that six years ago, she had stopped riding after a bad fall. “I don’t know what it was… He spoke to me”.
Even before she was born, Sara’s family life revolved around horses. Mum Diane and dad Geoff are both New Zealanders but met here, in Australia, while working at a Thoroughbred breeding farm. Geoff’s professional involvement with rearing racehorses has taken them all around the world, from New Zealand and Australia to Dubai, Ireland and Kentucky.
Despite their shared love of horses, Diane stopped riding having Sara and Sara’s brother Jon, and it was only when Sara had her accident and lost interest that Diane decided it was time to get back in the saddle.
“I thought I would do something for myself again” says Diane. “And when I found Duke, all the stars aligned. He was only four but his cheeky and quiet character won me over”.
“We brought Duke home and I was enjoying trail riding him when Sara asked if she could have a ride. Next thing she was taking him to lessons, pony club and competitions! So I lost my horse for a bit” she continues.
The photoshoot took place a couple of years ago and now, Sara has a new horse, the 23 year-old off the track Thoroughbred Academy Dancer (a.k.a. Caddy), who was a Caulfield Stakes winner and retired to an eventing home, where he competed to one star level.
Sara says Duke prepared her well for the transition to a big, hot, racehorse. “Duke and I had our challenges, but most of his struggles have been mine more than his. He’s such a caretaker horse and has helped me overcome a lot.
“At the start, Caddy was quite laid back and placid but since we’ve had him, he seems to have become a much brighter personality” continues Sara. “I had a bit of trouble adjusting to a bigger canter, striding and height of horse, but we seemed to click. And mum still lets me ride Duke.
“I owe Duke so much” she continues. “Last year he took me to the Pony Club Australia’s State Championships, after coming back from an injury, and this year I want to do games on him.”
Diane says Duke is the perfect family horse and has allowed Sara to have fun and cement her confidence, and riding bareback and bridleless has become their favourite trick.
“We just did it” says Sara. “The first time I took the saddle and bridle off I was jumping cross rails. It is because I trust him so much and he’s just such an easy horse”.
“But he can be quite cheeky” adds Diane. “He can throw in a little pigroot and when Sara was younger, she used to fall off quite a bit. If they had been jumping he would sometimes finish the course without her!” she laughs.
Sara has managed to get in lots of riding during the COVID-19 lockdown. She’s had extra time to focus on improving Caddy’s flatwork but has missed the regular trips to other grounds either to exercise or compete in events.
Sara and Diane say they owe much gratitude to the Zerbe family who own Bittern Estate Winery, where their horses are agisted, as well as Sara’s sponsors Tuff Rock Australia, whose products have helped keep the horses sound and healthy.
Now, Sara is looking forward to taking part in Louise Sedgman’s fundraiser, ‘The Sweet Teen Project’ in support of Headspace Australia, an organisation that supports the mental health and wellbeing of our youth.
This story featured in the July-August edition of Horses and People Magazine. Order a copy here.