By Lauren R. Giannini
Portraits by Isabel J. Kurek
“I love to show,” said Samantha Schaefer, who goes by Sam. “Horses have always been part of me, and I think that you learn a lot just by being around horses and riding from sunup to sundown. I always had great opportunities and lots of horses and ponies to ride. I’ve been very lucky to have so many good people teach me inside and outside of the ring.”
Sam was born to compete, thanks to horsey genes from her parents, Stacey and Gary Schaefer. After her first ride at 18 months old, she never stopped and grew up totally immersed in horses on the family’s Shadow Ridge Farm in Maryland. Her mother, Stacey, was a successful amateur-owner rider, who showed three great hunters — Just Add Water, Cottonwood and First Monday — to national titles. Her dad, Gary, is still keen on team penning. Sam’s sister, Maddie, now 15, also born with horse genes, is a successful junior rider.
When Sam, at age 7, got serious about showing pony hunters, Stacey turned professional and focused on pony and hunter prospects for the AA circuit. The rest is written in show records. Sam had been winning for years when she made her debut showing at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in the 2008 Winter Equestrian Festival. In one very successful week with Perfectionist, Lazy Sunday and Monroe, Sam earned top honors as Leading Junior Hunter Rider and bested top professionals for Leading Overall Hunter Rider. She was 15.
In 2009, when Sam was 16, she won the Equitation Finals at the Washington International Horse Show. In 2011, her last year competing as a junior, she was the individual Junior gold medalist in show jumping at the FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships; for the second consecutive year at Hampton Classic, she won the Sam Edelman class. At HITS Saugerties, she piloted Lyn Pedersen’s Mahalo to first place over 63 professional, junior and amateur riders in the inaugural $500,000 Hunter Prix Final. She won the 2011 USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals–East, judged by Jimmy Lee and George Morris.
“My mom always helped me out at home,” said Sam, now 23. “Kim Stewart started me on my small ponies and was responsible for a lot of my success in the junior hunters. When I was 15, I started to do the equitation. We reached out to Andre Dignelli and for my last couple years as a junior, I rode with Heritage Farm, with Andre, Patricia Griffith and Laena Romond. For my last junior year, I lived at Andre’s house up in New York. He gave me a lot of opportunities in the equitation division and even in the jumper ring. Don Stewart helped me sometimes when we were at our farm in Ocala during the winter. It’s been a big group effort for sure.”
“Sam’s a hard worker – her work ethic amazes me,” said Stacey. “She’s very responsible. She drives the truck and trailer, clips the horses, does everything. She drives her younger sister, Maddie, to shows. She’s always been mature. I think that part of that’s from being raised by everyone involved in our showing — my trainer Bill Ellis, Kim Stewart, Andre and Patricia. Sam’s very dedicated, and she loves the horses. I think that going to college helped her to grow a lot.”
In the Schaefer family, college wasn’t optional. Sam’s experience at Baylor University didn’t get off to the smoothest start when her freshman year began in January 2012. “I didn’t want to go in the first place and I hated it for the first three months or so,” she said. “I was in Waco, Texas, and kept going back to Florida on weekends to train with Kate Conover, who’s like my big sister and kept my horses going while I was away. I stopped going back to Florida after I was cleared in March to compete for Baylor, because I had commitments to the equestrian team on the weekends. After I started going to practices and work-outs, I got more involved with the team and started to enjoy college life.”
Baylor competed in the National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA), an emerging NCAA sport composed of 40 Division I and II schools. “My first year, we had Lisa Goldman, Ashley Ann McGehee, Taylor Brown and Kim Woodsum. We won the national hunt seat championship — it was a real team effort,” said Sam. In her three shows leading to the Finals, she was MOP (Most Outstanding Player) every time and also MOP Over Fences in the Big XII Championship NCEA Finals.
“I really enjoyed my time at Baylor,” said Sam. “It opened my eyes to so many things. I went to football games, experienced the social scene and met so many different people. After two semesters, I switched my major from business to communications — I’m really happy I did that. It was nice to meet new people, practice my social skills and be a normal person for a little bit. It was only four years. I will show horses for the rest of my life.”
Five Great Equines
Of all the ponies and horses Sam has competed, five stand out as dream horses and best partners. In 2000, she started taking her first lessons on Halcyon Hawthorne with Kim Stewart. “I fell off him and won more on him than any other pony,” said Sam. “He’d throw me off in one class and win the next one. We had him until the day he died. He got my career going, and I showed him from when I was 7 until 11. My small pony, my pony of a lifetime.”
Pioneer, owned by Andre and Heritage Farm, was Sam’s equitation horse when she won the USET Finals and finished second in the USEF Medal Final at Harrisburg. “When I won my second Sam Edelman class with Pioneer, I got a 98 on my final round,” she said. “He wasn’t a horse for everybody, but if he liked you, he gave you 110 percent every single round.”
Sam did junior jumpers and won the Junior individual gold medal at Young Riders with Trezebeez. “That mare taught me how to ride smooth in the jumper ring. If a good horse wants to leave the jumps up, you don’t have to do much,” said Sam. “She taught me so much. She was a fighter, never wanted to touch a jump. She was serious about her job, liked to work. She’ll always have a special place in my heart.”
Kate Conover was instrumental in the Schaefers buying Classified for Sam. “Kate and I work really well together, especially with young horses, and we joke about sharing custody of Classified as if he’s our child,” said Sam. “He’s been my main hunter for two years. He’s great. At Capital Challenge in 2015, he was Grand Amateur-Owner Hunter Champion and we won the WCHR Challenge Class for Amateurs. He’s very experienced, my Mr. Reliable. He loves trails.”
Sugar Ray, aka Snoop, has been with Sam since 2009. “He wins more classes than he loses, so fast, such a fighter,” said Sam. “We tried to sell him a few times, but he’d refuse cross rails. My mom would say, ‘Guess he doesn’t want to leave.’ He’s a Schaefer horse for life. My favorite personal horse. He doesn’t jump big classes or get all the spotlight, but he can always make a bad day good. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Sam’s first-year horse, Hashtag, 7, just started showing 3’6” this year. “He was great in Florida and I’m hoping he’ll show indoors,” she said. “Other than him and Classified, I just have young horses and I have to be patient, make up a few hunters. That’s how we’ve always done it, bringing horses along and developing them.”
As for Sam’s status, she owns the horses she’s showing. “I just ride my own horses and I enjoy showing in the amateurs,” said Sam. “Down the road, when my mom is tired of training, I’ll end up doing all that. Sooner or later, I will turn professional, but I took a bit of a break when I was at school and really missed showing on the circuit. Being an amateur is where I need to be — right now, it’s all horses, horses, horses for me.”