By Jane Bunting Sage
Who would have thought, when I started riding at the age of 13 at Mountain Lakes Camp in Pennsylvania, that at 76, I’d still be riding. This journey isn’t about my riding, but the horses I’ve ridden and the friends I’ve met along the way.
The Camp Horse Show set the tone for future horse shows. I was cheering for my best friend who won first place and didn’t hear them call me second. To me it wasn’t about winning, but participating and cheering for my friends. As an older teen, I trail rode for hours with one of my classmates. She owned her horse, Lucky, and I rode Mr. Moore’s large Tennessee Walker, Zembo. This excursion took us cross country on the west shore of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, covering areas in Camp Hill, Enola and Lemoyne — blazing our own trails and crossing old covered bridges.
My riding took a hiatus while I went to college, worked in New York City, married, had our daughter, Missy, and moved to East Hampton, New York. I started riding again when Missy turned 5. My first instructor was Liz Hotchkiss, who owned Stony Hill Farm in Amagansett, New York. She was Century Rider #128 in 2013. My other instructor was Barbara Clarke whose horse, Tank, was also my instructor. Liz, Barbara and I rode together for many years. Tank and I tried foxhunting with the Smithtown Hunt. This was a first for both of us — what was I thinking? Then, Barbara and I did a hunter pace as a team. I jumped higher than I wanted and was scared to death, but we made it around the course unscathed.
The next step was to buy a horse, so I purchased “Chinese Mist,” a retired racehorse from Canada. I boarded a few miles from my house and trained with Sue Marder. My daughter had her own pony and rode with Sue’s younger sister. I rode and showed hunters for a few more years, then had to “retire” from riding when my husband had a serious car accident. I began managing our Maidstone Boat Yard and The Lighthouse Restaurant in East Hampton.
I bought a house in Wellington, Florida, in 1985, which opened up my desire to ride again. I purchased a polo pony, Arthur, and rode at Fairlane Farm. Arthur could turn on a dime but wasn’t that interested in dressage. I later donated Arthur to the Florida Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches.
About 1998, I was back in Pennsylvania to help with my mother, who had Alzheimer’s. My school pal Sally, whom I had known since we were 5 years old, introduced me to more horse friends, and a few more horses entered the picture. I’d fallen from one of my horses and almost decided I was getting too old to ride, but in 2004, Keswick, commonly known as Toby, came on the scene. He’d been sent from Ohio to my daughter’s farm to be sold. He was a huge, furry horse, and I first saw him being clipped while he was half asleep! After some of my previous horses, I knew I needed a quiet horse. I took lessons for almost two months while everyone encouraged me to buy Toby. He was 16.3 hands, bigger than I wanted, 13–14 years old, and more money than I’d ever paid for a horse.
Toby had been imported from England by the previous owner and had done eventing and foxhunting. The next winter, I was taking dressage lessons on him from a clinician. We were both trying very hard, but I was pulling on him and he was pulling on me. His nose was stuck out and I couldn’t get him round.
In 2006, I left Florida for Aiken, South Carolina. After buying a home, I found Holly Spencer’s farm and my new riding instructor, Amy McElroy. Amy has had unbelievable patience with me. In the summers, Toby was shipped to Harmony Hill Farm in York Springs, Pennsylvania, where I rode in dressage schooling shows. I kept returning to Aiken every October until 2014, when I had neck surgery and couldn’t ride for three months. Toby spent the summer at Holly’s Fair Lane Farm. Toby made amazing progress that summer in training with Amy. When I returned that fall, it became the turning point for Toby and me. At some point that winter, they started to do the math and realized Toby and I were old enough to do the Century Ride. The thought is a little scary, since I haven’t shown in a number of years.
Here again, it isn’t about my riding: it’s all about the journey and all the wonderful friends I’ve met along the way. Thanks to all my friends for keeping me in the saddle and not treating me like an old lady. If it hadn’t been for Amy and her unwavering patience with me, I would’ve given up dressage and just gone trail riding.