By Britney Anderson
Alicia Sama didn’t grow up riding; she didn’t even know what Pony Club was. Her passion drove her to make her own opportunities, learning anything anyone would teach her about horses as soon as she was able to drive herself to a barn. Now, not only is her daughter growing up with the experiences Alicia wished she could have, but her love of horses and lifelong learning is being spread through Bright’s Creek Equestrian Center and the River Valley Pony Club.
“I’ve loved horses ever since I was little,” Alicia said, “but I grew up dancing, because that’s what my parents put me in when I was 3. My parents told me that horses were a phase, and that I’d grow out of it.” But as many equestrians know, the horse bug is impossible to shake. “As soon as I graduated from high school and could drive on my own, I started working with horses and have worked with them every day since then. So it’s not really a phase.” Her hard work and dedication propelled her to her current position as equestrian director at Bright’s Creek Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, North Carolina.
Alicia’s daughter, Addison, was born with her mother’s passion for horses. “Where I grew up, they didn’t have Pony Club,” said Alicia, “so I didn’t know anything about it. When I heard about it, I researched it and I was like, ‘I wish I could’ve had this growing up!’ So I contacted a club, went out and visited one of the meetings and signed Addison up.” Addison was 6 years old when she first became a Pony Club member.
When the former District Commissioner for the River Valley Pony Club was getting ready to move, Alicia and fellow Pony Club parent Ivette Drumgool stepped up. “It was a team effort,” she said of the decision to become co-commissioners with Ivette. “We’re really good friends and we just promised each other we’d do it for our kids.”
In Her Mother’s Footsteps
Alicia’s passion for learning is reflected in her club members, including 9-year-old Addison. “That’s hard,” she replied when asked what her favorite thing was that she’s learned in Pony Club. “I like learning horsemanship with our horses, I really like riding together and getting to meet and ride with different trainers.”
Addison also cheerfully explained a few of the things that she and her teammates have to learn for Pony Club rallies, from setting up a tack stall and feed to first aid — all on their own. “It was pretty hard the first time, because you’re like, ‘Well, what do I do? I have no parents to help me!’ But then you get used to having a stable manager to help you, and having teammates to help you.”
Addison does eventing with Sugar, her Pony of the Americas she’s had since she was 5. “I love to do the eventing,” Addison said. “It can be scary, but it’s also a lot of fun once you start.” She shows the true eventer’s spirit, as well. After being bucked off a lease pony several times on cross-country courses and being kicked in the face, which broke her jaw, Addison is still as passionate about riding as ever.
Pony Club Ambassadors
With her Pony Club friends at her side, Addison is well on her way to equestrian success. The United States Pony Club 2016 East Championships will be held July 27–31 at the nearby Tryon International Equestrian Center, and though qualifiers must be at least 12 years old to compete, Addison and the other young club members will not miss out: Tryon International has designated River Valley Pony Club as the official Pony Club ambassadors. “I really am excited,” said Addison. “We’re going to be the ambassadors the whole week of Championships — answering questions, showing people around and telling them about Pony Club.”
Alicia and the other Pony Club leaders are thrilled for the opportunity that having the Championships so close to home. “Most of the time they wouldn’t be able to see a championship; either they haven’t qualified or the travel distance is too great. But to have everybody come here, and to such a high-end facility and show, it’ll be great for the kids to see. Whether our kids are competing or not, all of our club will take part, whether we’re filling the role as ambassadors or supporting our team and cheering them on.”
Though hundreds of competitors flock to the Championships, the Pony Club values remain the same. “Some clubs are bigger than us, some clubs may be smaller,” Alicia said. “Some clubs may have more money than we have, but each club is held accountable for the same knowledge and the same expectations. It doesn’t matter if you have a horse or if you’re borrowing a horse, or if you’re borrowing clothes or have top-of-the-line — none of that matters.”
And Addison is just one of the many stars that make the Pony Club from Bright’s Creek Equestrian Center shine. “There’s a wide spectrum of kids in Pony Club, and I think that’s why it’s so cool,” Alicia explained. “Just like the United States is such a melting pot, Pony Club gets all of these people and then you all become one. It’s just amazing to see all these kids come together. It doesn’t matter what you have or what you don’t have. You’re all there for the horses. It really is pretty cool.”
Photos courtesy of Bright’s Creek Equestrian Center and River Valley Pony Club