By Britney Grover
Portraits by Kristie Nichols
Bryn Sadler is a talented 25-year-old amateur showjumper from Ocala, Florida, who is about to finish college — but that’s about as far as “typical” goes for Bryn. For starters, the degree is her second. Ever since she was a junior, she’s traveled with her parents, bringing horses along, adventuring and showing all around the country — without a trainer since she was 17. She’s competed in not one but many HITS $1 Million Grand Prix and has a collection of ribbons from Lamplight to the Colorado Horse Park. And when she’s not riding or studying, Bryn can be found assisting her boyfriend with his profession — playing video games.
Growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as the youngest of six, Bryn was far from the first in her family to ride. “My mom rode when she was younger, and all of my siblings rode,” she said. “The reason I stayed with it was that all of my siblings went off to college and left their horses behind, so I accumulated around 20 of them. I rode 14 or 15 horses a day, so I said, ‘I guess this is what I’m doing now!’”
Bryn rode her sister’s hunters and did equitation until she was 13, but after getting tired of not knowing why she lost — and getting beaten a few too many times by her older brother — she found her passion in jumpers. At 14, Bryn and her family moved to Tennessee, and finally to Ocala, Florida, where Bryn trained with Sharn Wordley for nine months when she was 16. Sharn found Bryn her first grand prix horse, Bon Giorno, who just retired last year at 21 after eight years of grand prix with Bryn, including five million-dollar classes. But when Sharn decided to move to Kentucky, Bryn struck out on her own — with her parents’ support.
“Most of the reason we still like it so much is because we just started traveling around with the horses,” Bryn said. “We tried to go to four or five new horse shows every year, so we were showing most of the time. Since we were only at a new place for a certain number of weeks, we were motivated to get out and see and do everything we wanted there. My mom just loves to watch the horses, and my dad loves adventuring, so they would bring their bicycles and I’d bring the horses, and we’d go to horse shows.”
With some good results and great horses, Bryn and her parents have established a showing system that works for them. They still enjoy traveling to shows all around the country, and Bryn works with people like Kristen Vanderveen to co-own and bring along green horses — which is what Bryn likes most about riding.
“Part of why I got along so well with Sharn is that he was all about having positive rounds; it didn’t really matter what happened in the round, but if it was a positive round, you did a good job,” she said. “With all the horses, once we get to a certain point where we walk in and I know we’re going to do well, that’s what I like best. That’s when I feel most accomplished.”
Loving the Game
In order to show two or three weeks out of every month as a junior, Bryn did online school — which set her up for success with her current studies at the College of Central Florida, 15 minutes away from home in Ocala. She’s finishing her last semester of her degree in business management, and already has a degree in accounting.
The current plan is to continue riding and showing — but Bryn is also pursuing graphic design as something she can enjoy on the side and as a backup plan. She’s already picking up design on her own, and has made artwork and animations related to another passion that she says not many equestrians share — at least that she’s met and admit it. “I love gaming,” Bryn said. “My boyfriend is actually a professional gamer. He and I game all the time.”
Her boyfriend makes a living by playing video games streamed live on Twitch.tv as Squiiddish, where he has over three million views. Sometimes, those streams and clips feature Bryn. “When we’re streaming, he’s the guy who knows everything about every game ever, and I’m the girlfriend who knows nothing,” she said. “I wander around and say things like, ‘Wait, how do I jump, again?’ and ‘Which button was that?’ There have been some really funny moments, and I’ve made T-shirts for his online store encapsulating those moments as well as some animations.”
Occasionally, Bryn finds a game that she’s good at — with skills that have translated from her time in the ring. “If it doesn’t require too much coordination and too many buttons but is based on timing and reacting, I’m very good at those games,” she said. “But I also have such a singular focus from riding it’s detrimental in video games because if I have to keep track of a health bar, a magic bar, the map and what everyone else is doing, that’s too much and I just don’t have the brain capacity. If it’s one thing and it’s based off of timing, I’m really, really good.”
Bryn finds solace in the fact that as much difficulty as she has with gaming, her boyfriend has with riding — the one time he got on an old backyard schoolmaster. But ultimately, Bryn looks at gaming the same way she looks at riding: It’s about enjoying the round, not the ribbon.
“It’s not so much that I’ve gone anywhere and done anything amazing; it’s more about what I’ve been able to accomplish with each individual horse,” she said. “That’s what I enjoy about riding. I’ve been to amazing places; we won the grand prix in Lamplight, we’ve won quite a few other grand prix, but that’s just a day — it doesn’t really give you much to continue on with. You really have to love riding to stay with it; if you base it off of winning, you’re not going to have a good time.”
Photos by Kristie Nichols, moonfyrephotography.com