By Alannah Castro
Going from the urban jungle of New York City during the week to the balmy breezes of Wellington, Florida, on the weekend, show jumper Emma Sargent is making it all work with her signature laid-back attitude.
Having started showing at the grand prix level at the tender age of 16, Emma’s already enjoyed quite a bit of success in her career. However, coming from a non-horsey family, she came to riding in a slightly different route than your average grand prix rider.
“My parents bought a house in Wisconsin, and sometimes it would be too cold to go swimming in the lake, so they explored other things to do. We went to a mostly Western barn on a trail ride and just fell in love,” Emma said.
Emma’s early days riding were spent learning to control her pony Gabe — who, in typical pony fashion, had other ideas about what they should be doing.
“He was actually an accident. A stallion got loose with a pony mare and made him. When we bought him, he was around 6 years old. We had no clue what to do,” Emma said. “He was probably the naughtiest horse I’ve ever ridden. He didn’t know how to jump, so I cantered him down to the jump, and he’d stop, and I’d go over his head.”
Growing Her Skills
Keen to continue growing her skill set, Emma kept showing and eventually landed at Donald Cheska’s Bayside Farm, where she still rides today. Through Donald, Emma earned the ride on Winchester, the current star of her string and her first grand prix mount.
“We went over to Emile Hendrix’s barn in the Netherlands, and I wasn’t even supposed to try her,” Emma said. “They thought she would be too advanced for me. They didn’t really know how I rode because it was only a few months after I started riding with Donald. I rode her, and they were surprised because it went really well. We bought her for a very good deal, and it just kind of clicked. I started in the mediums and moved up from there. Eventually, I jumped my first grand prix on her at Traverse City.”
Emma’s bond with Winchester is part of what has made her so successful at such a high level.
“I have her back, and she has mine. She’s probably one of the horses that I’m closest with,” Emma said. “I was 16 when I jumped my first grand prix on her, and I was terrified. I watched a video of it, and I jumped into the line and I was just kind of sitting there. My horse was like, ‘What are you doing?’ She just figured it out. It’s very nice to know that Winchester has the connection with me where she’s like, ‘OK, I can do this. I know you’re a little nervous, but I got it.’”
These days, Emma spends her time juggling classes at NYU, where she’s a freshman, during the week with showing in Wellington on the weekend.
“Once I got to college, it was kind of like going back to square one. Before I left, I was moving up to the Under 25,” Emma said. “I came back to Wellington after being gone and was like, ‘Where do I start from?’ I did the mediums and now I’m just kind of getting my feet wet again. It’s different from high school to college because you have a lot more responsibility.”
Emma’s decision to attend NYU was influenced in large part by her fellow equestrians encouraging her to experience life outside of horses.
“I went to a talk by Upper Echelon Academy and it was Georgina Bloomberg, Brianne Goutal and Lucy Davis,” Emma said. “Brianne said something that stuck with me a lot. ‘Go out and experience the world. The horses will always be there. There will always be another one coming in, but you can’t get back your college years.’ I got into NYU and decided it was a new experience for me. I didn’t visit NYU, but I love it.”
Getting to experience all that New York has to offer has been a fun and enlightening experience for Emma. “NYU offers a student pass, so you can get into a lot of the museums for free or at a discount. There are so many things to do,” Emma said. “That’s the nice thing about New York. You can like anything and there’s something for you.”
Her favorite restaurant in New York appeals to a broad range of palates. “There’s this place called The Nugget Stop, and they literally only serve chicken nuggets in tons of different flavors. It’s insane,” Emma said. “It’s so dangerous because it’s about two blocks from my dorm and it’s so good.”
Influenced by her family’s background in technology and engineering, Emma’s majoring in computer science with dual minors in management and Chinese. Her busy schedule keeps her hopping, but getting to spend time with her horses and family is like a breath of fresh air on the weekends.
“I’m running around Monday to Thursday just trying to get everything done and then I get on the plane and take a deep sigh like, ‘OK, I made it,’” Emma said with a laugh. “Being in Wellington is kind of like a weekend vacation for me.”
Emma’s attitude about showing is decidedly Zen. The most important thing is her connection to her horses and having fun in the ring.
“When I was a junior, I was always in a very competitive state of mind. Now, aging out, that really doesn’t matter. All that matters is how well you do in your mind and how happy your horses are,” Emma said. “In riding horses, my priority is having fun and making sure the horse is having fun, and the success will come naturally. The success is not that big of a deal. Just do it well and have fun, then it will come naturally.”
Photos by Shelby Phillips, www.shelbyphillipsphotography.com