By Sarah Welk Baynum
Portraits by Alex Banks
Mia Farley caught the horse bug early on in life. When her mother, Rebecca Farley, put her daughter on the back of a horse at just 3 years old, it was the start of a lifelong love of riding.
By 6 years old, Mia was taking riding lessons. “I was really reeled in when I did my first walk-trot class at that age!” Mia said.
While eventing is her sport of choice now, Mia grew up in a barn that mainly competed hunters and jumpers. It wasn’t until one fateful day that she tagged along with the select few eventers in the barn that she got her first taste of eventing.
“I managed to join them at an event one time and have been hooked since,” Mia said. “I did my first recognized event when I was 8 years old on a horse named Oreo Cookie. I fell off, but that happens every now and then and I’m proud to say I completed my second event.”
The rest, of course, is history, since Mia is now competing at the impressive CCI4* level at just 21 years old.
Hooked on Eventing
Growing up in a smaller town in Southern California, Mia found the eventing scene difficult, as not that many properties hosted events. But that didn’t deter Mia from following her heart. “I love the thrill of eventing,” she said. “I love that the horses want to do it for us. I think it’s an amazing thing that so many people come together to make it happen for the horse and rider. I love that every time I go to an event, it feels like a true team.”
Today, Mia is a professional rider mainly working with young horses, bringing them up the levels and loving every minute of it. Eventing also moved her from California to some very well-known horse country on the East Coast, in Middleburg, Virginia, and Ocala, Florida. It was the decision to move east with her mother’s support that helped take her eventing career to the next level.
One of Mia’s current horses is BGS Firecracker, a 2010 Irish Sport Horse owned by her mom, Rebecca, and a few supporters.
“We imported Firecracker back at the end of 2016. She had a season of Novice (Preliminary) under her belt and we have climbed up to CCI4-L over the years and plan to stay competitive at the four-star level for years to come!” Mia said. Crack, as she affectionately calls the mare, is a little more on the nervous or anxious side but wants to please and absolutely loves her job.
“One of my proudest moments was finishing second overall at the CCI4-L National Championship at Fair Hill in 2019 with Crack,” Mia said. “She had some time off after that but has come back strong with a second place finish at Red Hills in the CCI4-s and a third place finish at Chattahoochee Hills.”
Notably, Mia currently owns and rides mostly mares, begging the question: Is riding and owning numerous mares purely coincidence, or does she have a strong preference toward them?
“If you were to pick someone who will ride a mare any day, it’s me! I have so much respect and love for mares,” Mia said. “I think they try like no other for you, and I think they have the perfect amount of self-preservation. My second pony, Precious Gem, was the mare who taught me to be brave through some big pony bucks.”
While every time we sit in the saddle is a learning experience, Mia said, “I didn’t really learn to appreciate mares until I got to ride Daisy and Donn Tognazzini’s mare The Good Witch, who went CCI5* with Jennifer Wooten.”
Pooh, another mare, was the first horse to move Mia up to Preliminary level and taught her most of what she knows now. After Pooh was a mare named Fern, who led her to Firecracker. It was Firecracker who motivated her to continue the string of mares with Tamale.
“I imported Tamale at the end of 2020 with the help of the Warmington family and Danny Samson,” Mia said. “She was quite hard for me to figure out at first, and I couldn’t get her to take a treat from my hand for three months. Tamale just moved up to Preliminary this year and is one of the best cross-country horses I’ve ever ridden. I know she’ll keep that for us through the top levels.”
Special Horses, Special Trainers
Mia says she has been very fortunate to work with some very special horses, which have paved the way to her being named to the USEF Eventing 18 and Eventing 25 lists since 2013.
Invictus, known as Sammy, is a 2016 American Holsteiner owned and bred by Olympian Karen O’Connor. Mia was lucky enough to bring Sammy along when he was just 4 years old. Despite the young horse throwing quite a few big moves at her that she may or may not have been able to sit when they broke him, she says he’s an in-your-pocket horse and just wants to be hugged all the time. Sammy has since moved up to Preliminary level this year.
Mia is also riding David O’Connor’s horse Phelps, an off-the-track Thoroughbred. “He’s made an impact on everyone he’s met,” she says fondly about the horse. “I started riding Phelps when he was 5 going Novice, and have built up to the CCI4* level now. He’s knows his job and isn’t fazed by anything, I could take him out in a rope halter and no saddle one day and I’d be comfortable running around a four-star the next!”
It was also the support of some incredible trainers that have helped Mia reach success along the way. David O’Connor, a two-time Olympian who brought home the first eventing gold medal for the United States in more than a quarter of a century, is one of them.
“When I started in David’s program, I felt like I knew nothing,” Mia said. “We take a unique approach to everything, and the horses really understand what they’re asked. It doesn’t sound big, but I’ve learned about patience and I feel like that has taken me the farthest. The slower you go, the faster you’ll get there!”
Goals for the Future
So what lofty goals does Mia Farley have for the future? “I want to win,” Mia stated. “My goals are to represent the United States, and I want to be a top player in the sport.”
While Mia has her eye on the prize in the eventing world, she says the best thing about her life right now is that she is surrounded by such amazing and inspiring people. “I know I’m very lucky to be doing what I get to do every day,” she said. “I love living in Virginia in the summers and I’m motivated to find a way to keep going back for more summers to come!”
Follow Mia on Instagram @mia_farley
Photos by Alex Banks, www.alexbanksphotography.com, unless noted otherwise