A rider who lost six stone to be able to show her horse after years of others riding him said she hopes she can inspire others to follow their dreams.
Sam Winn, who had ridden from an early age on friends’ horses, started looking for a “happy hacker” of her own when she returned to riding after a break aged 21, in 2007.
“I went to see a four-year-old Clydesdale but he wasn’t for me,” Sam told H&H. “The breeder said he had the perfect horse for me if I wanted a fun hack; an unbacked three-year-old.
“He was within my budget, and that was it; he was coming home. These things happen for a reason and I wouldn’t have changed him for the world.”
The gelding, also called Sam, was sold not as a show horse, as his previous owner did not think he had the right conformation for in-hand Clydesdale classes.
But a joke between Sam and a friend led to the latter competing the horse in a ridden Clydesdale class at a local agricultural show – which they won.
“My best friend Jane said ‘let’s take him, for a laugh’, and I said ‘if you want to ride him, you can’, and that was the start,” Sam said.
“He did three or four years competing with Jane, then with a friend whose horse I’d ridden as a child, and after that I paid people to ride him.
“I’d never had a lesson and I was almost 17 stone at my heaviest. I used to say ‘no one wants to see me in cream jodhpurs’ but also, getting him ready for a show at that weight, I’d be absolutely knackered, let alone having the energy to do it.
“You hear nasty comments too; people saying ‘look at the size of her, good job she’s got a Clydesdale’, and it’s so easy to get stuck in a rut.”
Change came for Sam after she lost her father in 2016, and the last time she saw him, he advised her to think about her weight.
“Then a friend’s husband said she was going to what I thought was swimming classes – turned out he said slimming classes!” Sam said. “That’s how I started with Weight Watchers, thinking I could lose a few pounds, but because I changed my lifestyle and how I think about food; I probably eat more now than I did, but of the right things, I’ve lost six stone.”
Then, Sam’s partner Graham pointed out that equine Sam was not getting any younger, and that he would soon be eligible for veteran classes, so Sam signed up for her first official lessons, and headed to her first shows.
“Before last year, I wouldn’t have known if I was on the right diagonal!” she said. “I’m happy to go for a gallop hacking; I wasn’t scared, but it was the thought of being in the ring with what felt like all eyes on me.
“That was my biggest fear but of course everyone’s so busy with what they’re doing, they’re not really watching you.”
Sam and Sam’s first show together was not an unqualified success, but determined to improve, Sam watched videos of herself riding, and had lessons with a trainer who helped her ride her horse to his best advantage.
They enjoyed success in ridden coloured, Clydesdale and veteran classes, including fifth place in a large coloured class at Blair Castle International Horse Trials.
“It felt absolutely amazing,” Sam said.
“Blair was the best one. I rode the whole ring – or was taken round it – with a smile on my face, and came fifth out of all of them.
“But now, I look back and realise that wasn’t good enough. I don’t ever want to beat anyone, just to do the best I can, not just for me but for him.”
Sam continues going to Weight Watchers meetings, as she says she knows how easily she could gain the weight again, and says her ambition is just always to do better.
“People ask me if I wish I’d lost the weight sooner but again, everything happens for a reason,” she said. “Others had had tremendous success with Sam, and the time was then right for us.
“But I just want to say to anyone else in the position I was; I’m the greediest person I know and if I can keep the weight off, it’s achievable.
‘You’re not suddenly two stone lighter just because you ride well’
‘It was heartbreaking to be told I shouldn’t be riding her at that weight’
Take advantage of our sale on Horse & Hound magazine subscriptions today
“It’s so easy to stand by the ringside but take that first step and never give up; do it for your horse. Life is short and for living; I never ever imagined I’d be out competing my own boy and loving every second of it. I’m a great believer in ‘if your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough’.
“I’m living my dream with my boy, other people can too.”
Sam, who finished 2019 with equine Sam standing champion at a local show, added: “My goal for 2020 is simply to be better than I used to be.”
Would you like to read Horse & Hound’s independent journalism without any adverts? Join Horse & Hound Plus today and you can read all articles on HorseandHound.co.uk completely ad-free