Woodland has seen generations of riders come through its big red doors. Some keep riding as a leisure hobby, others lose touch with it as their lives change, and some take the foundation Woodland gave them to pursue great things.
Sammi Burke is one of the aspiring greats. Last weekend she competed at 4th level and Prix St. George, and her scores earned her the final points needed for a United States Dressage Federation Bronze medal. The USDF medals are awarded to riders who achieve certain scores at specific levels of Dressage (Training, First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Prix St. George.) How did Sammi get to be an award-winning Dressage rider? Well…
Sammi started riding at Woodland when she was five or six years old.
“I remember I was desperately in love with horses and begged my parents for lessons for ages. We started with the Intro lesson on Sunday, I rode Cassie (a little chestnut pony) and was hooked.”
She tried a few different barns, mostly to follow her original WHC instructor, Tim Lewthwaite, but she always came back to her Woodland roots. In addition to Tim, Sammi took lessons with Russ, Casey, Felicia, Tammy, and Brittany.
“I credit Felicia and Tim for starting my love of Dressage and Casey for getting me into Eventing for a couple of years! I had a lot of really great instructors over the years and I’m sorry if I forgot anyone!”
When lessons weren’t enough to satisfy Sammi’s love of riding, she joined two of Woodland’s competition teams and took her skills to the show rings.
“I was on the Event team and the Junior Dressage teams for a few years. I learned a ton from both of those! I started with Intro and worked my way through to First Level, mostly at schooling shows in the area. I truly fell in love with Dressage when I was on the team.”
And, of course, anyone who shows knows that it’s never all smooth sailing, especially the first few competitions. Sammi was no exception.
“I have a distinct memory of the first time I went Cross Country. I hadn’t bought a separate bridle so I was just in a loose ring snaffle with a regular cavesson and [my horse] Berger thought that was the best because he could run away and avoid all the jumps!”
Cross Country calamity aside, Sammi said, “The show teams were a great experience and I made some of my best friends on those teams. Riding is such a solitary sport in some ways, but when you’re on one of the teams, you’re all in the same boat and it’s a great way to make some really amazing friends.”
When Sammi was old enough she began teaching lessons herself. Some might remember her from summer camp or lessons. If you’re recalling a red-headed girl with a splattering of freckles, a bright smile, and a giant dark bay horse, that’s probably her. When asked what she learned from teaching, Sammi said:
“I learned that teaching is a lot harder than you think it is, so I have a lot of respect for all the amazing teachers I’ve had. One of my favorite things about teaching was when students would finally get something that they’d been struggling with and they would just be so incredibly happy.”
Sammi has continued training with Tim Lewthwaite and recently added Shannon Bossung to her list of supporters. Shannon helped Sammi as a trainer, coach, and provided her with a new partner, Manni.
“I feel like I should mention that Manni is one of the hardest horses I’ve ever ridden. When he’s on his game he’s a blast to ride, but he can be quite spooky and claustrophobic so I’ve definitely had some interesting moments! He has also been the most incredible teacher and has the biggest soft brown eyes I’ve ever seen on a horse.”
Sammi is Florida bound this winter to work for Olympian Lars Petersen at Legacy Farms. She says she’s thrilled for this new opportunity, and Woodland is thrilled for her! Sammi has a few words of advice for anyone looking to pursue a similar path.
“Keep looking for new opportunities to learn. That’s the best piece of advice I can give. If you can go to clinics, go to clinics. If you don’t have a horse to take, go audit! Watch videos online, read magazines and books, take as many lessons as you can with different people on different horses. Really just get as much experience as you can and then take all those lessons in and decide what fits with your philosophy and what you want to get rid of. There’s always more opportunities out there. Do not be afraid to fail. You’ll learn something even from the bad experiences and once you find the right match, it’ll be even better because you know what all it took to get you there.”
Woodland cannot keep its students forever, and Sammi certainly isn’t the only Woodland rider to succeed beyond our barn. The lessons learned, the friends made, and the horses ridden influence the riding and horsemanship philosophies of our alumnus long after they’ve left us. The goal at Woodland is to foster a love for horses first, then develop a strong foundation of safe, correct basics in both riding and horse care. That way the horse will come first, no matter what, and riders will always have a solid base to build on.
Finally, Sammi had a few people she wanted to thank for supporting her on her journey:
“Tim, for teaching me all the fundamentals I need to be a great horsewoman, Kate for taking such good care of my goober of a horse when I’m not around, mom and dad for letting me pursue this crazy dream, Shannon for letting me lease and show the most incredible horse, Manni and Berger for teaching me everything they can, and everyone at Woodland for giving me the start on the path to the career I’ve always dreamed of. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!”
Have a question for Sammi? Know a Woodland alum who deserves a feature? Let us know in the comments!
Cover image thanks to Tim Lewthwaite. Other images from Tim Lewthwaite and Sammi Burke.