This week’s Sunday Spotlight lands on Samantha Eckhout, an Amateur rider who started her riding career about two and a half years ago. We are all too aware that starting in equestrian sports as an adult can be extremely intimidating. However, Samantha has a fantastic sense of humor about her experiences starting as an adult; while her deep love for horses, riding and her barn family drives her to continue progressing through the Hunter ring.
How did you get into riding?
I rode when I was a kid briefly, but my parents weren’t convinced that it was a true sport, so they said, “No, you can play basketball, you can swim, you can do all of those things…but not horseback riding.” I rode for a Summer when I was nineteen when I could finally pay for it myself, and that was it. I stopped. Then I met another rider in our barn, Laura Loveday, whose kids play soccer with my son. She was like, “You need to come ride again.” I said, “Laura, I’m now in my forties, I’m not going to go do this, I’ll kill myself!” So she finally convinced me to go to the barn and I got on her twenty three year old school horse and she was like, “Okay, clearly you remember how to hold the reins, so let’s go.” That was two and a half years ago now.
How did you end up at Just a Folly Farm?
Laura introduced me to Melissa Donnelly, and I didn’t know how amazing of a rider Melissa was or of Dorothy Campbell’s past. I clearly just got lucky on that, not really understanding what I was falling into. They have been amazing.
Tell us about starting riding as an adult.
I started in the Crosspoles. I felt really silly riding with the really young kids. It was like an ego thing, almost. I have a great family, I’m good at my job, so to put myself out into that was a lot. I joked at my first show saying, “Can I braid my hair and put the ribbons in it?” At my first show at World Equestrian Center last March, I walked up to the ring on my horse, Riley, and my horse is not small. There was a little girl at the ring, she had to be about five or six years old, with braids and pineapple ribbons in her hair. I pulled up and she looked up at Riley and I and started crying, like this big horse is not supposed to be here. I was like, “I’m SO sorry.” I felt so bad. And that started my career in the show ring.
It only got better after that. The girls at our barn are so incredible and so supportive. What’s interesting is that there’s no age, and what I mean is that I forget that some of the girls are fourteen. They treat me like I’m fourteen. They don’t treat me any differently. They come sit ringside for me and cheer me on and don’t tell me that I did my whole first course one the wrong lead. That first Crosspoles class I ever did, Riley was like, “This is not big enough for me to get my motor going and be on the right lead.” And I didn’t know I was on the wrong lead. Now, I kind of can tell!
Tell us about your horse.
So, yeah, I started riding two years ago and now I own a horse. I don’t know how that happened. How does that happen? What is in the water? It’s crazy! So, Emerald Isle (Riley) is nineteen this year. He’s such a good teacher and such a good boy. He’s done all of the big stuff like the Big Eq, and now he’s nineteen and he’s at this part of his career. He’s perfect for me. He’s so good and he’s so smart and he’s so forgiving. I’m so lucky.
Riley is a little curmudgeonly. It takes a lot to get him to put his ears up. Thank goodness for the fixing of the ears in the photos…I think they made that for Riley. But he’s super kind and super sweet. And he has a really hard right lead change. But he’s a great teacher. We’ll be approaching a jump and he’s like, “No, no, no. We can’t leave from here. We’re not leaving from here.” So he makes the decision for me…quite often…so he’s a good boy. And he’s really super handsome. I got so lucky, never owning a horse before and now owning HIM…I’m so lucky. He’s a good boy. He’s also the baby sitter at our barn. If anyone is being saucy, they’re just told to follow Riley. He’s amazing.
What do you love about riding?
I would absolutely say that the thing I love about riding is the horse, first. How much better could that be? It’s an animal. It’s a really big animal. I love that. I also love that I’m not good at it. I’m pretty good at a lot of other things in my life at this point, and riding is pretty hard. Actually, it’s ridiculously hard. And not knowing what animal you’re going to get on what day makes that harder. Melissa always says, “You have to ride the horse you have today, not the one you had yesterday.” I love all of it. I love how great, in particular, my barn is. We have really, really big competitors and great riders, and the fact that they’ve been more than willing to come sit at my 2′ and my Crosspoles has been amazing. I think all of that put together is what I love. This is the most amazing sport. It’s hard, but it’s so rewarding.
Also, when Melissa or Dorothy say, “You did a really good job,”…I didn’t think, at this point in my life, that would mean so much. But I get so excited, it’s so amazing. You just want to ride for your trainer. It’s not for the score on the board, it’s for your trainer. I trust them inherently. I know they would never ask me to go do something that they didn’t know I could do. I trust them implicitly. That’s an interesting thing to kind of give over to someone. There’s no question. I’m really really fortunate to find this at this point in my life. A lot of people, ya know, mid-life-crisis-buy-a-sports-car. I bought a horse. So thank you to Melissa and Dorothy.
Photos courtesy of Andrew Ryback Photography.