This week’s Sunday Spotlight falls on Sara Ladley. Sara is a fantastic amateur hunter rider who rides with Barbara Bancroft at BarGee Farm just north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is also the owner and founder of the popular equestrian brand, Hunt Club. Sara took some time this weekend to chat with us about her amazing horses and her entreprenurial venture.
WEC: How did you get into riding?
Sara: I actually didn’t start riding until I was sixteen. I never did the pony stuff or anything. My best friend in high school rode and sort of got me out to the farm. You take one lesson and then you’re getting ready to go to your first show. It was fun because it was something my best friend from school and I would do together outside of school. I didn’t have my driver’s license yet so my Mom was taking me out to the farm all of the time. I would want to go early and groom and tack up, then stay late and bathe them or blanket them, so I got my Mom riding too. We do it together now, which is actually really great. She used to show, but she doesn’t show so much anymore. At the farm we go on trail rides and we’ll ride in the ring together and it’s really great. Since I didn’t start until I had basically aged out of the Juniors, it’s really been Ammy life all of the way through for me.
WEC: Tell us about your horses.
Sara: I have one that I seriously show right now, Skara Glen’s Intense. His barn name is Desmond. We do the 3’3″ Amateur Owners. I got him six years ago in November and he used to do big jumpers, so this is sort of semi-retirement for him. He still enjoys it. He’s a blast to ride, he’s a cool boy. He has a very interesting canter, but he jumps amazing out of this really interesting canter, so it’s fun at shows. I love riding him. He’s a great boy, he takes really good care of me. He’s found a nice niche in the 3’3″ A/Os. It’s been a lot of fun.
I also have a baby that I’m working with. We just did her first horse show over fences last weekend, she did the 2’3″ which was so fun. Her name is Tea Time Tilly (Tilly). She’s a little grey mare and she’s the princess of the barn. She’s five years old.
I’m really lucky that I was able to keep all of my retirees as well. I have three at home; one is a pasture ornament and the other two will go on trails a few times per week. We have a little bit of a herd but it’s wonderful. Although, it does mean that when I go to the barn, I’m there for like six hours.
WEC: Tell us about your horses’ personalities.
Sara: Desmond is interesting. His show name fits him well, he is a very intense individual. It sounds silly, I didn’t pick his name but it really does fit him. Whatever he’s doing or focused on at the time, he’s very intensely focused on that. At home he can be a little goofy. He has a lot of energy all of the time, so he can be playful. At shows, though, he’s so focused on what he’s doing.
I’m amazed by how mature Tilly is. She went to her second show last weekend in Cleveland and her first real show was Culpepper in August, which is a big show. She’s never been off of the farm property before and she just sort of took it all in like, “Oh, okay, this is what we do now.” She’s just very reasonable, which has been amazing to work with. If you explain things to her, she goes, “Oh, sure, okay.” It’s been really fun. I’ve never worked with a mare consistently and I’m starting to understand why people fall in love with mares because she’s just very cool with everything and interested in learning things. She’s really smart. It’s been really cool to watch her learn the basics. I love getting to know their different personalities, it makes it really special.
WEC: What are some of your riding goals?
Sara: It’s been a wonderful six years with Desmond because we’ve done a lot of the things that I’ve always wanted to do like Devon and Indoors. I want to keep getting to know him better and riding him better. He’s the kind of horse that comes out a little different every day, so as a horsewoman, getting to figure out how to maximize how he goes depending on how he comes out is sort of an ongoing process. I definitely am looking forward to continuing that.
I’m also looking forward to bringing Tilly along. It’s been so much fun already and every little “first” is so exciting. I’ve never had one since they were a baby before. All of those little things are fun. Figuring out what she wants to do will be a big decision point. We’re all thinking hunters because at her first over fences show we did the double adds so I don’t think we’ll be turning on the speed any time soon. She’ll tell us what she wants to do. I’d love to be able to do the Adult or the A/O hunters with her. She’s this beautiful flashy grey and it would be so fun to look forward to taking her to all of the big venues. She’s got such a good head on her shoulders. it will be interesting to watch her personality develop and listen to what she tells us she wants to do.
WEC: Tell us about Hunt Club.
Sara: I actually started Hunt Club during my Senior Spring in college, so I actually ran it out of my dorm room for a couple of months. We weren’t screen printing t-shirts in my dorm room or anything, we started out doing jewelry and tack charms and little things that I could put together myself. In hindsight, it’s kind of crazy thinking about how it’s grown. It’s been really wild watching it grow and it’s been a big learning experience. I didn’t study fashion marketing or fashion design in college, I studied anthropology and I did graphic design on the side, so I’ve sort of been able to parlay that into all of these skills that I need including photography and email marketing and networking. We’ve grown our network of tack shops over the last year; we have 35-40 different retailers now, which is really cool. I’ve had a lot of help from my Mom. My Mom works with me, so she runs the office side of the business and I do the creative and outreach side of the business. It’s been a great match. It’s been wonderful to share riding and now the business with her.
Graphic tees and stretchy belts are our flagship products that everybody looks out for. We try to do fresh graphic designs every season, which is fun for me. We just launched our show shirt line yesterday afternoon. I’ve been wanting to do them for a while and people have been asking for them for a while. I’m a hunter rider and I’ve tried all different brands and I’ve been frustrated that anything new that comes over from Europe with the quick-drying technical fabric has a short collar or is short sleeve. They’re just not really designed for hunter riders. The goal of the show shirt was to make something that’s technical and has all of the great accoutrement like the vents and the Icefil fabric and the cool colors, but is actually something that hunter riders can wear. I think they fill a need and I’m excited for the launch. My barn and I have been wearing them, so all of our marketing is real riders in situations that riders would actually be in. We all agree that you need to be able to wash the slobber off of your show clothes.
Sara also added:
It’s always a nice opportunity for us when we get to come to World Equestrian Center. We love coming here to get the experience of big lines and big jumps and big fill. We enjoy it, we love coming here.