Wilmington, Ohio – This week’s Wilmington Sunday Spotlight shines on Sara Ladley of Bargee Farms in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The talented, hard-working amateur rider spends her time showing her two young mounts, while simultaneously running her business, Hunt Club. After developing her company in her college dorm room at Carnegie Mellon University, Ladley has done nothing but grow her involvement in the sport through her riding and her work. We caught up with Ladley to learn more about her journey!
WEC: How did you get started riding?
I have been riding with Barbara Bancroft at Bargee Farms in Allison Park, Pennsylvania, since I was fifteen. I didn’t start riding early, I never had ponies and really only had one junior year of showing. My best friend all through middle school and high school rode with Barbie since she was little and invited me to go on a trail ride one day. My mom told me that I couldn’t just go and randomly ride someone else’s horse so I took a lesson, which turned into buying a horse and horse showing… and the whole nine yards! I stayed in Pittsburgh for college because I knew that I wanted to keep riding and keep my horses, so I went to Carnegie Mellon University and rode all throughout college.
WEC: Tell us about your brand, Hunt Club, and how you manage work and riding.
I actually started it my senior spring at CMU, I was still living in my dorm room. I had been doing graphic design my whole time that I was there, mostly for software projects, but I knew my way around Illustrator and Photoshop. I felt as though there weren’t a lot of options in the industry for t-shirts specifically because that’s what I started with designing. I felt like there weren’t options for people who just wanted cute tees that weren’t super expensive brands or geared toward ponies. At the time when I was 21, there was nothing out there that I wanted to wear. It was at the time where polo shirts were still big for riders and sometimes, I just wanted to ride in a cute tee!
So, that’s sort of how I started first with doing graphic design for t-shirts and those sort of took off. Later that summer, I started with the stretchy belts those have turned into our best seller. Everybody loves them. From there, I started doing show shirts and started active wear. I have a couple different factories over in Taiwan and China that helped me produce all this stuff and then we ship it in. We’re available in 47 tack shops across the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, which is so crazy to think about now!
I run the business with my mother. She rides and we do it all together! I have the creative brain and she has the analytical, mathematical brain in the operation. We make it all work and it is really wonderful to share that and the horses with her.
My main job now is running Shop Hunt Club with my mom, and I do some part time marketing working for a school in Pittsburgh. I had some extra time and I had experience with marketing, so I went for it. It has been fun balancing and it is refreshing to have a creative outlet with Hunt Club and different work for the school.
WEC: Tell us about your string of horses.
I have my Adult Amateur Hunter, Merci Balou, aka Balou. He came to me in November of 2021 as a five-year-old who never shown before, and he has just fit into the family. He’s the perfect fit for us. He’s incredible. He’s just a big sweet, snuggly bear. So, we’re working on bringing him along. We’re doing the adult hunters this year and the equitation. The equitation is really to prep for the handy for when we start doing the AO’s hopefully next year, but we don’t push any of the babies to do anything. They let me know when they’re ready to be more stimulated by bigger jumps, trickier courses. He’s just been a dream to show. He just has the coolest personality and loves to be on a big forward canter, so I can’t wait to do derbies on him. I just I feel so lucky.
I also have Tea Time Tilly aka Tilly. She’s coming nine this year and I ride her for my trainer Barbie Bancroft. I’ve been working with her since she came to the farm as like barely broke four-year-old. Some weekends we do the adults, some weekends we do the 2’9”. It depends for her because she’s maybe 15.3. We just listen to her and she lets us know if she has a lot of energy that weekend or if she wants to do something a little lower. For me, I don’t really care, as long as I get to do it with her. It’s fun because she has the funniest little personality. She is little miss busy body and wants to be involved with everything that’s going on.
I feel really lucky to have both of them. They are very different from each other, but they’re both so fun and so refreshing to be around. I’m learning so much with both of them because they are very different rides. It has been really good for me as a horse woman to learn how to train both of them because they both are very different and It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s all it’s all part of building those horsemanship skills!
WEC: How has WEC Ohio played a role in your riding career?
It has been huge in terms of getting the horses used to big indoor spaces. We don’t have anywhere like WEC, back east in Pittsburgh and it’s been instrumental in getting both of them acclimated to showing in big indoor venues. It is fantastic prep for our young horses to get them accustomed to bleachers, indoor lighting, signs, and there is always a lot of action here for them to get familiar with. We’re really grateful that it is just four hours. It has been so wonderful here for both of my young ones because it’s been so helpful to teach them what horse shows are like and get them accustomed to that level of activity. The footing is great and the stabling it wonderful. There’s a lot of good things about coming here to show for our young horses and for the more seasoned horses. It is great for the riders to have such competitive classes and big rings. We feel very lucky to be able to here.
Thank you, Sara, for taking the time to speak with us! We wish you continued success with your talented horses and incredible business!