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Happy and Sarah grew together as a team, creating

an incredible winning combination. “I started showing in September of that year and in our first show we took home the blue ribbon. I was hooked and totally obsessed with my horse!” she enthusiastically remembers. The sweet taste of riding Happy to victory was enough to keep Sarah and her mom coming back for more.

Family Support To support Sarah’s desire to excel in her newfound sport, her family began traveling to a training barn in South Carolina, four hours from their Atlanta home. Trainers Jack Towell and Liza Boyd Towell at Finally Farm in Camden, South Carolina spent countless hours training Sarah and traveling to hunter/ jumper shows with her. They quickly became part of the Ward family. With the Towells’ excellent

training and Sarah’s personal drive, before long her riding ability outgrew Happy’s potential. Both her mom and her instructors decided that she needed to search for a Warmblood as her next hunter mount. “I didn’t want another horse,” Sarah remembers. “I felt so strongly about Happy that I couldn’t imagine riding a different horse…ever. I kept thinking Happy would think I was cheating on him.” But, in November of 2003, together they purchased her next partner, Chocolate Moose, a 16.2 hand Oldenburg. “Mom was right about Moose. I learned so much from

that horse that I never could have learned from Happy,” she admits. Moose quickly became her mom’s favorite, especially after his near-death scare about a year after they bought him. “He had a real bad case of tying up, and we didn’t think he was going to make it,” Sarah continues. But somehow Moose pulled through.

Tragedy Strikes Sarah’s riding career continued to prosper and she took that next big step into young adulthood when she decided to attend the University of South Carolina and signed on with the school’s riding team. The school was much closer to her trainers and she was looking forward to the college experience, especially being part of a team. Then, in September of 2009, tragedy struck the Ward family. Sarah had just started riding for the USC riding

team and was barely into her school year when her mother suddenly died by gunshot. It was devastating news. Sarah’s biggest pillar of support was gone and she felt her world crumbling around her. “It shook my world—it seemed impossible to lose my mom. She was always there for me, supporting me and encouraging me. I wasn’t sure I could go on.” Heartbroken, Sarah left school in that first semester to return to be with her family as they dealt with their unthinkable loss. “You never think something like this will happen to

you,” Sarah continues, “and then I woke up one morning and it had. But perseverance and determination are big traits in our family. I knew my mom would want me to keep riding, so that is what I did.” Sarah wasn’t kidding about perseverance and

determination. With no doubts in her mind about whether to compete or not and only three weeks after losing her mom, Sarah rode the 16.1 hand Dutch Warmblood Onassis by Narcos II in the Capital Challenge and took home several ribbons. “I look back at how impossible it felt. It was the hardest show I’ve ever had to do,” she admits. Sarah gives credit to her horses and her extended family with the strength and the ability to continue on. “It’s a team effort when I am in the ring.” she explains.

“Jack is like a father to me when we are on the road, my groom is my best friend and my mom was my biggest fan. I can still feel her there supporting me. It takes all of us to make this happen.” Although Sarah eventually returned to being a student

at USC, her days of riding with the team are over. She missed so much time when her mom passed away that the team’s rules prohibited her from competing in Hunter Week in Palm Beach. Sarah knew showing her horses was the only way to keep moving forward, so she left the USC riding team to continue her competition career solo.

Tyler to the Rescue Of the Ward family’s current six Warmbloods, Onassis, fondly known as “Tyler,” was another of Diane Ward’s favorites. Sarah boasts, “He’s been my main man since 2006 and my mom just loved him. Every year he impresses me more and more.” Not only is Tyler the horse that took her through her

first show after her mom’s death, but winning has become a standard for Sarah and the 14-year-old bay gelding. Their roster of ribbons and wins is impressive: Capital Challenge

Warmbloods Today 51

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