by Christine HamiltonThe American Quarter Horse Journal
A Well Dressed Man and Jessica A. Johnson
“Today was a heart-attack waiting to happen!” a smiling Sarah Elder Chabot told The American Quarter Horse Journal.
November 10 marked the AQHA World Championship Show debut for her 2008 gelding, A Well Dressed Man, aka “Calvin.” Trainer Jessica Johnson of Pickerington, Ohio, was to steer him through the progressive and the junior working hunter classes.
And Sarah, a lifelong AQHA exhibitor, found herself a nervous wreck.
“With every jump, my heart was like, ‘Ugh,’ over every fence!” she said. “As an owner and a rider, sometimes it’s hard to watch your horse go as it is actually competing. I was nervous. Jessica looked at me and said, ‘Breathe!’”
But the green horse that Sarah purchased in September 2012 proved that the hard work she’d put in on him all year long was paying off. He finished fifth in the progressive and …
“He won!” she said, and held up the gold trophy as if to prove to herself again that it had really happened: Calvin won the junior working hunter world championship.
“This has been a dream of mine for a very long time,” Sarah added. “I knew in my heart that he could do it. It’s just got to come down to that day and that ride.”
The daughter of AQHA Professional Horsemen Roger and Sandra Elder of Maryville, Tennessee, Sarah grew up in the AQHA world showing on a trainer’s shoestring budget.
Now Sarah works in riding around her full-time job as director of marketing at Blackberry Farm, a resort in the Great Smoky Mountains near Marysville where her husband, Andy, is sommelier and director of food and beverage.
Longtime friend and trainer, Karen Evans Mundy, helps her with Calvin and coaches Sarah long-distance. Sarah started training with Karen when Karen gave up her amateur card at the 2009 Adequan Select World Championship Show and started her professional career.
“Karen helped me find Calvin. I think we looked at 200 different videos,” Sarah said. “I walked in the stall and I knew I loved him. And after that first loped step, I knew I wanted him.”
“I loved his look, and I thought he moved great and was great over the jumps,” Karen said, adding that the clincher was that Calvin “was very good-minded.”
“What I love about Karen’s (training) program is that she teaches the rider how to do the work,” Sarah said. “She had Calvin (for a while) and put the lead change on him right after we bought him. Then I would go on the weekends and get in as much riding as I could. We’d meet at shows and do as much work (there).
“My training program at home is: Work until 5 or 6 p.m. and come home and hope there’s enough light left to ride by!” she continued. “I break it down into pieces and parts, as to what to work on next. Karen is a big part of that planning process."
She added: “With any green horse, there are really great, light-bulb moments, and there are also setbacks. But we knew what we wanted and just kept pushing forward. We worked with Jessica Johnson all year, and she showed him in the open classes. ... She was great to work with and listened to what we were doing and what we had been working on.”
“There is no one that I know of that works as hard as she does,” Karen said of Sarah. “(To be successful at this) you have a vision and you never take your eye off that dream. No matter what the situation, you have to just keep going forward until you achieve it. That’s what I love about Sarah: She kept going no matter what.”
Bred by Robin DeGraff of Midway, Kentucky, Calvin is by HBF Iron Man and out of Exclusive Obstacle (TB) by Ecliptical. His and Sarah’s 2013 successes leading up to the World Show included winning the amateur hunter hack at the All American Quarter Horse Congress.
But their World Show is not over: Jessica will ride him in the junior hunter hack on November 13, and Sarah has the amateur hunter hack, working hunter and equitation over fences.
For now, she’s letting it sink in that she has a world champion.
“I want to thank my parents for being always supportive and getting me into horses,” she said. “I want to thank Karen Mundy for believing me from the beginning and helping me find such an incredible horse and being here with me. I’d like to thank Jessica for giving him a great ride and piloting him around. And (trainers) Dave Miller and Scott Jones and (previous owner) Janae Bronson for giving me the opportunity to own him.”
Sarah pauses, and her emotions seem to have caught up with her. Karen gives her a small nudge and very quietly says, “And your husband.”
“OH! And my husband, Andy!” And Sarah laughed out loud. “He’ll love that! My husband who is already drinking champagne.” Actually, Andy was the first to talk to Sarah on the phone in the stands immediately after the win.
She adds this advice to other working amateurs like her: “Don’t be afraid … to narrow down what you want and go after it,” and adds how grateful she is to “have a job and people that work with me who understand my dream, too.”
It's your moment; make it last forever! Videos of individual runs and class finals from the AQHA World Championship Show are available for purchase at www.aqha.com/mymoment. Plus, you can watch AQHA World Show video footage 24/7. This new service is optimized for Internet Explorer 10, Safari and most mobile Web browsers.