Amateurs Like Us: Flexible Goals Help Sue Church Find Success

Jun 24, 2014 - 4:44 PM
Sue Church has to balance her riding with work and commuting, but she's enjoying competing Five O'Clock Somewhere again. Photo by Captured Moment Photo

It takes a lot of planning and many hours in Los Angeles traffic every week, but amateur eventer Sue Church finds time to get to the barn and ride her two event horses in between running her medical benefits and employee insurance company and her side business, Elegant Accents By Sue, that specializes in custom spur straps.

All those hours in the car are worth it when she pulls into Kingsway Farm in Temecula, Calif., to ride her veteran Five O’Clock Somewhere and youngster Flirtini.

“I find that my goals have to be flexible because as amateur, things change with me,” she said. “I hate to say it, but I am getting older and things don’t heal quite as quickly as they used to, so I’ve had to be a little bit more flexible with my goals. But I would have to say I am meeting them because I’m enjoying my nice horse ‘Chunky’ and have taken on the challenge of a new young horse.”

Church, who’s worked in her professional field for 25 years, lives an hour and a half from Kingsway in San Dimas. She’ll drive to the barn, often answering calls on the way there or listening to a book on tape, try to ride both horses, and stay in her trailer’s living quarters so she’s able to ride again the next morning before she heads home to work again.

“Time is a big problem,” she said. “In Los Angeles traffic, it takes juggling of time. If I don’t get on the freeway by 12 o’clock on a Friday, it will take me three hours to get there. It takes a lot of the fun out of it. I have to be aware of my time in that way.”

To pass the time at night in her trailer, she’ll work on custom spur straps.

“It’s my entrepreneurial foray,” she said. “I’m hoping it’s going to pick up. I never knew I could have an artistic endeavor, but I’m finding that there’s maybe a little artistic streak in me. I started and now I can’t stop buying the crystals! Now I have literally thousands of choices and combinations for people to choose from. It keeps my hands busy in the evening. It’s a lot of fun to go out and talk to people and have something to show them at the shows.”

Church’s husband of 24 years, Jeff, is a 767 pilot who’s also on a sporadic schedule. “We’ve always had schedules that aren’t very regular,” she said. “He travels a lot.”

Church, 51, foxhunted until she decided to take up eventing 15 years ago. “I was really enjoying that and whipping-in for the various hunts I rode with, but about that time, Galway [Downs] was just starting to build fences,” she explained. “It’s across the street from Kingsway Farm and I thought, ‘That looks like a ton of fun,’ and decided that was something I wanted to try.”

She trained with Jil Walton and when Canadian rider Hawley Bennett-Awad moved to Kingsway Farm nine years ago, the two became fast friends. “I met Hawley and decided that this was the goal for me,” she said. “I became her first client in Southern California.”

Church started Chunky, a 13-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Audio—Qtrpastree) who was bred by Kingsway, at the lower levels when she bought him and competed in a few preliminary level events before handing over the ride to Bennett-Awad.

Together, Chunky and Bennett-Awad won the CIC** at Galway Downs in 2011, finished fourth at the Jersey Fresh CCI** (N.J.) and were named to the Canadian team for the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico the same year, where they won team silver.

Bennett-Awad competed Chunky to the CCI*** level before Church decided to take the reins back this year. “As an amateur and of a certain age, I really just want to ride prelim and have a good time and be confident,” she said.

Church has been enjoying having the ride back on Chunky, who’s a full sibling to Bennett-Awad’s four-star mount Gin & Juice. “He’s matured into kind of a mellow dude and an easy going guy, which is exactly what this amateur needs,” Church said.

While she may have had to circle a few times on cross-country this season to contain Chunky’s enthusiasm, Church was thrilled to be back in the saddle of the horse she fell in love with seven years ago.

“It was a blast to get back on and get back showing again,” she said. “I figured maybe it was time for me to have some fun with him. I realized that I did miss it and that there were several times I was sitting on him thinking that I am one lucky girl to have such a nice horse.”

Church is also bringing along Flirtini (Blaver Vogel—Christie), another Kingsway homebred that she’s competing at novice. “I’m completely in love with her,” she said. “She’s just lovely. It’s very exciting to have a new horse and a going horse that’s as nice as Chunky.”

She’s hoping to complete a one-star this year with Chunky. “Then, who knows,” she said. “He’s an ideal amateur horse because he’s very forgiving and he’s fun to ride. He’s a good guy.”

This spring, Church has had to make a decision about which horse to show on a given weekend due to time and money, but she’s fine with that.

“I’ve decided that it’s really only fair for me to show one horse at a time at a show because it’s exhausting and very expensive,” she said. “You start adding it up and pretty soon, you’re at $1,000 for a weekend and holy cow! That’s a lot of money.

“It’s not always about the ribbon, it’s a lot of the time about doing the things that you set out to do really well,” she said. “Then finding what you need to fix so you can fix it for next time because there’s always something that needs to be tweaked or reworked. I love it. I have never grown out of horses. My parents were always hopeful that I would but I never did! It’s so worthwhile. There’s nothing better than having a really good ride on my nice horses. It’s the best thing in the world.”

This is the second in “Amateurs Like Us,” a series of articles about amateur riders juggling busy careers with show ring success. Are you one of those inspiring amateurs? Do you know one? Email us and tell us more and maybe you’ll be next in the series!


Category: Eventing

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