Ask most adults when they started riding, and a contest of youth ensues. Susie sat on her first pony when she was 5. Billy rode double with his father when he was 2. Sally jumped her first fence with her mother in utero.
Sara Parriott breaks that mold—at 64, Parriott is the proud owner of an off-the-track Thoroughbred hunter, and she took her very first riding lesson at 45. Her interest was sparked some 20 years ago when she found herself on the rail at the Foxfield Riding School near Thousand Oaks, Calif., watching her daughter, Hannah, learning to ride.
“I sat and watched her for a while, and then I said, ‘I’m getting in that arena too!’” Parriott said with a laugh.
Parriott had begged her parents for a horse as a child, but they only indulged her so far as trail riding a family horse around fields with a friend near her native Findlay, Ohio. At 45, she was determined to get the proper English riding education she missed out on as a child. Luckily Parriott, a screenwriter and humorist by trade, came readily armed with the sense of humor required for picking up a hobby late in life.
“I started out, and I was in the beginner ring with 8-year-olds, and we were trotting around going ‘Do you like Blinkie? Well I like Happy better,’” Parriott said.
In the 30-year gap between Parriott’s pleasure riding as a teen and her first true lessons, she graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and moved to New York City to work in textile design.
“I didn’t like it, so then I came out here [to California] with a boyfriend, of course,” Parriott said. “I started writing, and I did humor books, like humorous drawings and captions, and they actually got published when I was 23 or 24.”
Parriott enjoyed the writing side of cartoons more than drawing, so her brother recommended she get into his line of work in the screen writing industry. While he taught Parriott about the business, she published a particularly popular humor book called Futile: The Magazine of Adult Dating.
“That got optioned to be a movie, it never got made, but that’s how I got my foot in the door and got an agent,” she said.
Parriott teamed up with writing partner Josie McGibbon and together they wrote a number of popular films and TV series, including Runaway Bride starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, Desperate Housewives, and most recently a Disney Channel movie called Descendants 2, which was just released in July of this year. Parriott and McGibbon were nominated for an Emmy in 2007 for their work on the TV series The Starter Wife, and they won a Writers Guild of America award in 2016 for the first Descendants film.
Despite the demands of her career Parriott was determined to make headway with her riding—after a few years taking lessons at Foxfield she purchased her own horse, an off-the-track Thoroughbred. She boarded him at trainer Shauna Pennell’s farm and began taking lessons with her. The horse was forced into early retirement due to wobbles, so Parriott put him out to pasture and started riding another horse in the barn, a warmblood named Sammy, who she eventually bought.
“He’s the one I really started showing on in just old lady hunters, I think the highest I ever did was 3′, but I mostly just did 2’9″ low hunters,” Parriott said. “We showed maybe four or six times a year. I love my barn because there’s a bunch of old ladies like me so it’s more of a social event going to the shows and watching everybody. I really like that about it, everybody is great, we all cheer each other on.”
When Sammy was ready to retire, he came home with Parriott to live in her backyard farmette in Thousand Oaks. The line between home and horse space gets a little blurry at the Parriott household.
“My husband gets mad because I let them up on the lawn part, and they break the sprinklers and trample the plants, but I just love to have them around,” Parriott said. “The very first horse I had out there was a retired horse from Foxfield, and we have an overhang covered table, and he used to walk around the dining table, just walk around this table while I had company over, and that was heaven to me. When I thought about having a horse as a kid that was it, it was that, the horse in your house.”
When the retirees aren’t traipsing around the yard, Parriott enjoys taking them out for rides around the neighborhood.
“I trail ride them around, and I have a whole set of friends that are just like, let’s get on our horses around 4 o’ clock and tool around, look at other people’s yards,” Parriott said with a laugh. “It’s really fun, but you have to have a horse who doesn’t mind blowers and kids on skateboards and stuff like that, but that’s really fun.”
Parriott’s current competition horse is Ferdinand, Ferdi for short, an off-the-track Thoroughbred she’s owned for six years. They show in the low adult hunters at shows around the Los Angeles area.
“What’s really been nice is the last couple years I’ve noticed that the judges have really liked Ferdi as a Thoroughbred, and I get so proud when he wins an under saddle, because he wasn’t very expensive,” Parriott said. “I know I’m with very expensive horses, so it’s kind of fun to have your cheap off-the-track Thoroughbred win the under saddle.”
Ferdi is more than a just a pretty face in the hack—he also does well with Parriott in his over fences classes.
“I always say we win if I don’t mess up, and it’s really nice to have a horse like that. I feel really, really horse fortunate,” Parriott said. “And I keep telling him, when you can’t do this anymore, there’s a backyard waiting for you, and we’ll go tooling around and check out everyone else’s lawn furniture!”
Parriott’s journey through the sport is unconventional and came with its own unique challenges and unexpected benefits.
“Nothing drove my passion as much as just learning how to do it and that discipline,” Parriott said. “It was like, OK, I’m going to go, and I’m sitting here with 6- and 8-year-olds that are getting moved up faster than I am.
“Foxfield has three rings, and you started in Hitchcock, and I remember being 47 and one of the little girls that I tried out with got moved up to the next arena, and I almost cried, I had to hold back tears, I so wanted to get into the second ring,” Parriott continued, laughing. “I was trying so hard! So it was incredibly humbling and just fun to have that much passion for something at that point in your life, just sort of a fresh thing to invigorate yourself to be different and meet different people.”
When it comes to goals for herself and Ferdi in the competition arena, Parriott paused before admitting she didn’t really have anything big or involving ribbons and placings in mind.
“I’d like to get him to go in a better frame,” Parriott said with a laugh. “Riding is sort of the first thing in my life that I didn’t care about anything other than getting better than I was. I always wanted to just be called a good rider, and it didn’t have to be a fabulous rider but just a good rider.”
Perhaps Parriott’s mindset follows from her late-in-life involvement with the sport—she truly appreciates the simple things about riding that a child who’s never been without a mount couldn’t quite understand.
“Even after 20 years it’s absolutely thrilling to me. Sometimes I just can’t believe that I get to have a horse,” Parriott said. “It was all I wanted, I got it, I fulfilled my dream, and I feel so lucky, just lucky to be able to do that.”