You can’t miss dressage rider Sara Bartholomew as she trots down centerline on the stunning Gypsy Vanner Peperooga’s Parnoo Ori.
The equine veterinarian balances her busy work life with her dressage pursuits and is enjoying the journey along the way.
“[Connecting my career and hobby] is one of the drives that made me become a vet,” she said. “Obviously horses have always been my passion. I’ve found a way to work, but then also keep doing what I always wanted to do as a kid. I like immersing myself and have found a way to get myself in both,” she said.
Bartholomew grew up jumping but switched to dressage during college at Fresno State University (Calif.).
The aspiring vet picked Fresno State because she wanted to ride on the Intercollegiate Dressage Association team. Bartholomew spent two years riding on the school’s team of 100 girls and graduated in three years.
It wasn’t until after graduating from the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2007 that she was able to afford her first dressage saddle, and in 2012 she was able to purchase “Ori,” who would take her from first to fourth level in just a few years.
“Ori is my 30-year-old My Little Pony, because my mom wouldn’t buy me one,” said Bartholomew of the mare, who she admitted fell into her lap five years ago.
It’s not everyday that spectators see Gypsy Vanner Horses—which were bred to pull Gypsy caravans—in the dressage ring, which makes the big-boned mare with a long flowing mane all the more eye-catching.
“I think she’s a horse that makes you look twice. At first it’s like ‘oh goodness it’s a Gypsy,’ it could be good or it could be a disaster. For the most part I think people are surprised by her and appreciate her uniqueness,” said Bartholomew.
Bred by Lynn Straumann, the 11-year-old mare (Romipen—Bodi’s Peperooga), is unlike other horses of her breed, who tend to be on the lazier side.“[Ori] has some serious fire in her belly,” said Bartholomew.
She added that the mare’s effort and drive make up for the breed’s shortcomings.
“Heart can overcome talent. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of that horse is her work ethic. The mare tries very, very hard, which I think is what has gotten her to the level she’s gotten to,” said Bartholomew, who found the horse because her previous owner, Michelle Pawlowski, was a breeding client.
“People always ask me how I ended up with her, but I honestly didn’t plan to get a horse,” she admitted.
Bartholomew helped Pawlowski breed Ori, and she had two foals. The mare was already broke, and Bartholomew started riding in between pregnancies and continued once again after her second foal. When Ori was six, the pair did their first schooling show while the her last foal was still nursing. After riding her for almost two years, Bartholomew finally convinced Pawlowski, who was very attached to Ori, to sell.
In 2014 the pair made their second level debut and have since moved up the levels to Intermediaire I with the help of Bartholomew’s trainer Rachel Wade.
“Ori has her fair share of talent, but she’s still a Gypsy [Vanner] doing dressage, so there are a few things that get in her way,” she said. “She’s correct in her gaits and has a really good hind leg. Between her drive and the fact, she naturally wants to sit, I think she’s developed into a nicer horse in the upper levels than she ever was at the lower levels. If I were to rebuild her, I’d add a few inches to her front leg, and then she’d be perfect.”
Bartholomew and Wade have worked out a system where Wade will show the mare a level or two above her, so that Ori is well-prepared for the amateur’s classes.
“Rachel helps so that I have a schooled horse to sit on and can figure [the ride] out. I’ve had to take a step back so that Rachel can train her to the next level,” said Bartholomew, who tends to over-think her riding and is still working on her counting for flying changes.
While Wade finishes developing Ori, Bartholomew has been working on developing her own riding, but still stubbornly insists to ride her horse during the majority of the week, budgeting only two days for Wade to ride per week.
“As a [veterinary] professional, you must know what others need to do well. I’m a professional as a vet and an amateur as a rider. I gotta turn to another professional to ask her to do her job, so I can enjoy my hobby,” Bartholomew said.
The Vet Side of Things
Bartholomew, who is now 35 and married to Paul Resch, ended up in the Sacramento area about two hours away from where she grew up, which is also where she decided to open Capitol Equine Veterinary Services, a mobile vet practice specializing in breeding, lameness and general care. The biggest bulk of her work is ambulatory, where she goes from farm to farm in her vet truck, with all the proper supplies—fridge, water, pack and all—to practice preventative medicine and assist in emergencies. Normal vet calls include everyday care, dental work, vaccines, health checks and soundness exams. Her reproductive work is only in session during the months of February until August.
“I’d say about 85% of my work is ambulatory. I do a lot of ‘first line of defense work,’ but when I graduated I thought all I wanted to do was lameness. I’ve always had a passion for babies and love breeding work and foals. I’ve created my own clientele and a [veterinary] practice that suits what I like,” she said.
When Bartholomew isn’t spending time going to breeding, cutting, hunter/jumper, halter horse, western pleasure, sport horse or other client’s farms—she’s trailering her three horses four to five times a week for lessons at the Pacific Equestrian Center, about 10 minutes away from her house, to train with Wade.
“I’m very particular about how my horses are kept and also love caring for them myself. I actually enjoy the stalls and feeding part of it. I wake up early, feed, put my horses in the trailer, me or my trainer rides them, and then I go home to start work,” she said.
Always on call, Bartholomew works out of her house, which is on five acres in the Central Valley with a seven-stall barn and a large dressage arena in a pasture where is able to ride at least five days a week. She has three other horses, Peek-A-Boo, an Oldenburg, and her yearling son Limelight, and Gelbria, a Dutch Warmblood.
She rides first thing in the morning, normally waking up at 4:30 a.m. so that she can ride several horses, have multiple lessons, take care of her horses at home and also save time for trailering to and from the equestrian center. Some of her clients jest that she’d better not call them before 8:30 a.m., because are definitely dead asleep at that dark hour. She starts work between 9:30 a.m. or 10:00 a.m.
When asked how she balances it all, she admitted that “it depends on the day!”
“Some days it works out great, absolutely fantastic—anybody that knows me or has seen me at a horse show, has seen me arrive at the show at 5:00 a.m., go home to feed, answer calls, ride my horses, have emergencies waiting, run to a colic, get there five minutes before I have to tack up my horse and then have to run to the next emergencies. Other times, I can relax at a show all day and enjoy it. [Dressage] is better than other riding disciplines, because there’s a set time slot for when I’ll compete—otherwise I don’t know how I’d do it,” she said.
“And some days it just doesn’t work,” she added, but she’s relentless and can often squeeze her schedule to find the time.
Bartholomew bought Ori hoping that she had the talent to move up the levels, but if the horse quit tomorrow, she would be fine, because she just wants to enjoy her mare and the sport. “The first day she tells me she’s not enjoying it, we’ll do something else,” she said.