How To Pull Off An International Surprise For Your Client

Jul 13, 2022 - 2:54 PM

I am a terrible liar. Seriously, I am not known for having a stellar poker face (quite the opposite, actually). So I must admit, it was nothing short of a miracle when I was able to facilitate a “secret importation” for a client.

We need to rewind a little bit. This particular client, Jess Priola, had been searching for a horse for quite some time, and finally we found the perfect match. Everything was ideal about this horse, but alas, the timing was not, and I would not have a stall available for him for a couple months. Thankfully, we were able to send him to my fantastic agent’s barn to remain in training until the appointed date.

And then the timeline changed, a stall opened up … and the wheels in my head began to turn.

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Aria (left) and her mother Jess Priola (right) were all smiles after the unexpectedly early arrival of their new horse, “Sam.” Photos Courtesy Of Sara Bradley

Months earlier, when it became clear that it was time for this particular client to begin her horse-buying journey, her husband shot me a message: “This is the time!” he enthused. “Any way you could secretly pick a horse and we make it a huge surprise??”

I had to veto this, as I felt that the concept of a surprise horse was more sound than the actual reality. Being able to pick your own horse is crucial. But now that a stall was going to open up early, maybe we could pull off the surprise of the century and have him turn up unexpectedly.

I liked this idea a lot. I texted the husband with my devious plan, and he was all in. He put the whole covert mission into my capable hands with the promise to help in any way needed. (I told him that for the moment, his only job was to guard the secret with his life.)

And then the fun began! And so did the lies.

My first message was to our super agent, Viola Abrahams, to fill her in on the plan. She was delighted to participate and was an incredibly good sport who played her part amazingly well. Any time the client would ask a question, Viola would give a just-vague-enough answer to both satisfy and confuse. Perfect. Thankfully, I had worked with Viola previously, and she knows I’m not as crazy as this whole plan made me look.

Part two was arranging his shipping without involving the client at all. This was, in my opinion, the hardest part by far. Thankfully, the whole staff at The Dutta Corp. took my request for secrecy in stride. I was to be their contact person and managed all the details pertaining to his flight and quarantine. Same deal for his ride from quarantine to my stable.

So you all might be thinking about what an easy time I had with this, and in one way, you are correct. The plan came together fantastically well from an organizational standpoint. However, the next step was spending a decent chunk of time lying to my client about almost everything. I despise lying and really don’t feel OK about it. I decided that in order to be able to maintain moral high ground, I would not lie, I would simply avoid answering with clarity. I spent a couple solid weeks mumble-shouting unhelpful answers, answering questions with more questions, and pretending I was slightly deaf. It was quite strenuous. I was also on edge about someone letting the cat out of the bag! I guarded the secret carefully and told next to nobody—but the client has a 10-year-old son who can get chatty, and my trust in him was questionable.

Thankfully, all of this nonsense came to an end when the newly acquired steed landed happily and uneventfully here in the U.S. I had become convinced that the horse would blow my cover with a case of shipping fever in quarantine, but he was as helpful as everyone else involved in executing our plan.

I told one last lie to my client: I asked that she and her daughter come along for their normal 5 p.m. lesson one evening, knowing no lesson was planned but a super-secret, surprise horse-warming party instead!

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Jess Priola (left) showed up for what she thought would be a regular lesson at Sara Bradley’s barn and was shocked to learn instead that her new horse would be arriving that evening.

Friends and family surprised the (truly shocked) new horse owner with cake, gifts and the big news that the long-awaited horse was almost to our stable. It was quite the event, and my client was too thunderstruck to process the news completely! It was amazing that through the whole process, nobody slipped and let the secret out, not even the 10-year-old son.

Sure enough, we greeted the big boy later that evening, and all of them hit it off immediately. A longtime partnership was immediately in the works!

The joy and surprise of the new owners made all of the secrecy and work worthwhile. I’m not sure if I actually recommend trying to pull off a stunt like this—but if you really want to give a rider the surprise of a lifetime, this is one way to do it!


I’m Sara Bradley, a full-time dressage trainer and part-time secret horse importer! Most of my time is spent educating young horses and young riders at my facility, Waterford Equestrian Center. (And yes, I do like to instruct mature horses and humans as well and have some lovely ones in my stable!)

When I’m not busy juggling the day-to-day activities at my farm, I enjoy activities like trail running over actual mountains and running marathons. (Life in the slow lane is not my style!) I enjoy many dressage adventures with my German Riding Pony, Dubai’s Dream, and you can follow this journey on Instagram @dubais_dream.

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