Friday, Mar. 1, 2024

Throwback Thursday: A Sagacious Decision Puts Sammis On The Pan Am Path

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Grand Prix dressage horse Sagacious HF died over the weekend, at age 24. The Dutch Warmblood gelding had an enduring career in which he took multiple riders to Grand Prix, including Lauren Sammis, Caroline Roffman and Chase Hickok, before becoming a schoolmaster for younger riders Alessandra Ferrucci and Jordan Lockwood. He last showed in 2022, contesting the Adequan/USEF Young Adult Brentina Cup Championship at age 23 with Lockwood

Of the many people who successfully competed Al and the late Judy Guden’s gelding, it was his partnership with Sammis which shaped him. The pair were selected for the 2007 Pan American Games (Brazil) where they helped the U.S. win team gold and captured individual silver behind teammates Chris Hickey and Regent. In this article, originally published July 5, 2007, during the run-up to the 2007 Pan Ams, we look back at the partnership that made Sammis’ name in the competition world and the horse who enriched so many riders’ lives.



For years, people sought out Lauren Sammis when they wanted to buy a dressage horse. She prided herself on representing quality horses and making good matches through Sammis Sales LLC. And although she achieved various accolades with different horses, the nicest ones always moved on to new homes too quickly.

But all of that’s changed since Sammis, 36, paired up with Sagacious HF. What started as an evaluation for yet another sale has blossomed into a partnership that’s taking horse and rider to the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In less than two years, Sammis has taken Sagacious from first level to the small tour, and the 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Welt Hit II—Judith) is already schooling the Grand Prix movements. They won the reserve championship at the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Intermediaire I Dressage Championship (New Jersey) and earned a spot on the Pan Am squad along with Christopher Hickey and Katherine Poulin-Neff, with Susan Dutta as the traveling reserve.

“Everybody knows me in the industry because I do have a very strong sales business,” said Sammis. “I’ve always been around. But this has totally changed how people perceive me as a professional. I’m not just a sales rider anymore. Now I’m a Pan American rider.”

That doesn’t mean Sammis, of South Orange, New Jersey, isn’t proud of her business.

“I’ve always had dreams of being able to make U.S. teams and one day be on the Olympic team,” she said. “But you also have the reality that I need to make a living. Not a whole lot of people can say they support themselves and they have a good living out of just doing sales horses. That’s something that I’m very proud of.”

Sammis credited her work in horse sales for improving her riding. “I love the sales,” she said. “I get the opportunity to ride so many different horses in a year. I love preparing sales horses. I like the matching together. I get people that call me all of the time and let me know how they’re doing on their horses. I love that.”

Grand Prix rider Karen Lipp said, “I’ve bought seven horses from her that have all worked out fabulously. The one that didn’t she made right. She’s really honest when it comes to horse sales. She really takes care of the people who buy horses from her. I truly trust her.”

Sammis’ good reputation as a saleswoman was also what led her to Sagacious.

Al and Judy Guden, of Hyperion Farms, asked her to evaluate their gelding in January of 2006 because another rider hadn’t worked out for him. They thought it was time to sell him.

Lauren Sammis and Sagacious HF. Cealy Tetley Photo

From Fat To FEI
Sammis had her doubts about Sagacious when she first met him. “He was really fat,” she said with a laugh. “He was covered in cellulite. He was out of work, and he wasn’t doing much.”

After riding him once, Sammis still wasn’t convinced. She asked the Gudens if she could continue riding him for a while until he was back in shape, so she could get a better feel for his talents.

“Within weeks he started to improve dramatically,” recalled Sammis. “He lost a lot of weight and started to put on some muscle. He just kept getting better.”

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She re-negotiated with the Gudens, asking for more time to evaluate his talent. They agreed, and the pair debuted at third level, winning first or second in every class in Sammis’ winter base of Wellington, Florida. They soon moved up to fourth level and did equally well, before making their move into the Fédération Equestre Internationale levels in April.

Sagacious finished 2006 with a second place at Dressage At Devon (Pennsylvania) and won the overall North American KWPN Prix St. Georges Horse of the Year title.

“We re-evaluated again and said, ‘This is a horse we’re going to hold onto,’ ” said Sammis. “There’s never been a day when he said no or hasn’t been able to do anything.

He always tries. He learns so fast. He gets angry if I don’t ride him. He wants to be in work every day.”

Sagacious, 8, has no nickname because his full name fits him so well, according to Sammis.

“Sagacious means learned, knowledgeable or wise,” she said. “That type of confident name really fits him. He’s years older than his age. There’s just such a calm about him. He’s a very, very intelligent, centered type of animal. He’s very wise.”

As Sammis continued to progress in her training with Sagacious, she sought out six-time Olympian Robert Dover for some additional training.

“He’s an adorable horse—cute, sweet and smart. He has a nice look in his face,” said Dover. “I liked him right away. I told Lauren that I thought he was a really high quality horse.”

Sammis already had her eye on the Pan Am trials, but Dover was adamant that they start working on Grand Prix movements.

“I think he will be a better Grand Prix horse than he is at Prix St. Georges and Intermediaire I,” said Dover. “He has a very natural piaffe and passage, and very nice changes through the ones. I said, ‘Go ahead and do the Pan Am Games. It will be fun. It’ll be a foot in the door, and that’s nice. But be thinking about the Grand Prix.’ ”

She’s All American
Thinking about the Grand Prix, or at least about riding in general, has been on Sammis’ agenda ever since she can remember.

“I always said to my father that I wanted to do horses,” she recalled. “He didn’t think that was a really good career choice. He wondered, ‘How are you going to make money? How are you going to support yourself? You should have a real job and do horses on the side.’ He was adamant that I go to college and get a degree. Now he’s the one who’s my biggest supporter. He’s in awe that I’ve done what I’ve done.”

Sammis started in eventing but switched to pure dressage at 17. “I didn’t like the jumping. I fell off every time!” she said laughing.

She started working for Lendon Gray and continued on and off throughout college. She currently rides with Canada’s Ashley Holzer.

“I also worked for Tempel Farm [Ill.] for two years. I worked for Tina Konyot, who made a huge improvement in my riding,” said Sammis. “Todd Flettrich helped me a great deal with this horse and coming up through the ranks. He was a key part of the whole thing. I worked with Michelle Gibson. I’ve worked with a lot of people.”

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But Sammis never headed to Europe to further her education. “I was a working student for over 15 years. I worked for it,” she said. “I always stayed here. I never felt like I wasn’t learning where I was. I never felt the need to get up and go there.”

So she will head to Rio without any mileage in the international show ring, but Sammis is only looking forward to the experience.

“I’m starting to get excited to go to Brazil to see the country. The fact that we’re actually going there for a horse show hasn’t really hit me,” she said. “But it’s a horse show, the same as every other horse show you go to. You need to ride the same and keep your head on the same.

“It will definitely be a test for me, because I’ve never been in that situation,” she added. “I’ll need to keep my head down and treat it as any other horse show. If I do that, then I know I will be successful.”

The team aspect is also something that Sammis is looking forward to at the Pan Ams.

“Riding is a one-man sport. It’s my first experience being a team member,” she said. “But if you had to pick somebody to be on your team, these are three very good riders. I think that we have a really strong chance at a team medal. I think the team camaraderie will be fun. It will be nice to go watch your team members train and have that support from the sidelines.”

While Sammis expects she’ll be nervous, she hopes that will enhance her riding instead of hindering it. 

“When I get nervous about things, I actually get a little bit quieter and retreat into myself,” she said. “I sit down and really think about my rides. I analyze every moment. I think that when I do get nervous it’s not such a bad energy. I think that it makes me concentrate harder.”

Regardless of how the competition goes, Sammis knows she and Sagacious have exciting times ahead of them.

“I think the next step is to start to concentrate more on the Grand Prix,” she said. “It’s one thing to do parts of the Grand Prix and another to be a Grand Prix horse. He’s not a Grand Prix horse at the moment. He’s only 8 years old.”

And people won’t view her as strictly a sales rider any longer. “This is really the first situation where I’ve been able to have a horse over an extended amount of time. It lets me show people that I can train a horse,” she said. “Yes, I can ride sales horses, and I can present sales horses, but it’s a different thing to say that you can train a Grand Prix horse.”

“I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of her,” agreed Lipp. “I think we’ll be seeing this horse in the Grand Prix. I think it’s going to be a really special team for a long time.”

And no matter how their move into the Grand Prix goes, Sammis isn’t one to lose her perspective. She rides with a pink ribbon pin on her lapel because Judy Guden is a breast cancer survivor, and she lost a friend to
breast cancer.

“I realize every single day that I’m truly blessed with my life,” she said. “I have a fabulous horse. I have fantastic owners. I’m surrounded by my family. I have a partner that really supports me. There are so many things in life that we can’t control. I realize every day that I’m so lucky to do what I do and so lucky to have the people around me that I do.”

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