Winning one’s third attempt at a novice horse trials is a feat, but even more so when it happens on another person’s horse just two months after being introduced to the sport. For Sierra Lesny, who topped a field of 21 to win the senior novice rider division at the Rocking Horse Spring Horse Trials, April 1-3 in Altoona, Florida, the victory was the culmination of a winter of training and learning.
Lesny, 25, is this year’s recipient of Strides for Equality Equestrians’ (SEE) Ever So Sweet scholarship, which allowed her to spend the winter training with eventing professional Sara Kozumplik at her Ocala, Florida, location.
Lesny has been around horses since before she can remember. Her grandmother owned an “up-down lesson barn” in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where Lesny spent her formative years.
“I was riding before I could walk, just a useless blob on a horse,” Lesny said with a laugh. “I got to grow up riding everything, running around the barn, riding bareback, all the things kids do with horses before they develop any fear.”
Lesny took an interest in showing, but her family didn’t have ponies that could compete at the A shows. So, Lesny took to catch-riding.
“I learned so much from doing that,” she said. “I got opportunities to ride with some incredible trainers and show some wonderful ponies. It helped me become a better rider.”
After earning her degree at Pennsylvania State University, Lesny took a job in the nonprofit world. But the pull of horses was too strong to resist, and she returned to the barn. She now works as a groom at various farms, riding any chance she gets.
When she saw the SEE scholarship program, she knew it was worth applying for, even though she’d never been to a horse trials. “Why not give it a shot?” she asked herself.
Working with Kozumplik was the highlight of the Ever So Sweet experience for Lesny, who speaks warmly about her coach’s dedication and generosity.
Lesny arrived in Florida with a 4-year-old, off-track Thoroughbred borrowed from a generous friend, but the mare was green, and Kozumplik wanted Lesny to have a chance to really get the feel of eventing. So Kozumplik gave Lesny the ride on Sebastian, a former upper-level horse owned by Ever So Sweet scholarship co-founder Edy Rameika, to introduce her to the sport.
“I always knew that Sebastian would take care of me out there, and that gave me so much confidence,” Lesny said.
Kozumplik also gave Lesny the chance to ride with other greats, including Olympic eventer and former Canadian team coach Peter Gray, British dressage trainer Ian Woodhead and British eventing legend William Fox-Pitt.
“It was funny to get to ride with Peter Gray the second time I ever sat in a dressage saddle,” Lesny said.
Lesny knew she would love jumping cross-country; what surprised her was how much she took to dressage.
“It makes you so in tune with the horse, and I learned that I really had to refine my reactions to every footfall,” she said. “Even if I go back to hunters, what I learned about dressage will help me so much.”
At her first horse trials, Lesny and Sebastian won the dressage and finished third in their division. And because, as she says, “horse shows come with highs and lows,” she fell off on cross-country at Rocking Horse during her second outing.
That’s why she was glad to return to the Altoona, Florida, venue for the Rocking Horse Spring Horse Trials, for her third and final competition during her time with Kozumplik. She wanted another shot at the course that she didn’t get to finish and a chance to put everything she’d learned to the test.
“It was an incredible feeling to ride through the finish flags and know I had done it,” Lesny said. “I was able to think through the things I had learned while on course and make good choices.”
Lesny’s training time with Kozumplik has concluded for now. Lesny is making her way back to Harrisburg to return to a horse-filled life of grooming, but she knows that she and Kozumplik will stay in touch and train together whenever possible.
Lesny hopes to keep eventing, especially because she found everyone at the horse trials to be “friendly and warm and kind,” and knows she soaked up every minute of her scholarship experience.
“All of this is thanks to the SEE Foundation, and I’m extremely thankful to them and to Sara,” she said. “They have applications open now, and I cannot wait to see who gets this scholarship next and what they’re able to do with it.”
To learn more about or apply for the Ever So Sweet scholarship, visit Strides For Equality Equestrians.