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RIDER REVEAL Sara Hassler

Written by Cynthia Dawn

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Posted on June 11 2020

Let’s Get it Started – Again!   

“You are amazing and nothing you do is going to disappoint me so let’s just go dance.” 

That’s the mantra Sara Hassler speaks to her horse partner, Boitano, before every show. Sara and Boitano share a palpable bond and when they enter the show ring, their finesse and harmonious relationship is centerline. 

On Saturday, June 13th, Sara and Boitano will re-emerge in the arena for the first time since global pandemic closures. For Sara, the unexpected downtime was fruitful; it was an opportunity to reflect, connect, and expand.   

QUARANTINE 

When asked what she learned about herself during quarantine, she replies definitively, and without hesitation, “I learned that I don’t do well when I have nothing to do.” She flashes an illuminated smile that IS her signature. 

And she continues. “It’s been a great time to reflect and notice where I wanted to zone in. It had me figure out what I do when I don’t have a bunch of horses in training, when I’m not teaching lessons, not showing or prepping for a show, and what I can do when I’m actually caught up on office work.”  Sara is a successful FEI Dressage Athlete and Assistant Trainer for Hassler Dressage, the highly respected family business internationally recognized for exceptional Dressage Training programs. 

“And so,” says Sara, “I focused a lot on up-leveling the routines and care of my horses. I increased their stretches and therapies and everyone went for extra hacks and outings with our team and working students.”  

 Sara and Boitano performing pre-workout stretches wearing her Kingsley Flag Sneakers. 

“I think sometimes we get stuck in our everyday routine and when we’re taken out of the familiar we realize that we are actually able to do things we never thought we could.” 

“It’s not unlike how we approach a horse if they’re stuck on the left half pass. We can just kick him to go sideways or we can think bigger and ask ourselves is their shoulder is tight, is the pole tight, or maybe their SI?  It’s the same thing for us. We can either wallow in self-pity or find personal growth. I think we have to choose self-growth.” Sara’s metaphor is resonant and her perception is wise beyond her years. Perhaps the gifts of isolation for all of us is fresh perspective, reframing what we perceived as absolute, and re-emerging a better version of ourselves. 

As a business, Hassler Dressage also expanded, during the downtime, in the realm of education. “We started a consulting outreach because so many riders were not able to go to their barns or take normal lessons. It’s been a lot of fun and very successful! We’re offering virtual lessons, video review, and insights on rehabilitation and nutrition. I feel like we’ve grown so much and that’s just cool!  

BOITANO 

Whenever Sara speaks about Boitano, who she affectionately refers to as Tano, she lights up!  “Tano and I are so similar its crazy. We’re both extremely sensitive and very dramatic -- drama queens actually!” She laughs. “The only difference is that I call myself out and Tano basks in it. I love that about him!” 

For Sara, dancing with Tano is a dream come true. “As a little girl I would have dreams about flying on a Pegasus and that’s exactly what it feels like on Tano! The minute I get on him, I’m centered. It’s like he was made just for me and that’s what comes out in the show ring.” Sara and Tano have had some great successes already. The pair ended the 2019 season tied for Reserve Champion for Intermediare I at the national Festival of Champions and they swept the three CDI small tour classes at Devon. Boitano is owned by John and Leslie Malone of Harmony Sporthorses. 

“Tano is very expressive and he doesn’t do anything without his entire being. We’re the same that way. That’s why we mesh together so well. We may not be the most extravagant all the time, but we are definitely harmonious.” 

 “When we dance, it’s this deep conversation that nobody else hears and it’s the conversation that leaves me inspired. There’s not one single day with Tano that is not a great day.” 

Sara is an extraordinary rider, but her knowledge and wisdom about horses is vast and goes far beyond the saddle. She is extremely well-informed with the rehabilitation process, based on her experience with bringing her own horses back from what was thought to be career ending injuries. She is also passionate about proper nutrition for high performance horses and her adeptness is reflected in their thoughtful and effective horse regimens.   

How is it possible for such a young woman equestrian to possess such high-level expertise? Sara credits her Mom and Dad. “Both of my parents are incredible horse people so I grew up under excellence. They are exceptional in every sense of the word-- exceptional riders, trainers, and clinicians. Their love and care for horses is paramount and I can only dream of adopting a fraction of who they are.” 

One cannot help but notice the characteristics Sara carries from both of her parents. Her father Scott is a world class Dressage Trainer, GP Rider and Equestrian Coach with athletes in the Pan American Games and the upcoming 2021 Olympic Games. Sara’s mother, Susanne is also an acclaimed Dressage Trainer and GP Rider who stills holds the record for the highest scoring American in the FEI Young Horse World Championships. It’s no wonder that their daughter is also exceptional and, in my observation, has adopted much more than a fraction of her parents positive traits while also carving out her own authentic path as a rider, trainer and horse woman.   

INSPIRATION 

“My Dad is my greatest inspiration, as I have gone deeper into the sport. And I get emotional every time I talk about it. He was just as invested in me back when I was doing training level tests with project horses as he is now. His dedication inspires me! And he’s invested in everyone who rides in front of him. He gets as excited about teaching the trot to an amateur as he does about coaching someone at the Pan Am Games.” 

She proudly speaks about Coach Scott’s perseverance. “This sport is filled with highs and lows, and as a coach, as an instructor, as a mentor, you take on your students lows as well as their highs -- and it can be a heavy burden. But it doesn’t bring my Dad down. He takes it in stride and finds a way to push through and also help the rider through. I’m really lucky for what we get to do together.”  

SHOWING AND RITUAL 

Sara is a performer and shines brightly in the show ring. “I love everything about showing, seriously!  I love stressing the night before over fajitas and a mojito! I love waking up early and consuming way too much caffeine. And I especially love the blissful moment when I’m braiding Tano and thinking about the test. Tano does this amazing thing. It takes about 25-40 minutes for me to braid him depending on how much we snuggle. The first 10 minutes he just hangs out and kind of side eyes me. We snuggle and I say,   

“You are amazing and nothing you do is going to disappoint me so let’s just go dance.” 

“Then I kid you not, I lean over and kiss him, he twitches his head and then he goes to sleep. He literally takes a nap during the rest of the braiding time! I finish, put his blanket on, and I go get into my own headspace. That’s the time I do something my Mom taught me. I play music in my AirPods and I envision riding the perfect test, like really perfect without any mistakes at all. And I channel that energy into my actual test, because success is created in your own mind.” 

Sara and Boitano's show ritual

“Then, when I’m mounted and outside of the ring, it’s my game face; I even have a smolder. I think it’s the only time I’m not smiling. But the minute the bell rings, I roll my shoulders back, I engage my core a little more and I smile. My smile – that’s my thing -- it’s a signal to me like let’s go do this.”  

DRESSAGE ATTIRE 

Anyone who sees Sara and Boitano in the show ring surely notices their impeccable sense of style and high-quality dressage attire. “At the end of the day we are all little girls and boys playing dress up in the adult world.” Sara says playfully. “And as equestrians we get to dress our ponies up too! I mean you gotta bring fashion in – it’s a big, fun part of it!” 

 “My Kingsley Capri boots are my most favorite item in my entire dressage attire! They’re incredibly comfortable which is not always the case with dressage boots; my feet are actually more comfortable in these boots than regular shoes. They’re perfect! You get to design them yourself and Kingsley is super dedicated to making them fit perfectly.” 

Sara's custom Kingsley Capri Boots. photo credit: Elizabeth Hay, Platinum Performance

“The Dressage Store is the best source for dressage clothing and tack! The staff is excellent and always goes above and beyond for their customers. I love that I can genuinely refer my clients there!” Sara says enthusiastically. The Dressage Store is a provider of high-quality dressage products for enthusiasts of all levels. With a new storefront in Wellington, Florida and an extensive online store, they carry superior dressage collections including Kingsley, PS of Sweden, Stockholm, KEP, JUULS and more. 

WHAT’S IN YOUR TACK ROOM SARA HASSLER? 

“A lot of Kingsley boots, shoes, and bridles, a lot of Custom Saddles, KEP Helments, Sports Innovations Blankets, Flexineb, a cold laser, my medicine kit, a secret stash of leather whole punchers and even more importantly than all of that…the secret weapon horse barns all across America and hopefully Europe too—a label maker!

I LOVE labeling and organizing! I even labeled my label maker!” She flashes her signature smile once again. 

If Sara and Boitano had a label I believe it would read, The Best is Yet to Come!

Cindy Dawn is an Author, Freelance Writer, Mindfulness and Awareness Coach and Horse Mom.