Sharlena Sarmast’s true affinity for horses began to show through when she was a little girl.
“It’s the funniest thing: I’d take her to those pony rides at the pumpkin patch, and I literally would run out of money because she would not get off,” her mother, Karen Sarmast, said chuckling. “She’d say, ‘Again!’ and would be laughing.”
Coming from a long line of equestrians in the family, it was only natural that Sharlena would begin riding as soon as she was old enough.
“My grandfather rode, my husband’s father rode and my father rode,” Karen added, “so I think she got it from both sides.”
Moreover, Sharlena remembers watching her mom, who also grew up riding, compete in equestrian dressage.
“My mom introduced me to it when I was younger, so I just took it on really,” Sharlena said.
Learning to get back on the horse
When she was quite young, Sharlena had a bad fall off a horse, and spent the next couple of years too nervous to get back in the saddle.
“Then, my mom got me a little mini-pony,” Sharlena recalled. “She wanted to bring me back (to horses) because she was like, ‘I know she loves it.’”
Slowly, Sharlena began her reintroduction to horses and was able to rediscover her passion.
“Eventually, I was like, ‘OK, I want to try it now,’ and I did — and then I ended up liking it more and more,” Sharlena added.
At 9, Sharlena began riding again, and by 10, she was competing professionally. Now at 15, she’s a U.S. Equestrian Federation show jumping junior competitor for the California region.
Leaping into the pros
Four years ago, Sharlena got Caretani Z, a 10-year-old Holsteiner imported from Germany, and the pair began working hard to get into the show ring.
“We got him when he was 6, so he was a little green and hyper,” Karen said. “They grew up together … it’s been nice to see.”
Sharlena agreed, adding, “My old trainer used to say that it’s really tough (riding a younger horse) because they’re so green, and they don’t know what they’re doing and you’ve got to kind of guide them … (but) I like growing with them, learning together.”
Since then, she and Caretani have formed a bond that’s unmatched by other horses she’s competed with, including a mare she won with in recent competitions, she said.
“I did really well on her, and we won a lot of stuff, but I didn’t really have that connection and I didn’t really enjoy it as much, but with him it’s more enjoyable,” Sharlena added.
Though her mother competed in dressage, Sharlena said she’d always been drawn to show jumping.
“I tried other things, but I didn’t really like them as much,” she said. “In show jumping, you’re going really fast, you’ve got that adrenaline pumping. … It’s really fun.”
“She likes the thrill,” Karen added, calling Sharlena a bit of a daredevil.
The Sarmasts recently moved up to Canyon Country so Sharlena could be closer to Summerland Farms Inc. in Sand Canyon and Caretani, along with her trainer Mike Hebert.
“Now we can come to the barn, and she can be with the horses longer,” Karen said. “We’re just excited because it’s our first year with this team.”
For Sharlena, the move is the perfect opportunity for her to continue advancing.
“Now I’m ready to move up and take (on a) more advanced level,” she said. “I just like the positive energy here. Mike’s really good. He explains a lot of things thoroughly, and I’ve learned so much with him … and I’m enjoying it, too.”
More time, more training
Since COVID-19 hit, Sharlena used her spare quarantine time focused on training and riding more than ever.
That dedication showed through when Sharlena was given her first opportunity to compete again in July, winning champion of the 1 meter jumpers in a two-day competition sponsored by Tex Sutton Equine Transportation at the Showpark Summer Festival at Blenheim Equisports in San Juan Capistrano.
“That’s my favorite show, because it was a nice comeback,” Sharlena said.
“Her trainer said, ‘Just get in there and do what you have to do because you haven’t been to the show in six months,’ so she got in there, and she didn’t knock and she won — it was a great way to start,” Karen added.
Sharlena quickly began to get her rhythm back as competitions began springing up again.
“(Caretani) was really good, but this year, we were able to travel and travel and travel, and he even got better — they both did — so we’re happy,” Karen said.
Now, as Sharlena prepares for her next competition in Canada in January, with team members to mentor and inspire her, Sharlena is looking at the future with bright eyes.
“My goal is to move up and move up faster,” she added. “My barn mate is doing 1.45 meter, so I want to get to that level and be able to do really well. She tries to give me tips on how to improve, which is awesome.”