Valencia resident Sawyer Hammersley, 15, and her horse, Gorgeous George, placed sixth out of 21 riders at the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association Junior/Amateur 2’9” Medal Final in San Juan Capistrano over the Aug. 6 weekend.
Hammersley’s riding career began when she was only 4 years old. She fell in love with going to the barn and being around all the horses. For years she trained with horses from Silvergate Farms that she would lease for competitions. Although she loved the horses she was able to work with, she wanted one of her own that she could form a deep connection with.
For three years, she searched for the perfect horse for herself. This process was mainly elongated by getting her parents on board with buying a horse because, “horses are expensive.”
Toward the end of 2020, she had the opportunity to ride a horse at Silvergate Farms that was for sale, but it wasn’t George. But after riding George, in a turn of events, she felt that he was exactly what she was looking for.
The sellers allowed Hammersley to take a three-day trial riding George to ensure her decision. On the third day, the day she was supposed to make her decision, George threw a shoe and she was unable to ride him that day. Hammersley had to ask herself, “Do I like him enough to buy him without this third day?”
The answer was yes.
George was originally from Germany and was trained in dressage riding. Dressage riding is where a horse and rider perform a series of predetermined moves from memory, often seen in the Olympics.
Training George from one type of riding to another, which involved leaving the ground, was a difficult process for Hammersley and her trainer Julie O’Leary VanLoo.
“All horses when they’re starting off, no matter what kind of discipline they’re doing, it can be very difficult,” said Hammersley. “It’s like teaching a kid to ride a bike. It always has its difficulties, but you always want to praise them for their hard work, always have a positive outlook, and sometimes that can be really frustrating. But you always have to remember that it’s a team effort and it’s not always going to be perfect.”
Hammersley was, and still is, at the barn six days a week working with George.
“Even when I wasn’t riding, I was hanging out with him at the barn,” said Hammersley.
Despite having some growing pains, she always reminded herself that she had to be positive in the training process in order for her and George to maintain that connection she felt when she first rode him.
“I took a couple falls, but I had to get back on and I had to be positive and confident, and that really helped our relationship grow,” said Hammersley.
All of the pair’s hard work paid off when they were able to compete in the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association Junior/Amateur 2’9” competition. At the Medal Final, Hammersley began getting very nervous, and she quickly had to remind herself that she couldn’t, because of George.
“Horses can feel heartbeats from 10 feet away,” said Hammersley, “so it’s very hard to stay calm and keep your horse calm because when you get upset and tight, he (George) gets upset. It was really just keeping positive energy more than actual riding. It was having a positive mindset and saying, ‘We can do this,’ and then he goes, ‘OK, we can do it.’”
Hammersley’s attitude and her connection with George allowed for the two to earn sixth place at the competition out of 21 competitors.
Hammersley sets her aspirations for the pair that one day they will be able to compete at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ASPCA, Maclay in Kentucky.