To all of the enthusiastic equestrians out there, five-star eventer Sara Gumbiner says, “dream even bigger.” Aboard her longtime partner Polaris (Brandenburg’s Windstar x North River Lady), Gumbiner has transitioned from daring young rider to bold international competitor. Fueled by hard work, a great support system, and a knack for ending up exactly where she should, Gumbiner went from competing in her first recognized event to her first Kentucky Three-Day Event CCI5* in just eight years.
With Gumbiner and her team settled in Southern Pines, North Carolina for the winter months, Event Clinics was able to catch up with Gumbiner shortly after the New Year to talk about the value of clinics, big dreams, and great coaching.
As she balances the demands of operating her own Evermore Eventing with competitive ambitions, Gumbiner is finding time to share some of what she has learned with riders of all experience levels at clinics nationwide.
“My favorite thing about teaching clinics is traveling to new barns, experiencing new places, new programs, and new people. I’m interested in seeing the main principles that other people teach around the country, and meeting new students - seeing what they bring to the table, what their goals and ambitions are.”
“All of the groups are so fun, too. A game kid on a game pony, for example. That is so much fun to teach. It’s so incredibly adorable, for starters. And, the sky’s the limit! Goals and dreams and ambitions are so big they can’t even talk about them.”
“I also love helping amateurs who are super analytical and overturning everything, because when you can take that rider and break it down so simply that they can’t overthink anything, then they can’t help but have a lightbulb moment.”
“One of the hardest things as an instructor is to really find the root of an issue a rider is having rather than just quick-fixing symptoms. There’s nothing more exciting than finding the root of a rider’s problem and watching their resulting ‘lightbulb’ moment as we work through it.”
“So many riders have this reaction of ‘Oh my god, why has nobody ever told me that before?!’ and for me as an instructor, that moment is a total adrenaline rush.”
“The only reason we go after the eventing world is that we are adrenaline junkies, so naturally we look for adrenaline in every situation. I find those rushes in the nervous energy that comes with traveling and meeting new people, and watching some get super stoked about my help with their horse.”
Gumbiner’s teaching style has been largely shaped by great equestrian mentors and experiences in varied programs. She grew up riding in New Jersey with Tracy Wagner, whose program’s focus on centered riding principles and balanced seat riding, gave Gumbiner a strong foundation for eventing when she ultimately shifted her riding focus during college.
“Tracy gave me my love of horses and my crazy brave riding ability. She had me riding all kinds of horses all the time,” Gumbiner said.
Following graduation, Gumbiner went to work for Boyd Martin, who remains a committed and consistent influence in Gumbiner’s partnership with Polaris, and her career in general. Lucky for her students, Gumbiner brings much of what she learned during her immersion in Martin's program to her lessons.
Having gotten this far by being receptive to varied techniques, Gumbiner has a similar expectation from her students. “I just want my riders to come with a hunger to learn. Come wanting to learn something and have an open mind about it. I remember going to clinics as a kid and saying to myself, ‘I am going to do whatever this person says for the next hour or however long, and at the end I’ll decide what to keep.’”
“I so appreciate when my riders are honest with me. I find sometimes that rider want to hide that they’re scared, they want to come off as brave. But it helps me to teach them better if I know that fear, or something else, is involved. When there’s honesty we can communicate better about what the issues are and what the goals are.”
Gumbiner always encourages her riders to share their goals at the beginning of their clinic sessions. “After introductions and some warm-up I always like to start clinics with rideability exercises that are super safe - something like canter poles where we change up the striding or an exercise with lots of turning and jumping.”
“It doesn’t matter if you’re jumping cross rails or 3’6”, the rideability is all the same. I worked for Boyd for three years, and we did rideability/pole work three days per week, for entire jump lessons. My five-star horse got to be as good as he is because of that . . . those exercises are seriously hard!”
“A lot of what I’ve learned in eventing and classical jumping has been from Boyd. If it weren’t for him I would not have made it this far. He has been an incredible mentor and he often goes out of his way to help me and for that I am so grateful.”
“When I first started working for Boyd he took me on a hack. Looking back, I think he was trying to figure out who I was and where I came from. When I got the job, there was no application process! I mentioned something about getting lucky to work for him, and he said ‘Mate, you make your own luck.’”
“I think that’s so true. If you go through life and take opportunities and you’re kind to people you get really lucky. If you go through life and you’re mean to people and burn bridges and don’t take opportunities you might get lucky every once in a while, but definitely not as lucky as those others.”
In the coming year, Gumbiner hopes to continue to build on what she and Polaris have achieved. The pair is aimed at an April outing at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event and Gumbiner hopes they will make their overseas competition debut in the fall.
“I always saw myself doing crazy things. Sometimes, it’s easy to falter, but I think it’s so important to follow your passion and follow your instincts. If I could, I would tell my younger self that when you dream big, take a second and dream even bigger.”
To make it all happen, Gumbiner said, “The main thing is to keep priorities straight. Everyone's priorities are different, and that’s okay. If the number one goal is to compete and be competitive at the five-star level then every decision you make every single day has to guide you toward that. For my last clinic, I left at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday and got home at 1:00 a.m. on Monday. I didn’t want to miss a day of riding!”
Click here to find and easily register for upcoming opportunities to learn from Sara Gumbiner through Event Clinics. You can connect with Sara Gumbiner and Team Evermore Eventing via Facebook and on Instagram @evermore_eventing.
This is it! The weekend we've all been waiting for is finally here - the return to competition has arrived! After nearly three months of suspended competitions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept the country and the world, riders are shining up their boots and preparing to trot down the centerline. While our "new normal" will certainly look different than things did before the pandemic, these new regulations are in place for all our safety.
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