Jun 04, 2022

The Father-Daughter Dance of a Lifetime: Volunteering is Only Half the Fun for Florida Duo

John and Amanda Ang. Photo courtesy of the Angs.

The horse show dad is a common sight in the equine community. Their portrait is a familiar one: cellphone hip holster, ball cap, boat shoes that should never see the light of day around a horse but somehow remain unscathed, and a bag of carrots protruding from a pant pocket. For some of us, the horse girl phase never wore out and neither did our dads, but for Amanda Ang that sentiment goes the extra (few hundred) miles every April when she and her father John road trip from Florida to Kentucky for the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.

“I feel pretty blessed. My dad had gotten into horses with me and then just fell in love with the sport, too,” says Amanda. It all started when Amanda, or “Mandy” as John lovingly refers to her, was 6 years old. In an atypical opportunity, Amanda’s local YMCA had a riding program and it was there that she picked up the contagious riding bug. That bug turned into a habit and she soon found herself riding at a hunter jumper barn in Winston-Salem, North Carolina after her family picked up and left Virginia when John received a job opportunity in pharmaceutical sales. At age 11, they moved again. This time to Georgia. Amanda found another riding opportunity that was a bit eclectic—a hand built barn where another horse-crazed little girl resided. The girl’s father had built the place and they offered riding opportunities. Amanda helped out at the barn and found a fast friend.

“We spray-painted her two-horse trailer purple and we’d drive it around to the events in Georgia,” says Amanda. “Oh gosh, we didn’t know anything,” she said, giggling at the memory and the blissful ignorance that often comes prepackaged with youthful days. Amanda kidded about not having a trainer and just jumping—quite literally—right into eventing because it was something her friend wanted to try. Together, they showed up at notable farms like Pine Top and Big Bear when Amanda wasn’t away at camp.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Ang

“I worked every summer in upstate New York at a camp called Sprucelands,” says Amanda. Located in Java Center, New York this camp offered aspiring equestrians the opportunity to have equine thrills while honing in on riding and horsemanship skills, which was—as one would guess—a perfect summer spent up north. While exercising her teaching competence, Amanda recalls the late Susan Harris—international clinician, riding teacher, and author—offering clinics, which kept the spirit of “always being a student” present for Amanda and her peers.

For Amanda and many of us who have had similar opportunities or experiences, somewhere in the background was a supportive parent or guardian, like her father John. While still at the hand built barn with her Georgian friend, Amanda was presented with the golden opportunity that every young equestrian hopes for: the chance to own her very own horse.

“They were going to shut down the trail riding program and they had this horse named Honey that I was in love with, and my parents knew I was pretty serious with the horse bug, and so they bought her for me,” says Amanda. “She was a mutt. A quarter horse and saddlebred cross—a chestnut. Her withers were a little lower than her hind-end, but it fit. We didn’t know any better and she just loved to jump.” Amanda remembers having acres to ride in and jumping over logs or whatever was lying around. It was a combination of enthusiasm for the sport and a stubborn lust for adventure that kept Amanda pursuing a life with horses, even at the tipping point of high school graduation when that passion either urges you to hang on or hang it up.

“I met Mary Fike,” says Amanda, with an obvious admiration and turning point in her voice. Amanda had a gleaming resume when it came to horse experience—thanks to her summers in New York—and those years led her to a volunteer gig at the Olympics when they came to Atlanta, Georgia in 1996. “I got to do the Atlanta Cup—which was the test run—and then came back and worked that summer for the Olympics, which also happened to be the year that I graduated from high school and met Mary.” Mary Fike is the Kentucky Three-Day Event stable manager, and along with her skill of running a smooth operation of the stables and stable office (among many other tasks), she left a lasting impression on Amanda’s perspective of the sport.

“Mary was a big advocate of ‘If you’re going to ride, you’re going to volunteer.’ It was kind of like you pay your dues back to your sport,” says Amanda. Serving as a working student for Mary, Amanda helped teach riding lessons at her farm and obtained a degree in equine education from the University of Louisville. Upon graduating college, Amanda worked for Mary for years. “My first year working Rolex in the stable office, my dad came up to visit and just got hooked—he loved it,” says Amanda. “He’d always been the horse show dad…It was really when I started working for Mary that he’d come out and work at the farm. He started working Rolex and quickly got roped into working her other events, too.” John is now 78 years old and he looks forward to the Kentucky Three-Day Event each April with Amanda.

“The most important part is riding back and forth with Mandy,” says John about the trek from Florida—where Amanda and John now live—to Kentucky. “But the volunteering part lets us meet a lot of nice people. You know, it’s a really special time—I just always really look forward to the last week of April,” says John. He and Amanda spend most of their time in Kentucky working the stable office and meeting everyone at the Event: horses, riders, owners, grooms—even the international competitors and their teams.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Ang.

“Everyone knows him, he knows everybody,” says Amanda. “And just getting to be that involved with the elites of the sport is just special. He gets his golf cart—he gets the one with the bed—and he’ll just run whatever errands you need, and he just loves to do it,” says Amanda. The 10-day trip is all about enjoying each other’s company and getting back to their roots that were planted way back at that YMCA in Virginia. This trip has become a permanent fixture on the calendar for John despite Amanda having to skip a few years when she had children. He’s proudly and humbly attended every Land Rover Kentucky Event since 1998.

“It’s just enjoying the whole week with him,” says Amanda. “It’s not only me getting back to my sport and being around all of my area VIII people who I love so much—I’ve got a whole other family up there who I just love—but I get to do it with him.”

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USEA Podcast #363: Team Talk | Paris, Here We Come!

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