Nov 24, 2023

The Perfect Way to Conclude a Childhood Dream: Joan Harper is the Newest USEA Century Ride Award Recipient

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff
Joan Harper and Kruggerand. Brant Gamma Photography photo

Joan Harper didn’t get her chance to shine in the saddle until she was in her 50s. A lifelong horse lover, Harper trail rode and played around at a few 4-H horse shows in her younger years, but after her daughter was introduced to Pony Club, Harper started soaking up everything she could about the sport, eventually becoming a prominent face in the North Carolina eventing community as a top-tier volunteer and course decorator.

“I tell people that at 50, I started my second childhood with eventing,” joked Harper.

One day, while participating in a cross-country clinic with Denny Emerson, Harper overheard two younger riders talking about their roles as working students, and her interest piqued.

“I did the whole month of February that first winter,” she recalled. “I came down to Southern Pines from New Jersey, and then almost every year I would come there for three or four weeks to be a working student for Denny.”

Joan Harper "back in the day." Photo courtesy of Joan Harper

Harper continued that annual adventure for 15 years. Eventually, she relocated to North Carolina right next door to Emerson’s former Tamarack Hill Farms. There, she continued to blossom as a course decorator by providing her services for the Carolina Horse Park’s War Horse Event Series.

She’s managed to find time to compete as well over the years up to the Novice level, but having just celebrated her 82nd birthday, Harper decided it was time to slow things down a bit. Accomplishing a USEA Century Ride has been on her radar in the past few years, and this year she was able to do so with her partner of five years Krugerrand (Prospected x Brown Sugar), Manuel Diemer’s 18-year-old Thoroughbred gelding.

“This was my last hurrah,” said Harper. And what a hurrah it was. In addition to her Century Ride award, Harper and “Bru” were the Champion Thoroughbred Incentive Program (TIP) pair in their Green as Grass division and were the fourth-place Second Chance Award recipients. The Second Chance Award is unique to the Carolina Horse Park, and qualified off-track Thoroughbreds and rescue horses can accumulate points throughout the War Horse Event Series. They also won the Over the Moon Award sponsored by Southern 8ths Farm. This award is for amateurs over the age of 50 who continue to compete at the Carolina Horse Park. Riders receive points based on their placements at each of the competitions throughout the year, as well as “Wisdom Points” based on participation and age.

Joan Harper and Krugerrand jumping their way to their Century Ride completion. Brant Gamma Photography photo

In addition to stepping back from competing, Harper is also retiring from her duties as the cross-country decorator at the park and was honored with a lifetime membership to the Carolina Horse Park and an honorary brick engraved with her name which will surround the James P. Baker Show Pavilion.

One of Harper’s last missions was to get a little bank for the lower-level divisions instilled at the Horse Park as the smallest one at the time was Beginner Novice height. She personally contributed to making the bank appropriate for the Green as Grass level possible, with one small caveat.

“I told them I wanted the bank done in time where I could jump it!” she said with a laugh.

Through that bank and honorary brick, Harper’s influence at the Horse Park will live on forever, but those are not the only ways. Harper intends to stay on next year to educate the up-and-coming course decorators and share her wealth of knowledge with them ensuring that her legacy will be passed on for many years to come, which seems appropriate as when she looks back on her career in the eventing world, it’s her time spent decorating courses that bring her the most pride and joy.

Joan Harper was honored for many outstanding accomplishments at this year's War Horse Championships at the Carolina Horse Park. Brant Gamma Photography photo

“This was a big accomplishment,” said Harper of her Century Ride. “I set a goal, and I just prayed every day that nothing happened to upset it. If you don’t set a goal, you sort of slide back, and you don’t push on. I was riding five or six days a week; now I think I’m going to be down to three or four.”

While Bru is moving on to his new career as a trail horse with a new person, Harper is on the hunt for something smaller than the Thoroughbred gelding’s 17-hands for her to just enjoy over the next few years. After all, just because she’s retiring from showing doesn’t mean she’s done with riding.

“When people found out how old I was and that I was still out there, they would say, ‘Oh there is still hope for me!’” she said. “It is a long road, and you have to be very dedicated to keep your body and health in shape. I eat healthy. I started doing yoga and pilates because your core strength is so important, and you need to do it religiously. I do a lot of the pilates and stretching exercises every night. I eat out of my garden all winter, and I feed my body the protein it needs. It’s a lot of pieces in the puzzle. I am going to have a knee replacement here this winter, and then hopefully I can be off and running again shortly!”

Joan Harper and Bru posing with their Century Ride award. Photo courtesy of Joan Harper

About the USEA Century Ride Award

The USEA Century Ride Award, supported by Spokane Sport Horse Farm, celebrates horse and rider pairs who complete an event with a combined age of 100 or more. The horse and rider must complete an event at any level of competition. There is no minimum score requirement. Candidates who have met these conditions can fill out the award application here to be honored. Read more about past recipients here.

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