Like so many amateurs, lifelong rider Pam Sweetman of Canada aspired one day to show her horse at a venue such as the Adequan/Global Dressage Festival, riding in the pristine arenas under the sun and waving palms, surrounded by glistening horseflesh and top notch competition. At 62 years young, it was on her bucket list and in 2015, she made it a reality. With her horse, Ricki (Ricardo), turning 17 this year, Pam jokingly said that “before Ricki and I die of old age, I wanted to go to Wellington Florida to compete.” Sweetman had always put the Florida competitors on a pedestal, since the shows attracted the best riders from around the world but last year, after watching some of the amateur competitors and comparing her modest success in Prix St. George in Ontario this past year, she started to entertain the idea that they might be competitive in the Florida milieu.
Her bucket list started a few years ago when a close friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. "As I watched her struggle through treatments and having to put her goals and activities on hold, I really reevaluated what was important in life." Blessed with a loving husband, three adult children and one granddaughter, other than some typical arthritis, Pam was still healthy and very active.
The first "drop in the bucket" off her list, was a week riding in northern Spain with her daughter Kate, a busy veterinary student, in July 2013. (Neither her sons or husband share the passion.)
Then, this past July, after her closest friend lost her husband very suddenly, it crystalized the idea to not put off any more plans. Carpe diem.
It helped that her mother, Mitzi, lives in North Palm Beach during the winter.
Her trainer Cecile Von Martels in Ridgetown Ontario, was taking her own horse to train with her brother, Chris Von Martels in Wellington and they found the newly opened and renovated facility of "Wellington Dressage Boarding and Training" through Facebook where Marjo Van de Bunte and her daughter Jeanine Biemond, from the Netherlands, had opened their own facility six months ago.
Pam took advantage of the Florida location and accommodating weather to do some intensive training with Buntehorses. “I felt that we made some great strides in our confidence in the ring, and the small details that are so important to riding our test. I believe it showed in our improved performance and scores.” With the chance to focus solely on her training, her mother, Mitzi, observed her weekly progress “improving by leaps and bounds.”
Ricardo, a KWPN by Gracio was a Junior Young Rider horse for Sarah Loewen in 2011. “Ricki is a character, as most great horses are,” Pam says. “He often acts more like 5 than 17, especially for turnout, or in scary situations, where he can actually raise his tail right over his back and passage like a Grand Prix horse.”
In the barn, she says he’s super affectionate and gives kisses to get a piece of carrot or sugar. He has been a great partner for Pam for Prix St. George. “He works tirelessly and gives 110 % all the time,” she says. “He is very ‘on’ in the show ring and knows the test so well that I have to keep reminding him to listen to me and not take over.”
For Pam, the Adequan/Global Dressage Festival show grounds felt like a dream facility, the great footing, with the stalls and warm up rings convenient to the show rings. Stabled at Little Ranches 15 minutes away, meant she could trailer in an hour before the class and return home right afterwards. “It was so less stressful than showing at home in Ontario where we drive 4 to 5 hours to get to a show and have the work of setting up in outside stalls.”
Another big perk was to study the world's best dressage riders all in one spot. “It was like having a ringside seat to the Olympics or this year's Pan Am Games,” she notes.
She felt grateful for the time with her mom, sharing and creating memories. “Mom even bought herself a horsey shirt and hat to wear to the barn and shows and was up making lunches for everyone even for those 5 a.m. show mornings.”
Her final show in March was a highlight as three of her closest girlfriends of 35 years arrived to cheer Pam on. “It was SO special to have them there to support me, and I was fortunate enough to win the class and share this moment with them.”
Pam hopes to continue training through the Intermediare division with Ricardo but also take time to travel with her husband, and carve out time for her children and granddaughter. It’s about defining one’s desires and priorities and then, following through. Pam noted her coworkers were very patient and supportive of her adventure away.
“Most of all, my bucket list means taking the opportunities that arise to fulfill what's important to you in life and makes you the person that you are,” Pam says. She’s making the point to truly appreciate the ride.