Hendersonville, NC—Shakira do Jacare, the brilliant 14 year-old Brazilian bred chestnut mare owned by Sarah Owen and Muny Sunk Stables officially retired from the sport of show jumping in an emotional ceremony during the 2010 Atlanta Summer Classics.
Dubbed the “Queen of Speed” by her competitors, Shakira’s presence alone at many a grand prix was enough to rattle the nerves of most seasoned jumpers. However, this mare’s story begins with Longwood Equestrian Center’s owner and professional rider Sergio Campos. Shakira was bred by Campos at his family’s ranch in Campo Grande, Brazil. She is the offspring of his champion stallion Primo, who died tragically in a barn accident in 1997. “She [Shakira] was very tough to break; it took a lot longer than most normal horses. I remember when she was a 3 year-old she jumped out of one of the paddocks…over 6 foot tall fencing! She always showed signs of being a Champion.”
Campos shared then added with a laugh, “When we imported her to the US she had an accident loading onto the airplane and got 20 stitches in her rump. She missed that plane and arrived 2 weeks later. Proving both her headstrong nature and resilience.” A handy mare, known for her speed and turn-of-hoof, Shakira helped Campos lead the victory gallop in four Grand Prixs during their debut in 2005 as well as numerous mini prixs and Welcome Stakes throughout the Southeast. Over the next few years the number of wins only grew, but fate’s crossroad lay just ahead.
And it’s here this tale takes a personal turn. I met the precocious Sarah Owen when she won the $25,000 Barry Lane Memorial in 2005, as the youngest victor at age 13, and to say she made an impression would be an understatement. Her mother credits Sarah’s tenacity to then trainer and mentor Judy Young of Camden, SC saying, “Sarah had a raw talent and Judy was the first to take notice of it. She helped Sarah to develop an eye for the courses and encouraged her go for it spirit.” Aside from her obvious talent in the saddle, Sarah was-is wise beyond her tender years, quite humble, and possesses a level of humanity that knows no limits. I “adopted” her almost instantly! Fortunately her mother was willing to share her.
In 2007, then 15 year-old Owen was making a name for herself aboard another fiery chestnut mare, She Can Dance aka Sammy, in the Child-Adult Jumpers winning classics one after the other. Prior to arriving at the Atlanta Fall Classics, Owen learned her regular trainer Betsy Pack wouldn’t be able to accompany the duo. I volunteered to ask a favor of a jumper trainer I knew well, Sergio Campos, to assist her for the event. This was where Fate arrived too. Sarah was already fan of the powerful Shakira do Jacare, so meeting her and working with Sergio was a treat. Campos was equally impressed by the young Owen’s talent and when half jokingly Christine Vanneck [Sarah’s mother] suggested that Sarah should try riding “The Queen” Sergio agreed. “My first ride was super unexpected, as in one morning I woke up and was told I’m trying Shakira. I told my mom afterwards that it was like getting a backstage pass to your favorite band’s concert.” Sarah said.
As word spread and a crowd gathered to watch the seemingly impossible feat of another pilot aboard the Queen, Vanneck’s thoughts were “Imagine the emotions of a mother whose child, at age 15, is getting on a horse like Shakira do Jacare! I think most parents would either refuse the child the opportunity or at the very least hide and not watch, but Sarah’s ability to ride Shakira didn’t scare me. In fact, I knew it would be perfect for the two of them. Sarah likes them [horses] hot and fast, not to mention difficult, which of course Shakira proved to be all that and then some, but I felt Sarah’s current mount She Can Dance was the ideal stepping stone to Shakira. Both are similar in the way they think and go in the ring, both are careful and very fast.”
Naturally, for Campos, the decision to sell was an emotional one. “She was a wonderful horse, and she definitely won a lot for me,” he said. “But the time was right. At that point in my career I was more focused on finding a prospect for the World Cup/Nations Cup level. Shakira is a super grand prix horse, and a great speed horse,” he continues “but for the international level—I knew she couldn’t take me there. She’s a bit nervous. I have asked her to jump international courses for me, and she’s done it, but I never felt it was fair to her to do such a hard job all the time.” Regarding the idea of a 15 year-old girl taking on his power house mare, Campos had no concerns, “They were really a perfect match,” says Campos. “Shakira and She Can Dance are very similar—both are very ‘hot’, and Sarah was clearly very good at handling that kind of horse—they don’t intimidate her.”
When the red hot mare arrived at her new home, Muny Sunk Stables, in the mountains of North Carolina, her attitude was described as being like a machine-not of the manner she had been handled, but because of her job. Work was all she knew. “We needed a softer side for Sarah to be able to accomplish her goals. We set out to make her into a horse. So when at home Shakira was rarely jumped, but went on long trail rides with Sarah up and down the hills. She [Shakira] loved this and over time began to relax.” Vanneck said. Sarah and Shakira marked their debut the following January at HITS winter series with big wins in the junior divisions.
Both Owen and Vanneck concede the road to success with Shakira hasn’t been all rosy, yet it has always been educational for Owen. Vanneck said, “Sarah never gave up or lost sight of what her goals were with Shakira. Her personal gratification was met the day we bought her –that was the easy part. Working with tension, stress, humility, humbleness, and gratitude Sarah and Shakira flourished. In my eyes, as her mother, this young woman far surpassed the expectations of any rider so young. I and Sarah alike are so grateful that Holli Adams stepped in as our home based trainer. Her work and moral support were an intricate part of Sarah’s and Shakira’s success.” Horse and rider learned from one another, their bond like any relationship was founded on mutual trust and caring.
“She’s taught me to make more precise decisions in a split of a second, definitely sportsmanship, and even how to survive hardships.” Owen said are the first things she thinks of with Shakira. Their test of adversity came almost a year later, “My hardest time with Shakira was when we both just broke down. My nerves were getting pushed to the maximum limit, the outside expectations that we’d always win or that we’d go straight into grand prixs. I just wanted to throw my hands up and quit the sport at times. She [Shakira] felt it and in turn decided she didn’t want to show or jump or even be ridden. So we just went home and back to basics.” Together they healed, grew stronger emotionally, and returned slowly to what they loved-competing together and for each other’s satisfaction.
Under Campos’s guidance Sarah and Shakira were reclaiming their passion for jumping. And in June of 2009 “The Queen of Speed” returned to the grand prix arena of the Atlanta Summer Classics where many of her triumphs were made, being reunited with former owner Campos in the irons. Vanneck paced anxiously and Owen seated in a golf cart clenching my hand, couldn’t decide whether to watch or not. Shakira was ready to remind everyone exactly who she was and in an extremely emotional run, she did just that. Walking out to receive the awards with tears still pricking Owen’s eyes, second place finisher Daniel Geitner had smiled and said, “How can anyone feel bad about losing when they see that kind of happiness?”
Owen and Shakira enjoyed more victories in and out of the ring over the next several months. In early 2010 Owen suffered an injured ankle after a tumble aboard a young horse and shortly afterwards Shakira too incurred a swollen ankle. “We always knew the final goal was to retire Shakira and allow her to be a mommy. Although it was sooner than we had hoped, with both Sarah and Shakira ailing from injuries it felt like the most suitable time to retire our famous girl. Shakira was owed this and we’re more than happy to provide it.” Vanneck said. A choked up Owen added, “This wasn’t an easy decision for me or the Queen, but it feels like the right one now. And I am excited to see what kind of babies she’ll produce. I just hope they are a little quieter.” Owen had a bittersweet smile spread across her face as she hugged an understanding Shakira.
In June of this year, “The Queen” was lead into the former Olympic arena in Conyers, GA by present owner Sarah Owen of Muny Sunk Stables, along with former owner Sergio Campos during the $25,000 Brookledge Grand Prix to survey her former kingdom and bid a final farewell to her numerous fans. Spectators and riders rose to applaud the great champion. Campos had prepared a video documentary on the mare’s life and career which had the masses sitting in silent awe as Sarah and Shakira shared their last stroll around the vast arena. Following another burst of applause and cheers, Classic Company president Bob Bell and a Purina Feeds representive joined in the ceremony by speaking of Shakira’s prowess in show jumping and to gift the mare with a special cooler bearing her nick name “The Queen of Speed”. The in gate was lined with many of Shakira’s former foes of the ring now standing respectfully to bid her adieu while their riders applauded well wishes to her.
Among them Daniel Geitner of DFG Stables based in Aiken, SC who shared his thoughts, “I’ve competed against Shakira for many years. She’s quite a tough competitor and there was nobody faster in a jump off than her. I’ve got to admit I always had a little dread when she was after me in a jump off…or before me for that matter. I knew I’d have to be on top of my game to even come close to her. She was quite a fast, careful, hard trying mare!” Asked of the prospects to one day have a Shakira baby in his line up Geitner was quick to say, “Ah that would be fantastic! She [Shakira] has such a big heart and such a will to win; you can only hope to produce that again.” And a most memorable moment for Geitner, “I remember a Welcome class here, I was third in it and she won by about 5 seconds, but didn’t even look like she was going fast! This was a little early on in her career and I knew then that she was going to be a tough competitor for quite some time to come.”
Currently in the running for the million dollar show jumping prize to be awarded later this season David Jennings of Shaker Heights, OH also remembered fondly chasing the Queen of Speed on several occasions, “I watched many, many rounds and of course she’s beaten me a few times…and I have beaten her a few times! I watched Sergio jump Shakira many a time here [Atlanta] and in Ocala, FL –what a pair. I actually tried to buy the horse at one time, but unfortunate reasons here and there prevented it. But it was good to see her go on to someone who loves her just as much as Sergio. Both her riders have done a great job with her! She’s one of the great horses; I’ll always remember watching her.”
A little overwhelmed by emotions, Owen and Shakira quietly slipped away from the arena to the privacy of the barn that holds many years of personal memories shared while competing in Conyers. Campos walked to the back of the grand prix schooling ring to collect his own thoughts. And Vanneck tried to sum up the future through her own tears, “Sarah will enjoy Shakira still and look forward to her babies. Who knows, hopefully one will come along with that same familiar spark and fire of Shakira and Sarah will once again be on another hot and fast chestnut mare. It seems to be a winning ticket for her!”
Photos: Shakira do Jacare with Sarah Owen & Sergio Campos ©Flashpoint Photography