East Dorset, Vermont — Competing at the Vermont Summer Festival, held at the Harold Beebe Farm in East Dorset, VT, is a homecoming for Sarah-Ki Rice and her family. Since the age of 10, she’s learned the ideals of horsemanship and sportsmanship at the Vermont Summer Festival and now teaches the same qualities to her own students.
Rice, 27, filled 18 stalls with students and horses from her Summerwood Farm in Shelburne, VT, this year.
“We’re only two and a half hours from the show,” the Vermont native said. “I love the management and rings and of course the area is beautiful. Seeing many of the same faces and friends every year really feels like coming home.”
She first sat in a saddle at the age of two and rode under the tutelage of her mother, Judy Shailor, who trained from their family farm in Colchester, VT. Rice’s brother, Scott Tomasi, also rode as a child but eventually discovered hockey instead. Still, he showed up at the Vermont Summer Festival every year to work on the jump crew or as a gate steward.
During Rice’s junior career, she was a working student for Missy Clark, another top trainer and Vermont Summer Festival veteran, of North Run Stables in Warren, VT.
“She has been a huge influence on my riding and career,” Rice said. “I didn’t have a lot of money when I came to her and she knew that. She always gave me horses to ride and let me work things off.”
Rice also credits Clark for helping her to instill the values she encourages at Summerwood Farm.
“I’m big on horsemanship and sportsmanship,” Rice said. “It’s not just about the ribbons. I like my students to know what to do with their horses in and out of the ring. We don’t have grooms so they learn to do everything for themselves. I think it makes winning that much more rewarding and coming up that way personally really improved my performance in the ring.”
Rice won top honors at prestigious horse shows like Devon, West Palm Beach, Lake Placid, and The Hampton Classic during her junior career and earned the Sportsmanship Award from the New England Equitation Committee, all aboard an unlikely mount named El Nathan.
“He wasn’t a proven equitation horse but he was what I had at the time. Missy worked hard with him. It made it all that much more rewarding,” Rice remembered.
She soon became one of the first riders in the nation to earn a scholarship for riding at the University of South Carolina where she captained the Gamecock team for two years. She also became a Region High Point Award Winner and placed third out of 115 riders in the Student Rider’s Cup in Rome, Italy, during her time at USC. After graduating with an English degree, she scored a full-time job working for Governor Douglas in Vermont.
“I loved that job and enjoyed having the weekends off,” Rice said. “But I really missed riding. It was the first time in my life I hadn’t ridden.”
Then an old friend invited her back in the saddle.
“The people who owned El Nathan called and asked me if I wanted to play with him again,” Rice remembered. “So I started riding him again in the amateurs and did some medal classes.”
In 2006, she rode in the Adult Equitation and Hunter divisions at the Vermont Summer Festival, once again under her mother’s direction. She earned the Adult Equitation, 18-35, Championship during week five and also finished second in the Ariat Medal and first in the Charles Owen Adult Medal. El Nathan is now happily retired in South Carolina.
Rice went on to train on a freelance basis while also taking up a career in real estate.
“That’s how I found the farm. I knew it was the right price and the right time to buy,” she said.
In November of 2007, Summerwood Farm opened its doors and Rice’s five clients soon grew to 18.
“During college, I didn’t really plan to have my own barn. But having grown up in the business, I knew I’d always be involved with horses,” Rice said. “I knew this was the right move for me. If I’m not around horses, I don’t feel whole.”
She continues to ride some of her clients’ horses in pre-green hunter classes and hopes to have a regular working hunter of her own in the future. But above all, “I love working with the kids. It’s so rewarding in a new way.”
Competition at the Vermont Summer Festival is held daily Wednesday through Sunday, beginning at 8 a.m. and running until approximately 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children Wednesday through Saturday. On ‘Grand Prix Sunday’, admission is $7 for adults and $5 for children. All gate proceeds are donated to the Friends Foundation for MEMS, benefiting programs in the local Elementary & Middle Schools.”
New England’s largest “AA” rated hunter/jumper horse show, the Vermont Summer Festival offers over $750,000 in prize money, making it the richest sporting event in the state of Vermont. Visit the Vermont Summer Festival website for more information, including full results.