East Dorset, Vermont — For Samantha Schaefer of Westminster, MD, and Katie Tyler of Old Lyme, CT, the weeks they will spend at the Vermont Summer Festival this year are some of their first as college graduates making their way in an industry they love. The Vermont Summer Festival runs for six consecutive weeks, from July 5 through August 14, at Harold Beebe Farm in East Dorset, VT.
Twenty-three-year-old Schaefer left her mark on the National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) before graduating from Baylor University in Waco, TX, in December with a degree in communications. During her senior year alone, Schaefer was named a First-Team All-American and selected as the Big 12 Fences Rider of the Year, named to the All Big-12 team, and took home Most Outstanding Player in fences at the Big 12 Championship. She also led the Baylor Bears to a National Hunt Seat Title over Texas A&M in 2012.
Despite her long list of accolades in the tack, college life wasn't a perfect fit for Schaefer at first. She felt the adjustment period to college riding and collegiate living took about three months and, once it clicked, she was at home at Baylor.
“I loved school; I didn't want to leave,” said Schaefer. “It was a great time to be at Baylor. At first I was flying back and forth to Florida to show, but from April on I stayed at school and fell in love with it. I miss it sometimes and I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.”
Schaefer, who trains with her mother, Stacey, and Kate Conover, plans to remain an amateur for the indefinite future and feels her decision to attend college before returning to horse sport was the right one for her.
“I have friends who turned professional right away, but you can always come back to this,” she said. “I had people tell me that and I didn't listen, but now I know it's true. Even more than the education, the experience of meeting new people was important for me; it's good to see the world from a different view.
“Nothing has changed at the shows, except maybe everyone now knows me as Maddy's sister,” she joked.
Schaefer, along with her mother and 15-year-old sister, Maddy, are loyal exhibitors at the Vermont Summer Festival.
“The management here is great,” said Schaefer, who can recall showing at Harold Beebe Farm as a child. “We show a lot of places and the people here really make us, as riders, feel important. It is also just a nice place to spend the summer. We ride in the morning and then go and enjoy the town.”
This summer, Schaefer is keeping her show schedule light, but is along for the ride to help her mother, support her sister, and keep her derby horses going in the weekly derby offerings at the Vermont Summer Festival. She plans to take advantage of her opportunities as a rider for the foreseeable future, and is already off to a successful start with a third place finish in the $5,000 3'3” NEHJA Hunter Derby, presented by Eastern Hay, during opening week.
While Schaefer was born into the sport, 23-year-old Tyler found horses through her father's connections at a therapeutic riding center, which later morphed into pony club and a stint as an eventer.
“He was on the board at the center and when he would go to his evening meetings, I would beg to tag along,” said Tyler. “While he was working, I was riding.
“My parents don't ride, my mom happens to be very allergic to the horses, but she loves them and I actually got my dad up on my old grand prix horse last year,” smiled Tyler. “That's the extent of the their experience.”
A 2016 graduate of St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY, Tyler studied economics and education with plans to combine that experience with her passion for horses and perhaps launch her own tutoring services on the horse show circuit.
As Canton is located more than two hours from the nearest airport, keeping up with her horses, showing, and school was a balancing act that Tyler perfected during her four years at St. Lawrence.
“I knew I wanted to keep riding and the first three years I would go down to Florida every weekend,” said Tyler. “As a senior, I didn’t show as much and enjoyed school. My parents always told me it was going to be the best four years of my life. I didn't believe them at first, but they were right.”
Tyler has ridden under the tutelage of New England-based trainer, Shachine Belle, for seven years and has spent every summer at the Vermont Summer Festival. Upon graduation, she and Belle set goals to help move Tyler up into the grand prix ranks.
“I want to see how far I can go and eventually turn professional,” said Tyler. “Shachine has found me great horses, been a huge support, and taken me places I never thought I could go. My main goal for the summer is to win my first grand prix and then stay consistent and competitive at that level.”
Tyler is already knocking on the door of her first grand prix win with three top-ten finishes during the first week of the Vermont Summer Festival, highlighted by a sixth-place ribbon in the $30,000 Vermont Summer Special Grand Prix, presented by Johnson Horse Transportation, on Saturday, July 9 with her own Wild Card.
“I love this horse show,” said Tyler of the Vermont Summer Festival. “Every year I come here, something has been done to improve the horse show. Sometimes they are little things, but they are huge improvements. Not every show cares that much. They are always trying to make it better.”
Both Schaefer and Tyler look back fondly on their four years of higher education, and while the two young riders may be headed toward different goals within the industry, their talents and dedication to their horses remain steadfast.
For over 20 years, the Vermont Summer Festival has attracted exhibitors and their families to the Manchester region in southern Vermont for great competition in an ideal summer setting. Outside the show ring, exhibitors enjoy the charm of Vermont's shopping, dining, and outdoor activities.
Competition at the 2016 Vermont Summer Festival runs weekly from Wednesday through Sunday, beginning each day at 8 a.m. Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children from Wednesday through Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, admission is $9 for adults and $5 for children with 100% of all gate proceeds benefiting the Manchester Community Library, Dorset Equine Rescue, Meals on Wheels.