Sasha Stewart is Horsing Around in Armagh
Vicky Neill meets one of Ireland's top professional three day eventers
At one point or another every little girl dreams of having a pony. I have vivid memories (hailing back to the 1980's) of My Little Ponies and Show-jumping Sindy, dreams of hearing the crowds roar. Add to this a cottage in the country, along with gorgeous husband and you come somewhere close to Sasha Stewart.
Her cottage, Little Lodge is tucked on the edge of her extensive grounds deep in the heart of Richhill where she has come to settle after years of traversing the globe. Having just sold a horse to Bruce Springsteen, Sasha really has become a celebrity in her own right.
I chatted to her about living the dream, and the day to day concerns of being an Olympic standard show jumper.
Where did it all begin?
My mum had decided that we all would benefit from lessons at the local riding school, I think I was about four when this happened and began mucking about with horses.
When I was about eight my parents announced that I was ready for my very own pony. However they made such a big deal out of the responsibility that goes along with a pony, like mucking out every day, I was actually petrified and wasn’t sure I wanted one when the time eventually came.
We weren’t a very typical horsey family and at the start, being only eight I didn’t take the whole thing very seriously. Indeed it wasn’t very glamorous at all, we were stuck in an old cattle truck for transport and the stable was about a mile up a lane. It was always a good laugh though.
At what point did it become more than a hobby?
When I became a teenager I began to discover boys and parties. About the age of fifteen it was discos and I became somewhat de-motivated, the thought of mucking out early every morning just didn’t do it for me at that time.
Then Ginger Diamond started to win and the glory went to my head a little – so it was then that things became competitive. Certainly this was something that I never took too seriously and I never imagined that things would turn out the way they have. I was never pressurised as a child and never really about where my involvement was taking me.
Is your family supportive?
Well, as I mentioned it was my mum that got me into the whole thing though she probably regrets it now. She hates it when I’m on the cross-country and finds it quite stressful because of the danger involved.
Dad has become my number one fan though and follows us to every event. He is never off the phone - checking how we are at least once a day. He’s so enthusiastic and has been so supportive throughout. From the beginning I couldn’t have done it without my parents who funded the horses, transport, travel and everything that comes along with it. They really have been brilliant.
You’ve recently married – how has your husband adapted ?
It’s coming up to our first anniversary so we are travelling back to the place where we got engaged in Italy. It has all been like a fairy tale. Before we met I had been living in England six months out of every year.
However it was when I was in Germany when my mum got a message from his mum saying that Andrew would love to take me out. Both mums decided that we would be great together and just had to set us up. This resulted in a blind date and straight away I knew he was the man I was going to marry.
He has been fantastic though, and very patient as straight after meeting him I had to go away for three months. Maybe I should worry that he doesn’t mind me going away! (Laughs)
Family life has calmed me down a little though. Before, I always got stick from my own family over the years for putting the horses first. If it was someone’s birthday or something important was happening I would more than often be away with the horses. It is lovely to be home again now.
Do you still find time to be dress up and be girly?
Oh yes! I always have time for my heels. I get the most stick from all the other riders. During the trot up (the horse is led by the rider) to the judges I dress quite smartly and I am the only one who can manage to do it in stilettos. Sometimes the judges make me do it twice just for a laugh.
Recently I won best dressed at Balmoral Show and again this was my mum's idea for me to go all out. I was trying to hide under this huge hat, when I was announced as the winner. It was fabulous as the prize was a holiday to Barbados.
What are your plans for the future?
I am starting to make a move towards pure dressage as it’s not as dangerous. After all I’m thirty one this year! We are also looking towards a new place to live closer to the horses – possibly converting one of the barns – buts that’s a long way in the future.
How can someone get into show-jumping?
Well everyone I know has had some sort of pony club experience. Dermott Lennon, the world champion started in a pony club. I would like to dispel the myth that riding is an elitist sport. You don’t need a posh pony or a double-barrelled name. It’s for everyone.
Sasha Stewart has a website where you can read her online diary.