Sarah Roda, a 13-year-old Palmetto Bay resident for the past five years, is pursuing a dream with a determination and wisdom not typical of many youngsters her age.
An eighth grader at Southwood Middle School who loves horses, Sarah has been accepted into the three-month exclusive Emerging Dressage Athlete Program in Wellington.
“Anyone who has known Sarah will without a doubt admit that she is ‘horse crazy,’” said her mother, Laura Roda. “Not your typical young child horse craze, but one that is intellectually intertwined with the love of horse psychology and physiology and how well it combines with the graceful art of Classical Dressage.”
Her mom said that Sarah dreams of becoming an Olympic Dressage competitor and one day have her own barn where she can disseminate her knowledge to other dreamers and their horses. This will require training and hard work, but she is sure Sarah is more than up to the task, especially after being selected as one of only 12 riders from around the country to participate in the program at Wellington.
“She’s a very centered and mature young 13-year-old who kind of stuck her neck out there and didn’t think in a million years she’d make it, and basically she will be leaving for three months going to Wellington to train full time with Lendon Grey,” Laura Roda said.
Grey is well known in the Dressage world, having participated on two Olympic teams (1980, 1988) and in the World Championships and World Cup.
“I think Sarah’s the only one here in Florida that will be going there,” Laura Roda said. “She’s actually one of the youngest. The majority of them are 18, 19 or 20. LendonGrey is very well known for helping youth. Every year she does a special summer festival up in New York. This was the inaugural year for the winter intensive training program and she actually managed to get one of the biggest farms in Wellington to open up its doors to permit her to do this, and the farm gave her 12 stalls.”
Grey sent out a letter to all interested parties asking for resumes. From those it was narrowed down to a smaller group of students who were asked to send in videos of what they’ve done and scores from their competitions.
“Of course, Sarah being young she didn’t have as much as some of these other girls,” Roda said. “But she said, ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter, Mom, I’m going to do it anyway.’”
Another challenge was that Sarah’s Arabian gelding, Tryst, is smaller than the breeds of horses normally used in Dressage. But that didn’t stop Sarah either, and Lendon Grey is reportedly looking forward to working with the remarkable team.
Sarah is enthusiastic.
“I’m really excited and it’s an amazing opportunity for me because I found a passion; I love it so much,” Sarah said. “I absorb myself in it, and to be able to do this is really cool because I feel like I’m moving forward in following my dream and I can really strive toward what I want.”
Sarah first learned about Dressage while her family was living in Germany for two years due to her father’s job. She acquired her love of horses early on. Her whole family rides and her sister competed nationally with the Arabian districts in other types of equestrian events. Then a year and a half ago Sarah decided to change course, did her research on Dressage, found a trainer and started.
“You can make it competitive, but I like to make it about building up, going through the levels of Dressage, and my trainer, Christina Fiebeck. She’s really helped me a lot; she’s really great. It’s just about following my dream, what makes me happy.”
Being in the Olympics one day is a goal, but remarkably not her main one. Her outlook is more “grownup” than that of some adults. For her, it’s more about learning than winning ribbons.
“I’m going to push my hardest and try my hardest and you know if I don’t end up going to the Olympics, at least I’ve done what I wanted to do,” Sarah said. “I just want to have fun with this, try my hardest and know that I at least did what I wanted to do.”
To raise funds to help cover the costs of the three-month stay in Wellington, Laura Roda has set up a website at <www.gofundme.com/D4K-for Sarah>. Sarah also hopes to have a “dog wash” event in Palmetto Bay’s Dog Park to raise money, and to put together with her Dressage trainer a “holiday fun day” sometime in December to get kids and grownups involved and learn more about Dressage.