Sarah Tubman’s “Amazing Life-Changing” Experience With First Apple 0n First European Competition Circuit

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(Sarah Tubman tells of the experiences on First Apple and with her husband, Lee, on the rider’s first European competition circuit that included the prestigious World Equestrian Festival CHIO in Aachen, Germany. Sarah and the 12-year-old KWPN gelding won individual gold at the 2019 Pan American Games and moved up to Grand Prix the following year. The pair was chosen for the short listed squad from which the United States team will be selected for the world championships at Herning, Denmark next month. Here’s the personal report by the 33-year-old rider. She has previously given the Paris Olympics in 2024 as her goal with First Apple.)

Sarah Lockman and First Apple competing at Aachen, Germany. © 2022 Ken Braddick/DRESSAGE-NEWS.com

July 19, 2022

By SARAH TUBMAN

Wow! What an amazing life-changing experience spending these last few months in Germany with horses has been.

I have visited Europe for horse-buying trips more than 15 times in recent years, but those trips consisted of airports, hotels, McDonald’s, gas stations and lots of horses and stables. This year Lee and I made a promise that it was going to be different and, WOW! has it ever been.

Our original plan at the end of a successful season at the Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida with my two horses First Apple and Balia owned by Summit Farm and the Ibanez family was to base out of the beautiful Gut Ising stables in southern Germany near Austria so we could spend our first summer in Europe doing some of the quieter shows.

Well… that all changed when Apple and I were named to the short list and asked to represent the U.S. at Aachen! So though we remained based at Gut Ising but for sure did not do any “quiet” shows like we originally planned.

These large, prestigious shows such as Aachen that is like a world championships every year for top dressage, jumping, eventing, four-in-hand driving and vaulting all staged over about a week were not on our original schedule. But I am so thankful and blessed to have had the opportunity to compete alongside some of the best horses and riders in the world. And an amazing and inspiring to be with my fellow American riders.

I am not going to lie… entering the warm up ring with many of the riders being my childhood idols each with multiple Olympic medals was quite intimidating at first. But I feel lucky to just be able to share the same centerline as them and actually the podium as well! What a dream come true.

Being here in Europe is quite eye-opening. It’s amazing to not only watch the best of the best compete but I also spent hours watching the warm up and the training sessions. The amount of information that I was able to absorb was invaluable.

Sarah Tubman and First Apple in Europe. © 2022 Ken Braddick/DRESSAGE-NEWS.com

I have come away from these last three shows feeling so inspired and with new goals and new standards. It’s so impressive to see the depth of quality not only in the horses but also in the riding here in Europe.

One of the main things I have learned is you have to perform with a higher degree of precision at this level. Just “getting it done” doesn’t cut it. You have to take risks and ride for the nine or 10 with harmony.

It has been amazing to experience this all with my husband and coach by my side. These last two months of focused training has been invaluable. Lee being a FEI 4* judge and a Grand Prix rider himself has brought a whole new level to my riding and training.

We have been focused on attention to detail, a higher degree of thoroughness, correct rhythm at all times and maintaining the correct frame with harmony between myself and the horse–striving for self carriage at all times.

I have learned from him that I can’t just focus on fixing one thing. I have to make the improvement without any negative side effects that would lower my marks. He makes me think and he makes me answer questions so I not only just do what he is asking of me but that I understand the why and can then pass that on to my students.

We have also taken the opportunity to have a mini honeymoon! (Sarah and Lee were married at the World Equestrian Center in Ocala, Florida last December.)

Sarah and Lee Tubman with First Apple.

We get up early and take care of the horses. We do all our own grooming on a day-to-day basis and at shows, and then try to take the afternoons to do something fun and touristy!

We have seen the most beautiful castles, museums and cities and had many amazing dinners, and we are just truly enjoying taking in the culture and the countryside. Lee is very good at making us have a balanced life. (If it was up to me, I would confine myself to the barn 24 hours a day.)

I am so excited about the future not only with First Apple and Balia but also the few young horses I have coming along.

One of the largest learning curves I have had the past few years has been thinking about my goals, what I want to do and the smartest way to get there.

In the beginning of my career I was quite focused on the now and now that I have had these experiences I am one million percent focused on producing top Grand Prix horses. I will focus on the pieces my horses need, starting from the young horses, in order to make it to the Grand Prix in the most effective and harmonious way. I am really looking forward to the future and hope to find more top horses that I can bring along and continue to compete at this level. To say that this is addicting is an understatement!