Sixteen-year-old Samantha O’Brien has been around horses pretty much her entire life, so it was a seamless fit for her to get into riding from a young age. After years of competing and winning awards, she will be competing in the Hampton Classic, taking place through September 5.
Most recently, she won 1st, 2nd and 4th place in 3’3″ junior hunters at the Saratoga Horse Shows in Saratoga Springs and 6th place in the USHJA National Derby. Now, her next stage is set at the Hampton Classic’s 45th competition, an event that O’Brien looks forward to each year that it comes around.
“Classic is definitely my favorite show of the year,” says O’Brien. “I’m going to be showing my horse, Casper, in the local derby, and I’ve been doing a lot of national derbies that I’ve been going to with him, so it’s very exciting.”
Her father, Brendan O’Brien has a partnership called BBN Racing where they’ve owned around 20 race horses who he’s had a lot of success with over the years, so Samantha grew up being very familiar in the environment of horses and competition. She first began riding at the young age of 5, but it was around the age of 13 when Samantha started getting serious about riding and developed the passion to compete. Partly, her close relationship with her cousin who also rides, inspired her to get more involved in the equestrian world.
“I first got started because my cousin was a big rider, and that influenced me,” says O’Brien. “And it just became a huge part of my life. It’s definitely one of the most important things to me, and it kind of started when I went down to the winters (Winter Equestrian Festival) in Wellington, (FL) and when I started getting deeper connections with my horses, because I love having a connection with a horse — it’s just really special.”
O’Brien has been riding with Casper for over nine months now, and the duo have built a strong level of trust between each other, so that definitely plays a role in being able to do well at the Hampton Classic. But she also has a great level of trust with her trainers, Pamela Polk and Renato Troiani, who she’s been working with at Blue Star Equestrian in East Norwich. Her training schedule that runs throughout almost every day of the week gives just a glimpse into her level of dedication, in addition to the array of boxes of awards at her home. Just as much as she has to prepare physically for her competitions, there’s also a fair amount of mental preparation that must take place for any competitor, and O’Brien has a plan in place for that which definitely includes support from her family and trainers.
“There’s definitely a lot of anxiety,” she says. “But once you trust your horse and you have that strong connection, the anxiety levels go down a lot. My cousin and I, we talk a lot, and my trainers are really good with making sure that we’re mentally prepared for everything. Pamela and Renato are the perfect pair to be my trainers, because Pamela pushes me to be better and Renato is always making sure that I’m comfortable and that I understand what I’m learning.”
At the Hampton Classic, this week, there’s certainly a lot of excitement to compete as well as great opportunities to continue advancing and becoming better as an equestrian. Samantha is well prepared for the event, and even has a special designer that she goes to for her competitions, Charles Ancona, a local company, which she says she always gets a lot of compliments on. For the Classic, she her eye on the prize.
“My goal, as of right now, is to get championship at the Hampton Classic,” says O’Brien. “It’s a huge accomplishment for a rider.”
Addendum: Casper wasn’t feeling up to competing on Sunday, August 29, but he and O’Brien are expected to return to the competition on Friday, September 3.