9 Questions with Kentucky CCI5* Rider Sharon White

CCI5* rider Sharon White talks about competition routines, favorite exercises, recovering and learning from riding accidents and more.
CCI5* rider Sharon White
CCI5* rider Sharon White and Claus 63 at the 2022 Plantation Field International Horse Trials. White and Claus are scheduled to compete in the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event CCI5* April 25-28, 2024. ©Amy K. Dragoo

CCI5* rider Sharon White is entered to compete in the 2024 Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event CCI5* with Claus 63, whom she rode to a U.S. team silver medal at the 2023 Pan American Games.

In anticipation of this year’s Kentucky, we revisited a podcast conversation that we had with White in 2019. We’ve excerpted a few of our favorite answers from White about her pre-competition routine, her thoughts on favorite training exercises, what makes a good event horse and the positive outlook she has about riding injuries.

Q: Do you have any kind of routine before a competition?

Sharon White: Before I compete, I have to have a little quiet. I have to go somewhere, whether it’s my truck, whether it’s my trailer. I have to have a little peace and quiet where I can best clear out the mind and be able to focus on what I’m doing.

I didn’t used to realize that because you’re taught to be polite. So I would always welcome everyone around me because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. It never occurred to me that that is actually quite hard on your mental focus. Because then you’re not giving yourself the chance to focus on the job at hand. I think that is important for others who have been taught to be polite their whole lives. Because we should all be polite, but at some point you actually have to say, it’s more important for my horse or what I’m doing that I can take a little time and say, “I just need this time so I can go do my job and then I’ll see you when it’s done.”

Q: Do you have a favorite type of exercise?

SW: That’s so interesting. I like all exercises. There are so many in the world. I couldn’t actually pick one. And are we talking dressage? Are we talking show jumping? Are we talking cross country? Are we talking conditioning? So I think really paying attention to your horse and what he might need on a day. Some days they need pressure. Some days they need no pressure. Some days they need a hack. Some days they need a day off.

You have to really have a schedule, have a routine, have a plan, and then listen to your horse. What do they need? Are they young? Part of the reason I don’t have a favorite exercise is that an exercise for a young horse is about developing strength and educating. For an older horse, you’re doing physical therapy when you’re riding them and you’re making sure they don’t get bored with what you’re doing.

There are just so many variables. So give me a specific issue and I’d give you the exercise I’d love for that issue at that moment in time.

Q: When teaching, are there certain areas that you focus on the most with your students?

SW: In my teaching, I end up focusing on what I am learning at that moment. If I have learned something new, then I’m so excited about it. It’s like little eureka moments. Then I’m like, “I’m going to share this with everybody because this is the answer.”

So I love continuing my education because I always have those moments. You could never possibly know everything about horses ever. And that is what makes them so wonderful. I learn something new every day. And someone says something to me in one way, shape, or form, and it’s a light bulb. Or I think, Oh, I heard that 30 years ago at the Great Falls Horse Center. And I just didn’t know what it meant because it’s all the same information. And hopefully it’s all the same information over and over again. And when you’re ready to hear it, you hear it.

And then you can instill that in others. So I try to keep it very basic. Horses go the way they’re ridden. And you stick to true horsemanship that has been around for hundreds of years. No one is reinventing the wheel here. It’s just what a particular horse and rider in front of you needs at any given moment.

Q: What do you think makes a good event horse?

SW: Trainability is huge. Trainability at the same time with the athletic ability to do what you’re asking them to do. You can have a super trainable horse that is just incapable of doing the level you want them to do. So don’t ask him to do it. That’s unfair. You can have a horse with all the ability in the world that doesn’t want to do it. Don’t ask him to do it.e

Each horse is slightly unique. Certainly a horse that wants to work with you and is happy to show up to the office every day is easier than one who doesn’t.

Q: You’ve broken your pelvis twice and were in a wheelchair for five months in 2005. How do you get through accidents like that?

SW: Sometimes it makes me laugh because I’m like, “Whoa, you take a licking and keep on ticking.” And it’s so interesting because through it all, it has really helped me. It’s all a journey. I know so much more now about my physical body, my mental state, my riding ability, my ability to judge horses. All of those accidents were from greenness, from just being slightly clueless.

Look, riding horses is dangerous, but so is driving the car. It just depends on how you view it. It’s through those failures—but they’re not failures. It’s learning. There are no failures. There’s only learning and it’s how you take it. Like then do you want to move forward and get better? Or do you want to say the world is so mean to me and the world is so hard and it’s so unfair. It’s an absolute choice.

And I feel so lucky for the horses and that I get to ride horses for a living. And I love it. So therefore, no matter what happens, I will be grateful because every day the horses around me make me smile, my farm makes me smile. And everyone who works here works so hard, and it’s a labor of absolute love that is fulfilling for me.

Q: What do you think is the hardest part of this sport for you?

SW: We say eventing is so hard. I know nothing about golf, but I’m pretty sure golfers say golfing is so hard. It’s all hard. You have expectations. You have goals and then can you meet them. That’s true of anything. If you’re going to do something, do it as well as you can to the best of your ability with a bit of joy and passion, and it’s all going to be OK.

Q: How do you stay motivated?

SW: That’s easy. I haven’t achieved my goals yet. I just have huge motivation to be as awesome as I can be. Good as I can possibly be and to make my horses as good as they can possibly be. And I don’t think I will ever be satisfied. It wouldn’t actually matter what I achieved. There’s always going to be another goal, which I’m so grateful for.

Q: What are some of your other interests besides riding.

SW: I love trees. Trees and horses. I love my farm. This time of year, it’s the spring. It’s beautiful. I go slightly nuts, and I love planting trees and bushes and flowers. It makes me super happy. Land or things that are green, things that grow. So that it would be my other true passion

I’m also fascinated by how the mind works. So I do a lot of meditation and reading, and I can’t even say meditation because that’s also hard to d—to sit still—but I work on it. I do a lot of listening to things to learn about how we experience life.

Q: When you say reading, are you reading about meditation and how to meditate or reading in general?

SW: Yes. Learning about meditation, Zen, Buddhism, Taoism, all of those things. I’m so fascinated by that because I think it really relates to horses. It helps me with my ability to be around them and ride them and be a better competitor. So I’m fascinated about learning about all that, too.

To listen to the Practical Horseman Podcast episode with Sharon White, click on the “play” button below.

CCI5* rider Sharon White is an international three-day eventing rider, trainer and Level 4 U.S. Eventing Association ECP Certified Instructor based at Last Frontier Farm in Summit Point, West Virginia. White’s career includes over 10 starts at the Kentucky Three-Day Event with five different horses. She has also traveled overseas to contest CCI5* events at Lühmuhlen (France) and Les Etoiles de Pau (France) as well as CCI4* events at Boekelo (Netherlands) and Hartpury (United Kingdom). She most recently earned a team silver medal at the 2023 Pan American Games with Claus 63.

Thanks to Kent Nutrition Group and Blue Seal for our coverage of the 2024 Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event, including rider interviews, competition reports, horse spotlights, photos, videos and more.