BY LINDSAY BROCK
Show jumping may be an individual sport on the surface, but a stroll down the center aisle of many lesson and training barns paints an entirely different picture. From young riders living out their idyllic childhood dreams together to a modern trend toward unified branding that helps instill a “team” atmosphere, horses bring people together. They do it in the best of ways, and sometimes in the worst of times.
Equestrians have witnessed the industry’s willingness to adopt a sense of camaraderie time after time. In what can be a divided world, horse sport often represents unity. While the sport as a whole can be seen demonstrating an undeniable sense of community, the phenomenon manifests itself on a smaller scale day after day in barns throughout the world. Whether on a backyard farm where pint-sized riders get their first leg-up, or at training facilities where riders get a taste of serious competition, teamwork does just what the common saying touts: it makes the dream work.
In the rolling hills of Virginia’s horse country, Sloane Coles has built a barn community that more closely resembles a family than a business. Spring Ledge LLC grew from her passion for horse sport and her own family’s deep roots in the horse world.
Sloane’s father, John, is joint Master of the Orange County Hounds in The Plains, VA, and her mother, Julie, ran a riding school for a time and has competed at hunter/jumper events throughout her life.
“I think the fact that Spring Ledge is a family business has led to our riders feeling like members of that family themselves,” said Sloane Coles, who trains equestrians of all levels and made her US Equestrian team debut at the Spruce Meadows CSIO5* in Calgary, Alberta, in 2019. “Our riders span the levels, but the one unifying factor is the horse. We are all here because we have fallen in love with these animals and have put them at the center of our lives.”
According to Sloane, keeping the horse at the center of their mission at Spring Ledge has attracted a group of people who value high-quality care, a simple approach to producing competition results, and an atmosphere where enjoying the company of a horse is possible and encouraged.
“From boarding to training to our retirement program that includes 50 horses, we have adopted a “keep it simple” approach to maintaining our horses as fit, happy, and healthy athletes,” she said. “I think our riders and boarders appreciate that no-nonsense outlook, which coincides well with my training philosophy. We have horses that feel their best and riders who enjoy every moment – successful or not – they spend with their animals. That, to me, is success on every level.”
Sloane has fostered a barn community that includes riders who have learned their horses’ strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and personalities both on the ground and in the tack. She believes the members of Spring Ledge appreciate that deeper level of horsemanship, and their responses to that approach have proved her right.
“A huge focus of the whole team is horsemanship, and I have learned so much not only from Sloane, but also from her parents, John and Julie, about classic horsemanship,” said Connor Husain, a grand prix rider from Great Falls, VA. “Our motto at Spring Ledge is ‘less is more’, and Sloane has always emphasized the importance of consistency and simplicity. This carries over from the horsemanship aspect to training routines.
“The system creates an environment for healthy horses, happy riders, and consistent results,” continued Husain. “I am thankful every day that I met Sloane and joined the Spring Ledge team. It has enabled me to achieve goals I had never even dreamed of that have truly changed my life.”
From their places in the low children’s jumpers and amateur ranks, Spring Ledge riders readily shared what they appreciate about a barn community where they and their horses thrive.
Julianne Karol, a children’s’ jumper and junior hunter rider from Alexandria, VA, said, “The best part about being at Spring Ledge is the encouragement that everyone gives each other. It’s very much like a family, and everyone is so supportive and genuine. The Spring Ledge team provides us with the tools to have safe and successful rides, and remembering that is very important.”
For most amateur riders, balancing a life outside the barn with time in the saddle is the biggest challenge they face. For adult and amateur-owner jumper rider, Carter Ware, Spring Ledge helps her focus on her full-time job, gives her peace of mind about her horses’ care, and makes her feel part of the team even when she’s focused on her professional endeavors in New York, NY.
“The best part about being a Spring Ledge rider is the amazing people in the barn and the fun team atmosphere,” said Carter, who originally hails from Middleburg ,VA. “But, I especially enjoy getting to learn from Sloane, who I have looked up to for as long as I can remember! I have learned so much from her, but the top two things are the importance of developing a relationship with your horse and the importance of always riding forward.”
Finding a place to “fit” is often number-one on a rider’s list when looking for a barn to call their own. The best ones leave a mark on their riders that keep them coming back even after life interrupts riding with educational responsibilities, family obligations, and work commitments.
Lily Gottwald, a high amateur-owner jumper and under 25 grand prix rider from Richmond, VA, as well as amateur-owner jumper rider Schuyler Hall of Charlottesville, VA, both took time away from rider to focus on their education. They both, however, are still cheering on team Spring Ledge from afar, and waiting for the time when they can again ride under the barn’s banner.
“Spring Ledge is really a big family and we support each other so much. Even with taking this year off to focus on school, I am still in the loop with everyone and visit when I can find the time,” said Gottwald, who attends The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Media. “Sloane has challenged me so much as a rider and person. I never really felt that someone believed in my riding capabilities as much as she does. Her confidence in me has made me have confidence in myself in and out of the show ring.”
For Hall, who is currently in nursing school, success is a team effort. She said it best when she noted, “The best part about being a Spring Ledge rider is the support that you get from everyone. When one person does well, we all do well.”
Spring Ledge LLC is a top-class facility located in the heart of Virginia’s Hunt Country. Owned and operated by Sloane Coles, Spring Ledge’s emphasis is on the development of horses and riders, nurturing and encouraging them through a customized training program that allows them to reach their full potential.
Spring Ledge welcomes clients across all levels, as well as young horses for training, showing and promotion, while also offering a superb selection of green and veteran horses available for sale or lease. In addition to developing horses and riders for the show ring, Sloane and her family operate a retirement program out of Spring Ledge, where they care for more than 50 horses.