Baker: Student, Equestrian, International Amateur
From eventing up and down the East Coast and fixing problem horses to medical school and joining a national dressage team, Sarah Baker has done a lot in less than 25 years.
Baker — the daughter of Jim and Adele Baker, who own Fox Lake Farm in Southern Pines — recently returned to the Sandhills after a year-and-a-half off the coast of Cuba in Grand Cayman, where she was doing research as a medical student.
Might not sound like your go-to equestrian venue, but Grand Cayman plays host to the Cayman Islands’ FEI dressage team — and Baker earned a spot on the squad during her stay.
The 22-mile-long island, where gallop sets were regularly done on the beach, was a throwback to “old school” riding, Baker said.
“The facilities are different, and horse people are more laid back than we are in the U.S.,” she said. “But a lot of the riding crosses over.”
Baker’s main ride was Grand Prix schoolmaster Monsieur, a fancy Warmblood with a big buck that tested her mettle more than once.
An iguana fell from a tree in the ring on one occasion, setting Monsieur off onto a spree of leaps and spins — but Baker stuck like glue.
“The coach looked at me and said, ‘Well, I guess you can ride,’” she said, laughing.
Monsieur partnered Baker to a fourth-place individual finish last February at Grand Prix level in the FEI World Dressage Challenge.
Baker can now add international dressage experience to a riding resume that hasn’t stopped growing since elementary school.
Although she attended school in Raleigh, she spent every afternoon and weekend in the Sandhills, riding and competing out of Fox Lake Farm.
She recalled piloting her first pony around events when she was “an 8-year-old girl in pigtails” — she attributes most of their good dressage placings to “the cuteness factor.”
A $500 buy from the race track was Baker’s next competitive mount. Pumpkin — a versatile mare that excelled at show hunters, foxhunting and eventing — dropped only three stadium rails throughout a 10-year career with Baker.
“She was an absolute rock star,” she said.
Once Baker hit high school and had preliminary level in her sights, she transitioned to father Jim’s former hunt horse Wesley, a massive black Hanoverian with ground-gulping strides.
Wesley, who Baker called “Noodle,” was unpredictable but talented, and the two spent several years as active members of the Area 2 Young Riders program.
Juggling an upper-level event horse and a working student job for David and Lauren O’Brien with high school would seem plenty — but Baker also played a school sport every season from seventh grade through senior year.
Six a.m. workouts every morning before class became routine — she said she thought of it as cross training.
“Once you get to the upper levels, you have to be fit,” she said.
With a laugh, she added, “Sitting trot is hard.”
Baker graduated from St. Mary’s School in Raleigh in 2007 with a spot secured at the University of Virginia for the fall, and she sold Wesley. But she wasn’t without a horse for long.
After her first semester of college, Baker received a surprise phone call from a friend.
“He said, ‘I left a horse in your field, and if you can stay on him, he’s yours,’” Baker remembered. “I should’ve known better.”
Off-the-track Thoroughbred Pirate, show name The Devil’s Mariner, came with a bit of a price — the horse was anxious and unruly at shows, and Baker recalled trainers refusing to give her lessons.
“He would black-stallion rear, he’d run off, he’d spin,” she said. “We used to clear out the warm-up.”
But she said the experience she’s gained working with problem horses like Pirate has been invaluable.
“I learned by immersion. They taught me,” she said. “You learn when you can push them and when to call it a day.”
After her first year at UVA, Baker joined a sorority and succeeded in a tough pre-medicine curriculum while training for runs at Intermediate with Business Class, a horse she got from local professional Maya Studenmund.
The social life was there, she said, but when the choice was a show or a party on the weekend, “horses were always the answer.”
Baker will resume her medical studies in August — but for a few months she’ll be living the equestrian professional life, riding another horse from Studenmund, Poetic Justice, and offering lessons in the show hunter, dressage and eventing disciplines.
Alex Martone, a local eventer herself and one of Baker’s closest childhood friends, said Baker’s diverse riding experience and ability to keep horse’s and rider’s best interests in mind serve her well as a coach.
“She’s also going to give people a lot of confidence, as a confident person herself,” she said.
Anyone interested in a lesson or in need of an exercise rider or barn help can contact Sarah Baker at (910) 992-1337 or via email at
More like this story