Out of all the equine sessions I have photographed, this one needed to be absolutely perfect. This pair is so dear to me and I wanted to capture the amazing horsewoman that my client is.
This is the session of Sherry Stewart and Ocho, my dear friend and trainer!
I first met Sherry a little over a year ago while looking for a boarding barn. I usually show up to the appointment a little early to check out the water buckets, the stalls, and overall facility and was impressed with how clean and safe everything was. Sherry walked up to me with a smile and was eager to hear about my rescue horse that I hoped one day I could take to a show or two.
I was so concerned with finding a trainer who would be patient with Athena, who wouldn’t rush her and would take their time with her. Who believed in her as much as I did and saw her potential, but would be blunt and honest with me too. Who would let me be involved with every step so that I could not only learn myself, but learn my horse too. Someone who didn’t need tricks or gimicks, someone who was natural with the horse. Man, was I relieved to find all of that with Sherry.
Over the next few days, Sherry was eager to help me and Athena in anyway she could. You see, my mare is a rescue and just recovered from a serious leg injury that almost took her life. She was panicked, a little dangerous, and wild. Everyone around me seemed to tell me to give up. They would nod their head with a forced smile when I told them of my big plans with Athena, usually following up with “don’t get your hopes up” or “I don’t know if she is capable of all that”.
No one believed in us, no one wanted to even take a chance on our little broken and green team. But Sherry did. From the moment we met her, instead of “no’s” and negativity, for the first time someone met us with positivity and possibility. For the first time, someone didn’t treat us like we were broken or didn’t have a chance.
And let me tell you, Athena and I were a hot mess. I was recovering from a hip surgery that had me not walking for almost 5 months, I didn’t ride for over a year. I had never trained a horse myself before, and I only showed in open circuits. I was not an accomplished rider by any means and I was relearning how to ride with my new hip. Athena was a wild and terrified rescue, recovering from a terrible leg injury. Without a beat Sherry took us in and started working hard on us, treating us like we actually had a chance.
Sherry met every obstacle we had with experience, patience, and dedication. I expressed I wanted to be as involved with Athena’s training as possible, and to my surprise Sherry has let me do everything under her guidance. Every lesson I walked away with so much more knowledge on true and natural horsemanship. From getting a horse to let me pick up it’s feet for the first time, to driving a horse, to teaching a horse how to move off my leg, Sherry shared so much knowledge and expertise that just blew me away. Sherry is kind but firm, patient yet drives you to be better.
It has taken me over a year to finally find out some of Sherry’s accomplishments because this lady is so beyond humble. She has world titles in trail classes, pleasure classes, and so much more. She was a top trainer here in North Carolina with AQHA producing some of the most successful show horses. She has a successful and amazing equine career, but she won’t brag about it or tell you. You almost have to drag it out of her. Haha I found out by finding some old win pictures in the tack room! Instead she lets her horses do the talking for her, and man they do!
Let’s start with her personal horse, Ocho. Ocho is a 3 year old foundation Quarter Horse who is an absolute saint. He adores children and is so careful around them. He is always in your pocket, LOVES his food, and is the kind of horse you can always count on. With only a dozen or so rides Sherry takes him to trail challenges and he eagerly completes spooky obstacles without hesitation. He trusts her whole heartedly, and you can see it in the way they ride. It is something really special.
With only a handful of rides, you can see how advance he is due to Sherry’s training. He is at a level that most horses would take years to get to, but Sherry just knows how to get each horse to get to where it needs to be. It is something really amazing to watch and learn from.
Speaking of watching, this horse follows Sherry when she is around the barn. He watches her every move and eagerly waits for her to come to him. He lowers his head to her and snuggles her so hard. It is one of the cutest things I have ever seen!
It is easy to love your own horse with that fire and passion, but Sherry loves every single horse in her barn that way. Sherry truly loves Athena almost as much as I do and takes extra time to care for her. She gives her some special treatment from time to time, and as a boarder that makes my heart sing. Athena’s well being is just as important as Ocho, or even her own well being. When Athena colicked I stayed up with her all night, and Sherry was right there with me the entire night. Sherry truly loves and cares for each horse in her barn like they are her own.
I have already touched on this, but when I say that Sherry was the only one who really believed in us, I mean it. For the first time someone didn’t look at me like I was a nut job when I said I wanted to show Athena. In fact, after a few weeks of training she turned to me and told me how much natural talent Athena had. Finally, someone saw what I did!
As I got on her and started riding her, we realized her true potential and Sherry was out there in the hot summer heat getting Athena and I ready for her first show. Sherry was just as dedicated as I was to getting Athena to her first show, and it felt AMAZING to have a teammate working just as hard to get us to our dreams. There were times people got in my head and Sherry would lift me back up. She kicked my butt in the arena and pushed Athena and I to our max.
But guess what? At our first show, Athena and I won every class we went into, all thanks to Sherry. It is easy to see how great the finished, polished, great pedigree horses are, but to see that potential in a dingy, skinny rescue horse takes a lot of knowledge, optimism, and something special. Sherry has got that. She turned a broken, inexperienced, hot mess of a pair and turned them into polished and winning competitors. Not everyone can do that.
Since then we both decided to go for the Pinto World Show with Athena and honestly Sherry wants it as bad as I do. It feels so amazing to have a partner to help you get to your wildest dreams and who truly wants it as bad as you do. She has walked me through showing at bigger shows, what routines work best, what tack and stuff I need, and lets me borrow her tack until I can afford my own. She trailers us to shows, gets second opinions on things, and pushes us at every lesson.
We have only been to three shows, but already Athena and I are a force to be reckoned with thanks to Sherry. We have SO much more to learn and do before the world show, but never have I been at this level and never did I ever think I would own a horse as wonderful and as talented as Athena. It is all thanks to Sherry. Thanks to her we actually have a shot at achieving my wildest dreams.
The point in sharing all that is just to show how loyal, dedicated, and how hard working Sherry is. When you walk around her farm, it is clean cut, beautiful, and functional. And she built it all on her own too. When she isn’t working, she is found working on the barn, working horses or doing something kind for a friend.
She is brutally honest, but when she tells you something like you have the potential to do something great, you believe her because you know she doesn’t lie like that. She loves her family and they are a huge priority to her. She is always there for her friends. I have seen some pretty terrible things happen to her over the past year and a half but she is resilient and always makes lemonade out of lemons. And let me tell you, when she puts her mind to something, it gets done!
Not only is Sherry a great person, she is an AMAZING horsewoman. Really though. Troubled horses seem to relax around her. She knows how to get any horse to do something without beating them down or breaking their spirit.
She can look at a horse and is able to tell you how they are feeling or what is wrong with them. She knows how to get a horse to move a certain way, or how to get it to perform certain maneuvers with a shift in the seat and some leg.
I look up to her so much, and I hope one day to be half the horsewoman she is. She is truly so talented and knowledgeable with the horses, but she doesn’t brag about it or flaunt it. Anytime I see her working with horses I try to stop what I am doing to watch because every interaction I learn something new.
Sherry is truly something special and there aren’t a lot of people like her in the equine industry today. The horse and it’s well being is the most important thing to her. She pushes them to their best, but when you see them perform they are happy and relaxed.
Horses are excited to see her and love to hang out in her company. She gives them each so much love and devotion!
Above all, she is so fair to the horses. If Ocho is sore, she doesn’t ride. If a horse doesn’t understand, she doesn’t get mad and get after the horse. She asks what she knows they can do and never asks something that they cannot achieve.
It is funny, because while most people are sleeping at night Sherry is out just double checking on the horses, stepping in the stall and giving love to the horses that need it. They are her world and she truly cares about each of them.
I believe they know that too, because they seem to relax around her and trust her more than normal people. Horses have a weird sense like that.
Being able to document that bond she shares with her horse was such an honor. I am so grateful to have not only such a knowledgeable and talented horsewoman in my life, but such a wonderful and dedicated friend and teammate. <3
Hair and Makeup: Sunshine Artistry
Show Halter: Harris Leather and Silverworks