The saying is old but true: Age really is just a number to eventer and Coatesville resident Jane Sleeper, as she made her third run in four years at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event in April. At 60, not much deters Sleeper from successfully navigating the highest levels of eventing competition in the world, embracing horsemanship, and taking an active role in the equestrian community around her.
Aboard her long-time partner, UN, Sleeper completed Rolex, the most challenging event in the country, on a solid score. The pair has competed at Rolex in 2007, 2008 and 2010.
"The Bromont Olympics - in Canada - Bill Roycroft rode, and I think he was 64. He really impressed me, and he went around Bromont like he was out for a Sunday hack," she said. "It takes a while to get a horse. I feel that now I have a horse, and I have a lot of confidence in her, so that's why we go!"
She continued, "Having the opportunity to ride a horse and take it to Rolex a few times in a row just adds to the splendor of your life. It's part of the charm."
Missed Rolex 2009
The one lapse in Sleeper's Rolex roster came in 2009, when she was unable to compete due to a healing hip replacement.
"I think it was just time. The thing that I really enjoy is riding. I break babies, and I had had a fall from a baby; he slipped in the mud years ago. In riding you do fall, and that's part of it," she explained.
She continued, "I was out of (the hospital) in a day and riding again in three weeks - not jumping. That's when I committed myself to doing Rolex again. UN had done Rolex twice and Burghley - the other four star, and I really wanted to do Rolex again."
Sleeper knew what she was looking for in UN, whom she's owned for 13 years, as she had another horse with similar breeding. She purchased the mare, now 15, as a late two-year-old from Ireland and brought her through the ranks. While she began competing at the Advanced level in the 1980s and has had many successful horses and partnerships, it is a challenge to find and maintain a horse that can compete at an event like Rolex year after year.
Four UN Foals
While UN won't compete forever, her presence in the equestrian community will not end any time soon. Sleeper has bred the mare four times through an embryo transfer procedure and has two of the foals. The oldest, Uno, is 4 and will compete at her first event this summer. The youngest was born in early May.
Sleeper will compete Uno herself, and while there is a big difference for a seasoned competitor to compete at novice versus the four-star level, she said she still gets nervous, depending on whom she is riding. However, she said, managing your nerves is part of being a good competitor and a good horse person.
"It's all who you're sitting on! It's pretty exciting for a novice horse to go in the water. But, Rolex always gets a fire in your belly. I just don't know how to tell you how exciting it is. It's really fun," she said.
Managing a full-time competition schedule and UN's offspring are just two parts of Sleeper's active equestrian life. She has a busy working student program and many students, ranging from novice through preliminary. Sleeper also rides with Mr. Stewart's Cheshire Foxhounds when time permits, teaches Pony Clubbers, and is a USEA Level III ICP instructor.
Grounded in Foxhunting
Her classic equine experience, grounded in foxhunting and strong horsemanship, makes her an asset to her students. Few trainers these days have her ideals and principals when it comes to training babies and working with young students. A traditional horsewoman, Sleeper stresses the importance of putting the horse first and continues to educate herself as a teacher and a rider. She also understands the importance of the close-knit equestrian community, especially that of Pennsylvania.
"I love riding, I love teaching, I love learning, and then I can take it all back to my students. And, then I love this area. Bruce Davidson brought me to this area; I came to work with him. So I just trot around the Chester County hills and get (the horses) fit and gallop, and I just love the area. It's so conducive to horses and people, and the event community is such a friendly community. Everybody is always really positive."