In this new series called “Lifers,” we interview equestrians who have spent the better part of their lives in the saddle or involved with horses in some way.
Horses have been a major part of Sue Pallotta’s career and life for 42 years, and she doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. The 46-year-old amateur dressage rider from Port Perry, Ontario, currently competes at the Prix St. Georges level and clips horses with cool designs for her Clip Art clipping business – all in addition to her full-time day job running payroll for a casino.
How did you get started in horses?
We lived on a farm when we were children. My dad bought a pony for us to ride because my brother and I were picking the smaller cows out of the herd and trying to ride them! So we would go to auction barns and pick out a scraggly, unbroke pony and that would be our summer project. I was involved in Pony Club and had regular Saturday morning lessons until I was about 14 but we didn’t have the money to do much more than that. I still keep in contact with a lot of the people I did pony club with!
From there, I got my first horse job at 14 with Standardbreds and got to work with some of the best horses that raced in Toronto. It was after school and on weekends. Then I worked for a polo barn, and they clip their horses all the time and clip everything off, so that’s how I learned to clip!
What did you decide to do after high school?
After I graduated high school, I didn’t go to college. I went to work for another racehorse Standardbred operation – they had the world’s fastest Standardbred then – and I got to travel all through New York with the stakes horses. I slept in front of my horse’s stall in New York. I was fearless and it was amazing. They’d drop you off with your horse for the week wherever you were racing and I set up my cot in front of my horse’s stall to keep an eye on it. The one horse they ended up selling for $4 million, so we were responsible for a lot of money in horseflesh.
All of this time, my own riding was kind of put on the back burner. I was mostly grooming and taking care of horses.
How did you get into dressage and how did you make your way up the levels?
I worked for a few years doing administration office work for Tara Hills Stud’s breeding operation. Then I bought a Thoroughbred off a friend. She was 7 and hadn’t been ridden since she was 3, so she was wild. She was an amazing horse. We had a few dressage lessons and I kind of liked the dressage but I always found it hard.
Then I met my husband in 2000, and that was actually the turning point when I really started my dressage career. My husband’s family has a farm so we moved my Thoroughbred there. He said to me one day, “The neighbors have nice stallions. We should go look at them.” They had this beautiful black Trakehner stallion so we decided to breed my mare, but I couldn’t get her in foal. So instead I ended up buying a young horse off the stallion owner – it was a yearling and that was my first dressage horse. I broke her and did everything myself. I took her to her very first dressage show and she got a 62% at Training Level and won her class, and I was hooked!
I have brought Brinley up through the levels and we now compete at PSG/Intermediate 1. She has won numerous National Championships and has her own wall of fame at home in the tack room. Our partnership has grown over the past 14 years and she would do anything I ask of her, I am really lucky to have her as she is definitely a once in a lifetime horse. Brinley and I just received our Equestrian Canada Gold medal achievement award in Dressage for our placings at PSG in 2016.
What are your goals for the future?
I really would like to ride Grand Prix. I don’t know if it’s realistic but everyone has to have goals and I think I can achieve it. I don’t like to put pressure on myself. I always used to say to my husband, “Oh if i can make it to Second Level, l’ll be a real dressage rider.” Now he reminds me of that and we laugh.
I just love the challenge of it. Dressage is a daily challenge – it’s not a casual thing to be successful at it. That’s what I love about it.
There are a lot of adult amateurs out there wondering if they can [be competitive] – the big thing is you have to have the confidence to put yourself out there, don’t be afraid of going into the ring as you deserve to be there just as much as the next person. Put your best foot forward with a smile on your face and you are already a winner.
I always say amateur riders do not get paid to do this sport, they do it because they love the sport and they love their horse. We put our heart and soul into it and our pay cheque too.