The Lead Change is a blog series dedicated to the cowhorse cowgirl. A rare blend of strength and femininity, she is tenacious, fearless, and determined to break down barriers. This is her story.
From the first time that Sandy Collier stepped into a stirrup, she was destined for an unknown greatness.
“I’ve been riding horses since I was six years old,” Sandy said. “I took lessons from a German riding instructor on the East Coast, learning to jump. I eventually went into three-day eventing.”
“I remember a great big grey horse I had. I thought I was jumping the moon on as we flew over poles on the ground,” she said with a laugh.
Despite her english background, Sandy moved to California and began training wild mustangs for a ranch on the coast. It was there that her love affair with cowhorses began, and her show career on the west coast began.
“When I left that ranch I really had to earn a living, it just made sense to be a horse trainer. I knew I had the foundation and history to do so.”
Sandy spent a year with cowhorse trainer Tom Shelly, learning and growing as a trainer, before starting out on her own in 1979.
“It’s a lot different now than it was then,” she said. “All of the trainers had their “behind the barn” tricks and secrets, and nobody wanted to share them. Nowadays, people have clinics and write books, and are a lot more open with their training experience.”
As a young trainer, Sandy knew she had to be on the top of her game to compete in the industry.
“I felt like I had to be two points better just to tie the others. I just kept knocking on the door and eventually poked my head through,” she said.
And boy did she!
In 1993, Sandy won the prestigious NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity on Miss Rey Dry. The first and only woman to ever do so.
“Back when I won, it paid out around $30,000,” she said. “Today it pays $100,000.”
Along with Miss Rey Dry, Sandy has had the opportunity to ride some truly incredible horses. This list includes AQHA World Champion Sheeza Shinette, NRCHA Hackamore Classic Champion Taz Precious Peppy, and NRCHA Stallion Stakes Champion Quannah San.
Yet, despite this impressive equine resume, Sandy doesn’t have a favorite.
“There have been so many that I’ve loved. I had a horse when I was a kid that just got me so hooked, we were such a team. We grew up together and I learned to ride and jump, and he holds a special place in my heart,” Sandy said.
“Sheeza Shinette got shipping sickness on her way home from winning the AQHA world, and she had such a heart, she wasn’t giving in. She had hoses and IVs and everything coming out of her, and I just broke down in tears. She showed the same heart and try in beating the illness, as she had in every ride. She was such a special horse.”
“And Miss Rey Dry, so elegant and such an athlete!”
“But, I don’t have a favorite one. So many of them have shared their lives, and their heart, and their journey with me that it would be hard to pick just one out.”
This journey has been a lifetime of learning for Sandy, who feels that she will never fully be through with her equine education.
“The thing that’s kept me hooked with the horses it’s that you never really arrive. There’s always something to learn.There’s always something your horse can teach you. You can become very skilled, but mastery takes a lifetime to achieve,” she said. “You’re always striving to get better, and if you’re not, then you’ll never run with the top dogs. It’s a really exciting industry to be in.”
Despite her forced retirement from training and showing in January, Sandy still rides and enjoys horses at home.
“I’ve had three knee replacements, and that has managed to slow me down. I also had a neck fusion and a shoulder replacement. My shoulder surgeon told me that it was time to quit,” she said. “There’s no way I could saddle horses and such day in and day out without wearing out the implant. I can still ride, and love to give clinics, but thought I would like to eventually retire with one joint that is still my own.”
“I tell people I skipped the golden years and went right to the titanium ones.”
Sandy now works as a real estate agent for horse properties, gives clinics, and judges. Recently, she and cutting horse legend Barb Schulte (also an honoree in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame) have started hosting women’s retreats and clinics. They focus on developing the mental skills required for peak performance, as well as the technical skills of cutting, cowhorse, and reining.
“We really enjoy sharing, with other gals, all the things that horses have taught us. And then we pull it all together by adding some personal meaning to our lives with horses. The response has been pretty awesome!”