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Dream BIG

Rediscovering the champion within

Last January, I was celebrating a new start after a year of cancer treatments. 2019 had been rough, but I made it through with a renewed appreciation for life and a strong sense of fearlessness. Life is short, and I can do anything. 

So, I decided to start riding horses again. I tried 10 years ago but was so full of fear I quit, convinced that I was too old to do the sport I loved. This time felt different, and I began training two to three days a week, setting the goal of competing in the fall. It had been over 20 years since I showed, and the goal was a lofty one. 

Then 2020 started to unfold. Like many, I was challenged by numerous events that shook my confidence. Diagnosed with a brain tumor in mid-January, we lost my father in March. A worldwide pandemic was changing the way we lived our lives, and uncertainty was the only thing on which we could count. My one-year follow up to ensure the cancer was gone was deemed non-essential, and fear tried to work its way back. Then all events were canceled, and I felt my dream slipping away.

But I kept going. My time in the saddle became my solace. I was reminded of how much you live in the moment when you are doing a sport or hobby you love. Everything else disappears as you focus and thrive on the task at hand. Working towards a goal also creates a deep purpose; it’s like a promise you make to yourself.

Equestrian activities were allowed to continue, and I was grateful to have this outlet. I was also grateful for the partner assigned to me, a beautiful chestnut gelding named Tristan. We make a great team as he used to jump big fences but is now limited to smaller jumps due to an injury. My dream did not include large fences; completing an eight-jump course would suffice!

Fall approached, and I was ready. I signed up for the Desert Holiday Series, entering the same divisions I showed in as a kid: equitation (judged on me) and hunter (judged on the horse). These were child/adult classes, so I would be competing against all ages in nine different classes over three days.

The week of, we trailered over for a practice round. I couldn’t believe it. For 12 years, I had attended shows at the Desert International Horse Park, only dreaming that I would be walking through the beautiful grounds on a horse one day. But as we started to warm-up, something happened. My heart started racing, and I couldn’t catch my breath. For the first time in my life, I was having an anxiety attack. Fear overcame me and I couldn’t do anything right. I was devasted by the thought that all my hard work might be sabotaged by my inability to actually enter the show ring.

I turned to my “confident me” and “fearless me” meditations and practiced breathing exercises to make it to Friday. With all the pieces in place – the braided mane, show coat, shiny boots and velveteen helmet – we entered our first class and walked away with second place. I was so proud I could have stopped there, but we had much more to accomplish.

I was most looking forward to the equitation flat class (walk, trot, canter) as I usually won this as a junior.  When they called my name for the blue ribbon, I broke down crying. The little girl on her pony next to me softly said, “Congratulations, you did great!” as if she were the little girl inside of me.

Laurie Cunningham’s Tristan

We went on to win champion in the equitation division and reserve champion in the hunter. I succeeded in controlling my nerves and honoring my true spirit. It was the best feeling I have had in a very long time, and something everyone could use right now…

What is it that makes your spirit soar? This year, see if you can embrace it once again. Life is too short, and you are never too old, so dream big.

Lauren Del Sarto

Lauren Del Sarto

20 Responses to “Dream BIG”

  1. Kristi McCune says:

    Hi Lauren I am so sorry for what you have been through this past year but hearing that you won the blue ribbon brought tears to my eyes. Congratulations and glad you are back in the saddle doing what you love. You look beautiful on that horse. Take care and I wish you well.

    • Lauren Del Sarto says:

      Thank you so very much, Kristi! What a ride it has been (:
      Keeping dreaming BIG!

      With appreciation ~

  2. Sharon Hughes says:

    Inspiring story Lauren thank you for sharing.

    • Lauren Del Sarto says:

      Thank you so very much for reading, Sharon.
      This is the year for all to dream BIG!!

      With appreciation ~


  3. Connie DiPasqua says:

    Congratulations not only with your win but in living your dream to the fullest. Honesty, humbleness and sincerity are admirable traits that suit you well. Your story is encouraging and heartwarming. I love your spirit & zest!!!!

    • Lauren Del Sarto says:

      Connie, you bring a tear to my eye. Thank you so very much for your kind words.
      Happy Bright New Year!!


  4. Janet Jurian says:

    Dear Lauren – How inspiring!!! If I remember correctly, it seems like you stopped riding after Cody passed? I am still riding at age 70! Hope to keep going until 75 (I promised Ryan I would stop then after having minor injuries after a fall this last summer – don’t think he wants to help take care of me!!). In Oct of 2018, Andy & I were going to go for a ride & while I was inside getting changed to ride, he had an accident while grooming his horse. His boot caught on the mat at the hitching post & he tripped and fell onto Maverick’s side. Maverick spooked & jumped back & when he did, he stepped on Andys toes & knocked him over like falling a big redwood tree. He broke the head of his femur & had to have a total hip replacement. It took him 9 months to get back in the saddle & he is not excited about riding. I have to beg him to ride. So most of my riding now is with girlfriends. As you found out, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to start again. I’m am SO IMPRESSED with what you have accomplished & the hurdles you have overcome. Be proud of what you have done! I know you will move on to many more successes with your determination. P.S. Ryan is now living in my mom’s house in Menlo & we are still in Woodside. If you’re ever up this way, stop by.

    • Lauren Del Sarto says:

      Janet, SO WONDERFUL to hear from you! Thank you so much for your kind words and for reaching out. Yes, after Cody (my last horse; previously the Jurian’s) died, I tried training again and that is when I quit with fear…Delighted to hear you are still in the saddle and sorry to hear of Andy’s incident (ug). Great to hear you still have your magical place in Woodside. Tommy and I would LOVE to see you both when we are in town next. Thanks once again and we will see you soon! Be safe and well ~


  5. Amy Austin says:

    What an wonderful article Lauren! I felt you jumping for joy overcoming every hurdle during this competition and, in life.
    Kudos to you! Your joy in the now and having the courage to risk serves to inspire us all! Yes!

  6. Laya Raznick says:

    Congratulations Lauren,
    I love the ebb and flow of life that your story illustrates. It’s so important to remember that life is like an ocean with crests and troughs…and that everything is always changing. Your tenacity shines through your championships, as it does in all you do, and is always an inspiration. Thank you.

    • Lauren Del Sarto says:

      Thank you so very much for your kind words, Laya! Just what my morning meditation was about (:
      We appreciate you!!

  7. Andrea Fishman says:

    As I’ve told you before, Lauren, you are truly an inspiration!! Just read your latest conquests and still have tears (happy) in my eyes. Thanks for reminding us to keep on dreaming …. and discover BIG dreams!!
    You are a star!!

  8. Diane Sheppard says:

    I am so proud of you! You have overcome your fears, health scares and personal loss and live on finding your joy!

    When i saw the photos of you riding my heart skip a beat!! Seeing you win the blue ribbons is such an inspiration, we are never to old to follow our heart and dreams… Knowing you would go to all the horse shows and watch, dreaming of riding and you made it happen and are on the podium radiant as can be!

    Your an amazing women with a heart of gold feel so lucky to know you!

  9. Kathleen O'Keefe-Kanavos says:

    Lauren, I am so thrilled to hear how you found and embraced your inner-guidance concerning riding for health. I believe there is no stronger connection to health during challenging times than the connection we have to animals; big ones like horses or tiny ones like hamsters. Love knows no boundaries or size.
    When it comes to love and dreams, one size does fit all. It pained me to know we shared a similar journey with cancer but filled me with joy to read how you “Got your Mojo Back” on the back of a horse named Tristan. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. We need to read stories like yours.

    • Lauren Del Sarto says:

      Thank you so very much, Kat ~ I agree wholeheartedly with your comments and can’t say enough about the healing benefits of animals and nature.

      Here’s the DREAMING BIG!

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