When Sarah drives Magic, state championships follow
Ateam of two 15-year-olds from McCandless has won three state championships in 4-H competition. The ribbons and titles go to Sarah Mee, a home-schooled sophomore in the North Allegheny School District, but she couldn’t have done it without Believe in Magic, a miniature horse.
Although she’s only 5 foot 3, Sarah is too big to ride Magic. The black mare is 36 inches tall from the bottom of her front hooves to the base of her mane and weighs 350 pounds. The maximum weight Magic could carry on her back is about 60 pounds, but she is big enough and strong enough to pull a twowheeled pleasure cart driven by Sarah. Last October in Harrisburg, Sarah beat out 23 mini-horses driven by competitors ranging in age from 14 to 18 years old to become state champion in Miniature Horse Driving Junior.
With multiple teams in the show ring, miniature horses walk and trot as their drivers are scored based on control and precision. Sarah and Magic also finished second out of 31 in Miniature Horse Jumping, missing first place and the state championship by a half second.
In 2017, Sarah won state champion in Miniature Horse In-Hand Trail Junior and in 2016 she won her first state championship in Miniature Horse Driving Junior.
About 1,000 horses, ponies and miniature horses and 4-H members ages 8-18, competed at the 2018 Pennsylvania State 4H Horse Show at the Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg Oct. 26-28. Allegheny County was represented by 16 riders and 17 horses. To get to Harrisburg, all had to beat competitors in county and district shows. Anastasia Pillar, a student in the Pine-Richland School District, was state champion with quarter horse Shamrock, 28, in the Obstacle Trail/Minimum Assistance, which is part of the 4-H therapeutic riding program.
“In the ring, when they announce first place, you know all your work has paid off,” Sarah said during a recent practice session with Magic at Parkview Riding Academy in McCandless.
In jumping and trail classes, Sarah holds a lead line attached to Magic’s halter. She walks beside the mini-horse, giving oral cues and signals. In jump classes, Magic is asked to clear seven or eight jumps without knocking down poles. In the trail class, Magic navigates obstacles, including gates, poles, cones and on some courses, a little bridge.
Sarah is the youngest of Tracy and Amy Mee’s four children and the only equestrian.
“We are thankful that she has found something she loves and is good at,” Mrs. Mee said. Win or lose, Sarah enters and leaves show rings “with her chin held high and a big bright smile on her face.”
Riding and showing horses “has given Sarah so much confidence. She used to be quite shy,” her mother said.
Mrs. Mee makes the sparkly western shirts Sarah wears in the mini-horse competitions. Mr. Mee, an engineer, makes the
jump hurdles used in practice sessions.
Like all athletes, Sarah and Magic practice many hours per week, year round.
Sarah also competes on Rosie, 10, a 1,200-pound Belgian draft/quarter horse/ paint cross. Sarah rides astride the red roan mare. At the latest 4-H champion show, their best finish was seventh out of 28 in Hunt Seat Equitation on the Flat.
“I just love the horses so much,” she said. “It’s been really amazing working with both of them and growing with them.”
Sarah and Magic have an especially close connection. “Magic is one day older than me,” Sarah said.
Their birthdays are April 27 and 28, respectively.
Magic is owned by Tanya Haney, 33, and Rosie is owned by her mother, Wanda Haney, 65. Both women are Sarah’s riding instructors at Parkview Riding Academy.
“Sarah has natural talent and is willing to try different things,” Wanda Haney said. “Rosie is very strong and powerful, and Sarah is very patient with her. She is a very dedicated rider.”
Tanya Haney said Sarah has what horse people call a “good seat and good hands. She’s one of the best students I’ve ever had.”
Since 2008, Tanya Haney has instructed and coached the winners of nine state championships, including Sarah’s three.
Sarah recently won election as the 2019 president of the North Ridge Riders 4-H club. In addition to home schooling, she is a first-year student at A. W. Beattie Career Center. She hopes to pursue a career as a veterinary technician while training horses and giving riding lessons. She is a member of North Allegheny’s track and field team, competing in long jump and triple jump.
Sarah Mee, 15, of McCandless takes a practice drive with Believe in Magic, a 15-year-old miniature horse, at Parkview Riding Academy in McCandless.
Sarah Mee and Magic are three-time state champions in 4-H equestrian competition.
Sarah Mee brushes Believe in Magic in the barn at Parkview Riding Academy in McCandless.