Raegan Samson, a 13-year-old DeLandite, is a nationally ranked equestrian who trains at her family barn, Hanover Stables, just a few minutes from Downtown DeLand. After only two years in the sport, she and her horse McLaren, an 18-year-old warmblood, have climbed to the top spot in the Junior division of eventing at the United States Eventing Association. The pair have proved to be a formidable duo, and they show no signs of stopping anytime soon.
But behind the awards that Raegan and her friends at Hanover have accumulated, stands a team of young women growing up together and bonding over their shared love of the animals that carry them to victory.
Raegan’s parents bought Hanover Stables several years ago despite their limited experience with competition horses at the time, because they wanted their children to experience life on a large property with plenty of chances to be active outside. They also wanted to find creative ways to teach them discipline and responsibility, so when Raegan’s mom spotted the property on a walk one day, the parents leapt at the chance to secure it and have been adding upgrades and expanding ever since.
The farm now houses 30 horses, all with owners (mostly young people) who care for them themselves and who often train alongside one another for competitions. So many young athletes spend most of their time here that Rachel Samson (Raegan’s mother and part-owner of Hanover Stables) even converted an apartment on the property into a schoolroom so that the kids had a quiet place to home-school while still focusing on their budding equestrian careers.
How much time could they possibly dedicate to the sport? Far more than you’d think. Raegan alone spends five to seven hours per day out on the farm nearly every day of the week, training, cleaning, feeding and otherwise tending to the horses, and she’s not the only one.
The team of young riders all tend to their own animals, and they help one another with chores around the property as well, often taking turns to help complete specific tasks.
“I think it definitely makes us way more mature and responsible, since it’s a lot of work and since the horses rely on us to get it done,” Raegan said.
Hanover has been around since 1987, and was originally owned by Bama Rogers. Rogers was beloved by the community in her heyday. Her passion was making the notoriously expensive sport of equestrianism accessible to all kids, and she provided a significant portion of the maintenance costs out of her own pocket just to make it so. In order to honor her and keep her legacy alive, Rachel and her husband kept Rogers’ original name for the business, and still strive to keep things as affordable as possible. This is why they often have the riders help one another with upkeep and chores — so they can keep the otherwise astronomical housing fees at a comparative bargain.
“It’s really a family, our barn family. We help each other out; the girls have their coach and mentors, and they compete alongside their friends,” Rachel said.
One such coach and mentor, Rachael Haase, has been training and competing at Hanover since she was 11 years old. She even lived in the on-property apartment pre-conversion when she was 18. She started work there as a coach during that time, then coached elsewhere, and finally came back to Hanover in 2016. Since then, she has helped countless youngsters earn awards and grow into genuinely lovely people.
“I’m very blessed. It’s work, but it doesn’t feel like it. We [equestrian enthusiasts] would pretty much do whatever we had to just to spend more time out here doing this,” Haase said.
This sentiment seems to ring true for the up-and-comers as well.
Raegan grew to love the sport almost instantly, and hopes to turn it into a career one day. She says that it’s such a blast that it hardly feels like work, and that the bond between horse and rider is unlike anything else in the world.
“You can talk to them [the horses] through your riding. I like that you need each other to do well; it’s a big team effort with you and your horse. It’s really fun,” Raegan said.
It’s not all fun and games for her though; she takes the sport very seriously too.
“I definitely feel competitive about the competitions. And I usually get nervous before a match,” Raegan said.
She’s taken part in 16 competitions in just two years, and quickly rose to the top spot among all other riders her age across the nation in cross-country, show jumping and dressage competitions. Her ultimate goal is to one day compete in the Olympics.
“It’s so nice to find your passion early in life. Not everyone is that lucky. It really makes me happy for Raegan, I can’t imagine her ever giving it up… I’m so proud of her,” Rachel said about her daughter.
Hanover Stables, located on Grand Avenue in DeLand, offers summer camps and riding lessons to the public as part of their continued efforts to share their passion for the sport with the community.
“This is my favorite thing. It’s the best,” Raegan said.