Eighteen-year-old Junior rider, Alexandra (Alex) Clark, has been riding for eleven years now. Her parents, Audrey and Eddie Clark, recall Alex expressing her desire to ride horses from early on. In fact, she began telling them she wanted to ride as soon as she could form sentences.
Not immersed in the equine world, Audrey and Eddie were not completely sold on the idea of their young daughter becoming an equestrian at first. However, thanks to the Clark’s neighbors and good friends, the Mangum’s, Alex now had a route into her dream of riding. Being experienced equestrians themselves, the Mangum’s were willing to help her get started. Her riding career began with a summer camp and progressed into years of lessons and showing.
At nine years old, the Mangum’s introduced Alex to Joanna Wilburn, Ruth Wilburn, DVM, and Sally Ross Davis, owners of Rollingwoods Farm, a family-run Welsh Pony breeding, training, and sales operation in Olive Branch, Miss. Initially, Alex rode for the Wilburns on occasion; however, by the time she turned eleven, she was riding for Rollingwoods full-time. “As a child, the thing I wanted most was to ride all the time, and that was exactly what riding for the Wilburns allowed me to do,” Alex recalls.
Being a full-time pony rider at Rollingwoods for the last seven years consists of much more than just riding ponies. Alex’s responsibilities on the farm go far beyond that. She states, “While that is a big part of what I do, I also manage the Rollingwoods website and social media, register ponies, design and promote sales ads, and help Joanna with the day-to-day tasks around the farm. I generally ride and drive multiple ponies every day.”
Alex’s biggest accomplishment of her riding career so far has less to do with material awards and titles earned, and more value is given to the “less tangible accomplishments,” such as the development of Rollingwoods Hot Topic, a Section B Welsh Pony Mare. Alex began working with Hot Topic on the ground as a yearling and broke her in 2022 as a three year old. She put in a year of work with her at home while she continued to show other ponies. Hot Topic was put on the show string this year as a four year old. “I could not be more proud of the way she has handled her first year of showing. While this may seem minor as I have broken out and shown many young horses, I consider developing Hot Topic to be my biggest accomplishment because I was able to work with her from her yearling year until now. The pony she has become is not only a product of my work with her over the past 3 years, but it is also the culmination of the hard work I have put in and knowledge I have gained throughout the entirety of my riding career,” Alex explains.
As far as her biggest challenge, Alex says that would be confidence level issues. Like many competitive equestrians, “I have always struggled with worrying too much about what other people think of me and not concerned enough with riding for myself,” she states. However, last year one of her trainers gave Alex great advice on the subject of confidence that she would like to pass along to other young riders who struggle with confidence as well: “Stop thinking about [others’ opinions]. You have nothing to prove to them or anyone else. Showing is about proving to yourself what you are capable of. So, just focus on yourself, the trainer, and the pony, because that is all that matters.”
When asked who has been influential throughout her riding career, Alex credits her parents, Audrey and Eddie, first and foremost. “They have always encouraged me to pursue my interests, and I am forever grateful for their support of my passion for riding,” Alex emphasizes. As far as trainers go, Alex says, “I have been privileged to work with many incredible people (including Victoria Hickerson, Judy Fendley, Sally Ross Davis and Ruth Wilburn, DVM of Rollingwoods Farm, and Beanie Cone and Catie Beth Varian of Hunter’s Edge Stables) throughout my riding career, but the most influential has been Joanna Wilburn. Joanna has been my mentor and trainer for the past 8 years, and I can confidently say that I would not be the rider or driver I am without her, nor would I be the person I am today without her influence. Joanna has invested innumerable hours into expanding my knowledge as an equestrian, while also teaching me valuable lessons that apply to circumstances much broader than what can be found in a riding arena. She is my unwavering support system both inside and outside of the ring, and without her I would not be able to take advantage of all the incredible opportunities that I am presented with. I firmly believe that every equestrian needs a Joanna figure in their life because I would certainly be lost without mine.”
Outside of riding and driving, Alex enjoys participating as a member of the Welsh Pony and Cob Society’s Youth Advisory Council. As a part of the Youth Council, she spearheaded the development of a written nomination-based Sportsmanship Award. She also earned the Sabra Schiller Volunteer of the Year Award in 2020 for her work on the Youth Council. As far as what the future holds for this talented, young equestrian, Alex says, “My short term goal is to find a way to incorporate riding into my life in college, and my long term goal for the next five years is to develop a lifestyle and career that will allow me to continue to ride.”