Samantha Davis on Overcoming Adversity

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By Nancy Brannon, with Kathleen Terry-Sharp

Samantha Davis rides at Trinity Farm in Lakeland, Tenn. and just graduated magna cum laude with bachelor’s degree in December 2021from the University of Memphis.  She was President of the U of M Equestrian Club and the first member (of the rebooted club) to graduate.  But life has not always been easy for Samantha or her horse, “Big.” Both she and Big, a 13-year-old Thoroughbred, have overcome overwhelming adversity to gain the success they experience today. 

In November 2016, Big suffered a broken leg. He had been turned out in a paddock overnight and, running around, somehow broke his leg. He had surgery at Mississippi State University and spent at least a year in rehab with his former owner Sharon Nicholls.

On Easter Sunday in 2019, as a college sophomore, Samantha had a life-threatening brain aneurism, from which she almost died.  She underwent surgery, a craniotomy, and spent a couple of months in the hospital. “I spent my 21st birthday in ICU. Not a place where you’d want to celebrate such an important birthday,” Samantha remembered.

A year later, she had to have a second surgery and was hospitalized again. She now has a metal plate in her head and has had to relearn many things. She’s riding again, but life is not quite the same as it was before the aneurism. 

Before taking up riding, Samantha participated in competitive gymnastics. But under her mother’s influence, she decided to take up riding as a junior in high school (around 2015). Samantha’s mother Priscilla rides at Trinity Farm and is the office manager there. She has also served on the West Tennessee Hunter Jumper Association (WTHJA) board.

Samantha started riding horses at Trinity about the time that “Big” was in rehabilitation. In 2018, she started leasing the horse and they got along well. This year, Sharon Nicholls decided to give “Big” to Samantha since she is retiring to her home in Florida with her husband. “Big” means a great deal to Samantha. “He is such a great gift,” she said. “We have such a bond and he has actually helped me rehab, too – emotionally and mentally. He just seemed to know that he needed to take it easy with me and, even though a Thoroughbred, he is as calm as could be.”

Now Samantha shows “Big,” show name Gold Cielo, in the WTHJA shows in the jumper division. At her last show, the Harvest Time show, she moved up to the 0.90m Jumpers where she placed third. She also showed at the ExEL show and at Memphis in May this year.

In fact, at the 2021 WTHJA Spring Schooling Show, ironically on Easter weekend, the 0.70m Jumper Champion was Samantha Davis on Sharon Nicholls’ Gold Cielo (trained by Poppy Doyle). The pair were first in two out of three classes. What an amazing recovery for both in just a few years!

The aneurism sparked an interest in the medicine and Samantha is now waiting to hear from her applications to attend medical school. “I always had an interest in a personal-type, not a desk, job. This past summer I did an internship at Regional One Health Medical Center in trauma surgery. When I had my craniotomy, the doctors went above and beyond [the call] to help me. In turn, I want to help people recover from whatever issue they face.”

“Samantha is truly a unique young woman,” said ECHO Foundation President Kathleen Terry-Sharp.  “She represented the ECHO Foundation as Germantown Charity Horse Show Princess in 2017 and was everything you would hope a Princess would be.”

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