The lock rattles against the door. Baloubet, waiting for his daily workout, continually pokes his head out of the hay-filled stall and pushes the lock. The six-year-old gelding is as relentless as a toddler looking for parental attention. Nearby, a woman tries to ignore the clanging, but it’s no use. She bends her left arm toward the horse and is rewarded with a playful lick of her hand.
“He wants to be a part of this,” Tara Ardalan says with a laugh. Her wide smile shows how glad she is to be an equestrian who works at her parents’ Caspian Stables in Valley Center. “I was born with it. I’m a second-generation horseperson. The day I was brought home from the hospital my dad probably put me on a horse.”
Ardalan ‘02 trains and sells horses and relishes the daily task of caring for 35 horses of all sizes, colors and attitudes. “The hardest part is falling in love with a horse and having to sell it. I don’t mind waking up early in the morning. I don’t mind picking up a pitchfork and mucking a stall. None of the labor, none of the work that goes into it, is hard for me. I enjoy doing it.”
Her parents, Arsia and Dee, have been powerful role models. Her father, who’s still a competitive show jumper at age 55, molded his daughter’s passion for horses. “Because I’ve grown up in this business, I really respect the rider who is also a great horseman. I don’t know if there’s anyone I have greater respect for in this business than my dad, because he’s an exceptional horseman.”
Dee is Tara’s driving force outside the business. “My mom taught me patience and grace and is incredibly supportive. She made sure I got a proper education. I think it’s very easy to grow up in the horse world and never venture out of it.”
The daughter of Iranian parents, Tara had her first pony at age 3. “Topol — which is Farsi for ‘chubby’ — was a chestnut with white paint. He was a good pony. I had him two years before we sold him.”
She graduated from ribbons to gold medals, earning seven aboard her all-time favorite, the late Witch Broome Wizard. “The only one I never sold. I had him for more than half my life. At his age, (12) when others thought his show jumping career was finished, they were wrong. He was just getting started.”
When she was 16, that horse helped Ardalan become the youngest female to win individual gold at the 1992 North American Young Riders’ Championship. She subsequently won individual and team gold in 1993. “He was the horse I traveled all over the world with and took to the (2000) Olympic Trials,” Ardalan says.
“He’s really the horse that taught me how to be competitive and become a winner.”
Perhaps Ardalan’s greatest achievement occurred at the 1998 Asian Games. Her dual citizenship status enabled her to be the first female to represent Iran in the show jumping event. “It opened opportunities for other girls who wanted to ride. I’m very proud of that.”
Despite her international résumé, there’s something missing: “Since I was in kindergarten I’ve wanted to go to the Olympics.”
She was the Iranian runner-up at the trials in Sweden, but did not qualify. She ended up riding her favorite horse when Raylyn, her main horse, was injured shortly before being shipped overseas. “I took Witch Broome Wizard, who was 21. He should have been well into retirement, but still loved what he was doing.”
Ardalan, 31, hasn’t bid for the Olympics since 2000, citing sponsorship difficulty and the need to have just the right horse. Currently riding Flying Lady, a 9-year-old mare, and training other prospects, Ardalan wants to go to London in 2012, but it’s clear that if it doesn’t happen, she’ll be fine.
“I get here in the morning, pull the horses out, groom, ride and give them a bath. I ride all day. I’m extremely fortunate that my passion in life is what I do for a living.”