Sara M. Riggins of Piney Flats, beloved wife, mother, daughter, friend and teacher, passed to her eternal ride through green pastures on 25 August 2017 at home surrounded by her family and friends.
Born in Stone, England 14 July 1965, she was the daughter of William Owen and Marjorie Coles Brown of Seighford, England. She attended school at Cooper Perry Elementary School, Seighford and Sir Graham Balfour School, Stafford, England. She completed nursing training at the Mid Staffordshire School of Nursing, Stafford, England in November 1986 and worked in the English National Health Service as a registered nurse until the time of her marriage. It was during her training in mid 1985 that she met a young medical student from Tennessee, Matthew Riggins, who would be fortunate enough to become her husband. Initially she refused his request for a date saying “he must be already married because his socks match!” It was only after the intervention of a mutual friend that she said yes. He proposed on their second date with her accepting by asking “what took you so long?” They were joined together 29 April 1987 in her home village church, The Church of England of Seighford Parish. Returning to Kingsport in May 1987, they enjoyed many adventures over the next 30 years of marriage. While her husband was completing his post graduate training, she worked as a Registered nurse on the orthopaedic and oncology wards of Holston Valley Medical Center until a move to Bedford, PA in 1989, then returning to Piney Flats in February 1991. Their greatest adventure began on 14 May 1996 with the arrival of their son Ian James Riggins.
She was raised on her family dairy farm, a business that her brother continues to this day. However, Sara pursued a passion for horses and all things equestrian from an early age. It was during her early teens that she brought home Winston, her first horse. Her father objected strenuously not only to an animal eating the grass which should be for cows only but also to an animal used for foxhunting, a sport which damaged pastures. Sara won this disagreement as she did many others if it involved her lifelong passion. Her parents enjoyed caring for “that old nag” and actually fought over who got the privilege of caring for him after Sara left for America. In 1988, a year after arriving in America, she obtained her first of what would become many horses over the years.
After initially returning to Tennessee, Sara resumed her nursing career but found her attention being drawn to farriery (horseshoeing). She attended Eastern School of Farriery in Martinsville, Virginia, completing her training in November 1991 with the establishment of Horseshoeing by Sara Riggins following shortly thereafter. As one of but a handful of female farriers, she faced an uphill climb to be accepted in this area, but as with every attempted endeavor, she succeeded and operated this business successfully. She and her little helper Ian could frequently be seen traveling together in her corporate headquarters throughout the northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia. During this time, she was honoured to donate her services to Small Miracles Therapeutic Riding Center and also served on their board of directors.
Sara was an active supporter of many organizations. She and her husband were honoured to open their home to musicians over the years for the Symphony of the Mountains orchestra, many of whom remain friends. The highlight of symphony involvement was the honour of sponsoring soprano Carl Tanner on their thirtieth wedding anniversary this past April, an event shared with several hundred of their closest friends. Sara was also active in the Sullivan County School System from the time Ian entered kindergarten at Holston Elementary School until he left from Holston Middle School. This involvement was mainly as a school nurse volunteer, but she also was known for periodically bringing a grill to school to serve the staff and teachers an impromptu barbeque. Show and tell would involve her trailer being loaded with horses and brought to the school parking lot for children to experience a horse up close. A play structure was donated in 2005. In 2006, she was conferred the honour of a Friend of Education Award by the Sullivan County Education Association.
In 2006, another dream was realized as land was purchased, a stable built and Hawley Farm Stables, a boarding and equestrian riding facility, became a reality with Sara as owner, operator, instructor, maintenance engineer and farrier. It was at this time that Sara discovered her innate ability and gift to teach others the joy of horses and pursued this passion fervently. Students ranged in age from 4 to 70 and all were treated with individuality for their strength and weaknesses. Not only was riding instruction taught, but all aspects of barn care and management as well as appreciation of the horse as a living being to be cared for as family. “Mean Mary Poppins” was the loving phrase students would give to Sara because she held her students to a high standard but loved each and every one with all her heart. She was able to intuitively know what students’ strengths and weaknesses were and helped each rider overcome what was only a perceived weakness. She helped people achieve personal goals, not only equestrian, but in life. There were many people who would hear her practical advice of “no whining, get your big girl pants on and deal with it.” Many people became friends and family during this time. The highest honour one could achieve was to become one of her beloved “barn rats,” meaning that the right had been won to care for your horse and use the facility without supervision. Over the years, she and her students attended many horse events throughout the area winning many ribbons but, more importantly having fun and exhibiting the highest level of sportsmanship to other people; there were no losers at these events, only winners. One of her greatest achievements came as Western North Carolina Hunter Pace reserve champion 2015-2016 while undergoing chemotherapy. Even though she was proud of this accomplishment, she was even more proud that one her students, initially hesitant only in her mind to ride to the level required of this event, was the Grand Champion.
Sara’s philosophy, “I teach life lessons, the horses are only tools” was often said to family and friends. This was also true of her battle with breast cancer; courage, grace, dignity, good humor, perseverance and living life every moment in the present. Even though she did not realize it, she taught many, many people how to deal with adversity.
Sara is survived by her husband, Matthew, and son, Ian of Piney Flats; parents, William and Marjorie Brown of Great Bridgeford, England; brother, Neil William Brown and partner Judith Newman of Seighford, England, as well as an extended local “family”, barn family, “barn rats” and a multitude of friends.