The daughter of a New Zealand Olympian, Rachel Fields knows a thing or two about the sacrifices and tough-mindedness it takes to forge a lifetime with horses. From her first pony Matchbox, who threw her off nearly every day, to fox hunts in freezing New Zealand winters, Rachel has pursued her passion through thick and thin. In high school, she determined that show jumping was her favorite type of riding because it presents a clear winner. Since then, she has built her career around her love for the sport.
Early on, Rachel trained with Sarah Breakwell, the sister of fellow New Zealander Peter Breakwell. Encouraged by her parents to ride dressage, Rachel also considers dressage trainer Katherine Darympal a major influence in her journey. Katherine was tough and demanding, but ultimately taught Rachel to have a great feel for what a horse was doing underneath her.
Since arriving to the States in 1999, Rachel has amassed a long list of achievements, staring down adversity along the way. Recognized for her talents from the start, early jobs included working with Butch and Lu Thomas at Willow Tree and with John French. Rachel soon after landed a private position at Maple Leaf Farm with Cathy and Alex Mendez. The successful partnership at Maple Leaf brought championships in both the hunter and jumper rings. It also gave Rachel the opportunity to join forces with Maple Leaf Farm’s top Grand Prix horse, Millennium. Rachel and Millennium placed 6th in the 2004 Olympic qualifiers and were also a U.S. Nations Cup Team member.
Although already established as a strong-willed horsewoman, ready to face any challenge, Rachel proved her will to withstand hardship in 2005. A freak accident in the show ring that year nearly took her life. Paralyzing the right side of her face, she suffered a crushing blow to the head, broken bones and a damaged ear canal. During the extensive recovery process, she endured several surgeries and lost some movement in her face, but she always looked forward to getting back in the saddle.
Months later, Rachel had to face the challenges of being back in the tack, all the while suffering from chronic headaches, which led to more surgeries aimed at helping her inner ear and fixing her broken jaw from the original fall. Now part bionic, Rachel is essentially repaired.
True to her unwavering passion, she reentered the winner’s circle in the spring of 2007 when she won the $30,000 Ariat Grand Prix at the HITS Desert Circuit on Karl Du Chateau, known as ‘Smarty’ around the barn. This win Rachel considers her biggest accomplishment to date.
In the summer of 2008, the Mendezes made the decision to downsize and sell most of their horses. Cathy encouraged Rachel to take the leap and go out on her own, and though that was a frightening prospect, Rachel had never let fear stop her. So the Kiwi that came to America branched out on her own and opened Sandhaven Farm in 2009.
In 2010, she was joined by her husband Jeff, and Kim Carpenter, her longtime friend and co-worker at Maple Leaf Farm. Rachel developed a close working relationship with Dutch horse dealing business Stal Hendrix, which continues to be instrumental in supporting the sales division of Sandhaven.
After another accident sidelined Rachel in 2014, she is now back in Grand Prix ring. She is once again contemplating international competition and revisiting her dream of wearing the colors of her home country by representing New Zealand at a World Cup Finals or on a Nations Cup
Rachel is also excited about what lies ahead for the farm, the clients and the up-and-coming Grand Prix horses and young prospects. Sandhaven is looking at a bright future.