Leaving Hoofprints in Our Hearts

Senior Rebecca Duffy has been horseback riding for nearly 14 years. “I started riding when I was four and I started taking lessons when I was seven.”

  She rides at Coriander Farms on Old St. Augustine Road, right off of I-295. “My barn is where I have made my most amazing friends. Since we spend so much time together at the barn and traveling to horse shows, we have become extremely close and we are a super tight-knit group.”  

  Her goal is to jump 3’9” this year with her new horse Verdi. “My horse now, Verdi, has crooked legs, and we call him Forrest Gump for it.”

  Jumping that height competitively for her would be a huge accomplishment. Having crooked legs for a horse is not the end of the world. As seen in Verdi’s case, he can still jump and very well too.

  Why a person rides is a feeling one can never really explain. “I started riding and then just couldn’t stop. It’s like an addiction that I can’t shake,” Duffy said, “When I can’t ride for a period of time, I feel as if I am losing a part of who I am.”

  In her time of riding, Duffy has had five horses. Four of them have been sold back to their previous owners. Each horse holds a special place in her heart.

  Because horses are prey animals, they get scared of little things like plastic bags, so their first instinct is flight. When a horse spooks, it jumps or moves to one side very quickly. Sometimes the rider cannot tell what scared her or his mount. Duffy said, “My first horse, Spot, who brought me up in the ranks, was constantly being spooked and scared of his own shadow.”

  The stereotype of a horse is a horse munching on apples, but Duffy said, “Spot HATES apples and will only eat carrots.” And her newest horse, Verdi, spits out green apples.

  Grand Prix horses compete internationally at top level competitions with very high jumps. “My second horse, Rigal, was an ex-Grand Prix International show jumper, and he brought me up to the 3’3 height.” However, horses also only live up to their 20s, so if a horse is 19 that is 60 in people years. Duffy said, “Rigal was old when I rode him, and he was soon retired after I stopped riding him.”

  Even though horses do not live very long, they leave huge impacts on people’s lives from the lessons they teach them and the connections they make with each other.

  Horseback riding gets more dangerous in the jumping world because the higher the jump, the higher the risk for the horse or rider to make a mistake and both get hurt.

  Horseback riding has been nominated multiple times as the most dangerous sport. “My third horse Norm was a little different than most. He has an unconventional way of moving and jumping but he was great fun,”said Duffy. “I had two of my worst falls off him as he fell down twice while I was riding him.”

  Horses weigh about 800-2,200 lbs, which means if a horse and rider fall, it could possibly mean injury or death. “Norm fell down from underneath me, propelling me into the ground and he almost landed on me,” Duffy said. “I broke my rib and had a major concussion, and an ambulance took me out of the ring to the hospital. I couldn’t ride for two months after.”

  Yet people ride anyway because of the intensity of the experience. Duffy said, “It’s something that is a little bit unexplainable. the power underneath me when we jump is something I wish everyone could experience. I grow with my horse and we created this special bond since there is so much trust that goes into this sport.”

  Horses, like people, all have different personalities. Like people, their different personalities are shaped by their nature and their nurture. For instance, if a horse grew up isolated, he or she most likely will not get along with other horses.

  “My fourth horse, Hammer, is my heart horse, but hates to be around other horses besides his best friend. He is not a morning horse and is super grumpy if you take him away from his food.”

  Riders come from all around the world, of different ages, shapes, sizes, and genders. People say it is not a sport mostly because they do not understand it. Duffy said, “Some people will never understand the amount of work that goes into it, and I just try to ignore their comments because I love what I do.”  

  So horseback riding is both a sport and more than a sport. It is a partnership between horse and rider that can last for many years and leave a

permanent hoofprint in someone’s heart.