Meet our next Rider Spotlight, Rebecca Hart! Rebecca is an incredibly talented Para Equestrian with a deep love and unwavering passion for horses and the sport. The three-time Paralympian and double WEG medalist has a striking list of accomplishments with many exciting goals for the future. Rebecca will be joining us for Tryon Fall Dressage 2 CPEDI3* and 2019 USEF Para Dressage National Championship presented by Adequan® at TIEC this week, so be sure to come out and cheer her on!
Tell us about your horses!
The ones that I’m bringing up to this event is El Corona Texel [Tex], and this show will be our two year anniversary! Tryon holds a special place in my heart for multiple reasons: This horse is the one I took to the World Equestrian Games. He and I have competed very successfully at Tryon in the past, and we’re hoping to do it again next week. Tex is a 9-year-old Dutch gelding that I found in Holland. He’s quite the fun horse to ride. He’s very powerful, and you need to be mentally partnered with him because he doesn’t always have confidence.
It’s really nice now that I’ve had him for two years as we really know each other and he trusts me that we can go into bigger arenas and get our job done. We actually just came back from a two-week summer intensive European tour. We practiced a bit there to see what getting on and off the airplane was like and all of those little things that you don’t really know until you do it. He’s handling everything beautifully! He’s a super sweet, very elegant horse. I’m very thankful to Rowan O’Riley, who is my owner and sponsor, for giving me the ride on him.
How did you get involved with horses?
I started out as a horse-crazy little girl. My parents were like, ‘Where did you come from?’ We lived in downtown Pittsburg, and we were not horse people. My dad thought, ‘Oh, it’s a phase. We’ll do it then she’ll get over it. It’ll be fine!’ Then he was like, ‘Honey, what happened to the phase part?’ I’ve just always loved them [horses]. It was actually really interesting because I didn’t know that Para existed when I first started. I always rode in able-bodied classes. I always heard it was great physical therapy, but I had been riding all along.
After the Rio Paralympics, I retired my mare, and I didn’t have another horse until Rowan O’Riley came on and we got Tex together. I didn’t really ride for a year, and it was amazing to me how much I lost physically. My disease is Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia, which is a progressive condition that causes muscle wasting and paralysis from the midback down, and I didn’t realize how much therapy I was really getting from horseback riding until I stopped doing it. It really opened my eyes to just how beneficial horses can be to individuals with disabilities. From not riding for a year to riding for a year, my legs got a lot stronger and I felt better. I always thought, ‘Yeah, yeah, it’s good for you,’ then I realized, ‘Wow, it’s really good for you!’ It was a very special moment.
How have horses impacted your life?
Oh my gosh, that’s a big question! They are how I identify myself. A horse without a rider is still a horse, but a rider without a horse is just a human. When I was in between horses, it really made me realize how much I missed it and I lost a little bit of who I was. That really is what they mean to me. It’s who I am and what I live for. I love competing, but I also love the horses and horsemanship aspect of taking care of them every day. There’s a certain rhythm to it, and it gives you meaning. Something as simple as cleaning stalls, feeding, and cleaning the buckets… They really need you to do that. It’s very black and white, you know – it’s done or it isn’t. It sets a certain tone for the day and gives you a really nice rhythm for the flow of life. I really appreciate them for that!
What’s been a major highlight for you throughout your equestrian career?
Oh, I have to say a major highlight was last year at Tryon where I got the first-ever World Equestrian Games medal for a US Para Rider. It was such a monumental moment! We’ve been so close in the past, and to finally be able to achieve it on home turf with my parents watching – who are not horse people and don’t come to a lot of the events due to work and family – that for me was one of the most monumental moments.
What are you most looking forward to about Tryon Fall Dressage 2 CPEDI3* and the 2019 USEF Para Dressage National Championships presented by Adequan® at TIEC?
We’ve been working on solidifying some things with Tex, and it’s really starting to fall into place. It’s one thing to do it at home, but it’s another thing to do it at a competition. I’m excited to see the progression and where we need to be in order to really do what we want to do in Tokyo if we’re named to that team.
What’s your next major goal?
Tokyo is definitely what we’re aiming for! That is locked into my sights. I would love to do what we did at WEG and bring home another medal for the United States. It’s been a bit of time since we’ve had a Paralympics medal in Equestrian, and we’d love to be able to bring that home.
How can TIEC help prepare Para Equestrians for major events?
I love showing at Tryon! It’s so user-friendly with the bridlepaths and the setup and design of the stables. The horses are incredibly comfortable there, and the people are incredibly comfortable there. We love having access to different restaurants, all of the arenas, and the excellent footing. Tryon has been so fantastic about supporting US Para Equestrian and Para Equestrian in general. It’s a nice atmosphere and dynamic to come into a venue that really supports your discipline!
What advice would you give to an up-and-coming Para Equestrian?
The best advice I can give to an up-and-coming Para is to ask questions and don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Each rider knows their body the best and knows how to handle their disability. Trust the knowledge within yourself, but be open to suggestions. The Para community is amazingly dynamic and diverse. People have been experimenting with different compensating aids, and people are very generous with that information, so don’t be afraid to ask. Try different things, see what works for you, what doesn’t work for you, and find a coach who really believes in you. I think that your individual support team is so incredibly important.
Thank you for chatting with us, Rebecca. We can’t wait to see you this weekend!