Hilary is known as one of the bravest individuals at Equest. Hilary has been riding at Equest since 1993. She started at age 6 and has been riding continuously since then. She is a fixture at all Equest shows. Hilary is an 'A' level rider (walk/trot/canter), and she also jumps. What's so BRAVE about that? Hilary has Down Syndrome.
Individuals with Down Syndrome have poor depth perception and poor balance - resulting in a fear of heights, as well as low muscle tone, which in turn means low physical exertion. Imagine climbing up on a horse and asking it to canter when you can't really discern where the ground is. And then try to imagine asking that horse to jump when you can't tell exactly where the or how high the obstacle is!
Hilary is determined to do her best. She is the only 'A' level rider with Down Syndrome in the state of Texas. She participates in every Equest show and qualifies to go to the Special Olympics state-level games each year. She also competes in some able-bodied shows. Hilary does Equitation, Trail, and Dressage tests at these shows. When doing trail and dressage at 'A' level, the rider must memorize the patterns and execute them independently, without a leader or side walkers. This mental exercise is another challenge for Hilary and she rises to meet it. She studies very diligently to memorize and recall the patterns, laying out the course in her room and practicing it in small scale, reinforcing it over and over in her mind. At shows, you might see her sitting somewhere quietly, reviewing the diagrams once again. Some of her fellow riders don't have to work nearly as hard to commit the patterns to memory, but Hilary doesn't let that deter her.
Over the years, Hilary has ridden many Equest horses and each one has been a part of her becoming the accomplished equestrian that she is. But her current horse, Cody, is extra special. They have a very close bond. He is her best friend. Cody's small pony stature is perfectly proportionate to Hilary's petite frame. They fit together. As much as she loves Cody, he seems to feel the same. One day, Hilary was walking in the pasture with her instructor. She spotted Cody in the distance and ran to see him. Cody lifted his head and spotted her, too. He could have waited for her to reach him, as most horses would have done. Instead, he trotted to meet her halfway, where they stood together in an embrace. That's the power of the human-horse bond come to life, and it transcends disabilities.
Hilary has hopes and dreams, like we all do. Some will be realized and some won't, as happens for all of us. There is no doubt, though, that she has already accomplished something extraordinary. For not letting her physical and cognitive hurdles hold her back, we call Hilary brave!
To donate to Equest in honor of Hilary, click here.