Rachel Pietracupa is one stride closer to fulfilling her dream of becoming a professional therapeutic riding instructor for the Equestrian Association for the Disabled.
The 17-year-old Stoney Creek native was recently awarded a $1,000 bursary from the Ontario Equestrian Federation (OEF). She plans on putting the bursary toward obtaining certification in therapeutic riding instruction through the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association, so she can make it her life’s work to help children and adults with disabilities.
“I have always dreamed that I would get a job where I worked with animals, kids and the disabled,” Pietracupa said. “I started volunteering for the Equestrian Association for the Disabled (TEAD) in 2012 and I just fell in love with everybody. I have created a strong and unbreakable bond with them.”
Pietracupa was among seven juniors from across the province to receive the money.
The OEF distributes each year a minimum of five $1,000 bursaries to youth based on their involvement with horses, future goals and letters of recommendations from coaches. Family resources and academic achievements are also considered.
Applicants submit an essay describing their horse experience and how they would spend the bursary. Recipients can use the money for continuing education, riding lessons, clinics, competition fees and other activities that will help them reach their equestrian goals.
“I feel very honoured and privileged to be one of the seven people in Ontario to get it,” Pietracupa said. “I definitely wasn’t expecting it to happen. I just didn’t think it was possible for me to write an essay that would be worth winning a $1,000 bursary.”
Pietracupa discovered her love for horses while riding at a friend’s barn.
“I was about six years old and ever since, my love for horses has grown,” she said. “I have a deep respect for them. I have ridden at least nine different horses and unfortunately I have experienced a fall, but luckily it was not serious.”
Pietracupa found out about TEAD – a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for children and adults with disabilities through equestrian therapy – after initially applying to volunteer for the Hamilton/Burlington SPCA.
“I wanted to work with animals, but the waiting list was too long at the SPCA, so the volunteer coordinator directed me to TEAD in Mount Hope,” she said. “I heard it was really fun to work with horses and you get to learn a lot while you’re there. I decided to give it a try and I’m so glad I did because it’s turned out to be one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences.”
Pietracupa has gone on to log almost 400 volunteer hours with TEAD.
She leads and side walks the horses to provide support for riders.
Pietracupa also feeds the horses, tacks them and turns them in and out of the paddocks.
In addition, she assists the organization at various events and helps with training sessions.
Pietracupa said volunteering for TEAD definitely keeps her busy.
“When I come home from school, I have 10 minutes to eat and get ready to go to the barn, where I stay until about 8:30 p.m. Even when I don’t have enough time for myself that day, I still feel good that I’m helping others and putting them ahead of myself,” she said. “When I come home after volunteering, it is the best feeling in the world to think that you put a smile on a rider’s face. I go to bed feeling good and I always look forward to going back again.”
Pietracupa said spending time with the horses also makes her happy.
“Each one has their own personality. I can connect with each one of them in some way,” she said. “Even if I’m having a bad day, I’ll go into Andy’s stall, for example, and it’s like he can tell I’m not feeling good. He gives me a little nudge with his nose and he always makes me laugh.”
Pietracupa, who rides at TEAD and West Wind Stables in Caledonia, has dreams of one day owning her own horse.
She would also like to eventually compete in jumping.
“Once I get my job as a therapeutic riding instructor, I will start saving up money for my own horse,” Pietracupa said. “I can’t wait for the day that I become a therapeutic riding instructor for TEAD. I just really want to be able to help others reach their own personal goals.”