Foundation helps riders get back in the saddle

So how did a girl who grew up in New York City, the only daughter of two tried and true city folks, end up becoming the president of the Equestrian Aid Foundation in the Equestrian Capital of the World, aka Wellington, Fla.?

Stephanie Riggio Bulger did not come from horse people. “But my parents nurtured my love of the animals,” she says, “and allowed me to pursue horse showing as a hobby, despite not being familiar with it themselves.”

Her dad, Leonard Riggio, is the founder and chairman of the board of Barnes & Noble and “my mom (Louise) is very involved in philanthropy (including being a board member of the EAF) as well as being an amazing horse show mom.”

Not surprisingly given her father’s background, this equestrian is also a bookworm. Stephanie is a professor of English at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn as well as the co-editor of the newly founded The Writer’s Foundry Review and an adjunct faculty member at The Writer’s Foundry MFA program, both at the college. WAG caught up with her on her way from New York City to Wellington, where she was to compete in a weekend of hunter-jumper events.

She was kind enough to reply to our questions.

The Equestrian Aid Foundation (EAF) started out initially to help those with AIDS and HIV. Who founded it and how has it expanded?

“The EAF was founded in 1996 by a group of equestrians headed by Olympic dressage star Robert Dover. In 2006, our mission expanded to help equestrians coping with both catastrophic illnesses as well as life-and career-altering injuries.”

Whom do you help today? 

“Today we assist horsemen and women from all over the United States, from every corner of the horse world. We help riders, trainers, grooms, farriers, vets, pleasure riders, horse rescuers and more. If you love horses, we will help you in your time of need.”

How do you find recipients or do they apply for assistance? 

“Recipients typically hear about the EAF from word of mouth and complete the rigorous application process in order to be considered for a grant.”

Can you give our readers some examples of individuals helped? 

“Some of our past recipients include an Olympic three-day event rider who was coping with a traumatic brain injury, a farrier who suffered a debilitating back injury, a dressage trainer who is a quadriplegic after being struck in the back of the neck by a young horse who reared up, and a well respected hunter-jumper trainer who has had a series of health issues. We also help some unsung heroes in the community, including a pleasure rider who rescues horses and dogs and is living with HIV/AIDS and related health concerns.”

Stephanie, how and when did you get involved with the foundation? What was your reason?

“I became involved in 2006 as a casual supporter and my relationship grew from there. I was moved by the mission to help those who need it, no matter what discipline they might participate in or what their level of involvement might be. I felt that the EAF was creating a large community of horse lovers who wanted to help each other out.”

What do you see as the future of the foundation under your leadership?

“I have goals to increase our donor base around the U.S., as well as find corporate sponsors and foundations to which we can apply for grants.”

What obstacles do you foresee that you might have to overcome to move the foundation into the future?

“I don’t think this is an obstacle, per se, but I am in the process of finding an executive director for the foundation. We believe that we are ready to transition from board-based leadership to an executive leadership model. I think this will push us forward into the next generation of fundraising and allow us to grow.”

Stephanie, tell me about yourself. When did you first start riding?

“I took my first riding lesson at age 5 and was immediately hooked. Since then, our love and commitment to the sport has grown. We now own and operate My Meadowview Farm on Long Island and Wellington, Fla. My parents also have a successful Thoroughbred racing stable.”

When did you first start competing? How did the first ride go and in what competition? Did you medal? 

“I began riding competitively at around the age of 10. It is a bit of a blur, but I know it was at a local show on Long Island. If memory serves, I don’t think I did very well. I was far from a child prodigy on horseback. Rather, it took me some time to find my stride and achieve success.”

Do you have a favorite horse that you use in competition?

“My horse-of-a-lifetime was named Indian Summer. He retired from competition in 2010 and sadly passed away this past January. He really made my name in the show ring and gave me so much confidence in myself, both in and out of the ring.”

How often do you compete today? 

“I just recently got back into competing since having my son. I used to compete about 12 to 15 times per year, but my priorities have shifted a bit since becoming a mom. I am learning to juggle it all and find a balance between all my various commitments.”

Does your husband ride? 

“My husband, Mike…loves the horses and is actually a very natural rider, but he has no aspirations to do any more than just ride for pleasure. Our son, Leo, will turn 1 in June. I hope he loves to ride as much as I do, though I would never force him. He does seem to enjoy coming to the barn and visiting his four-legged brothers and sisters, so I can hope.”

For more, visit equestrianaidfoundation.org.

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