Gold Medal-winning, 22-year-old equestrian Rebecca Weissbard died Aug. 31 in Saugerties, New York, when her horse accidentally fell on her during a jumping competition.
Her father Eric and her mother Lynne plan to honor their daughter’s memory by establishing a nonprofit for talented riders to help them fulfill their dreams, he said in a telephone interview. Acknowledging the fact that it is an expensive sport, their goal is to provide financial help to working-class kids who show potential and share Rebecca’s passion for horses.
Becca, as she was known, died instantly. “It was quick,” her father said. “[The paramedics] tried their best, but nothing could be done.”
She was participating in one of the largest horse shows in the country, called HITS-on-the-Hudson. Becca and her mother were in upstate New York, and her father was home on the North Shore, serving a shift as an EMT with the Stony Brook Fire Department.
“She was such a dignified and well-put-together young woman,” Eric Weissbard said. “She wanted to be the best — to do it properly. She lived her passion and her dream. She worked hard and excelled. It is only fitting that we help other kids pursue their dreams.”
Her grandmother, Rochelle Weissbard, remembered Becca being around horses practically from birth.
“Rebecca was on a horse when she was a few months old — on her mother’s back; on her father’s back,” Rochelle said. “When she was two Lynne went back to training riders at Smoke Run [Farm] in Stony Brook and she took Becca with her. Right from the beginning she was a natural — and fearless.”
Raised in Stony Brook, Becca attended William Sidney Mount Elementary School through sixth grade. Her parents established Sundance Stables in Medford in 2003 but soon outgrew their rented barn and relocated the stable to Manorville.
“Rebecca was the welcoming, cheerful pied piper of the kids,” her grandmother said. “Wherever she was there was love and there was joy — and silliness — but when she was ready to ride, she’d take care of business. And she did. When focused, there was no one better. She rode to win.”
The grandparents have long supported the quadrennial Maccabiah Games held in Israel that bring together Olympic-caliber Jewish athletes from around the world. Traditionally held the year following the Summer Olympic Games, they are sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee and the World Federation of Sports.
As she became more and more proficient at the sport, Becca’s grandfather, Richard Weissbard, realized there were no equestrian events at the games. He contacted the director to ask why. That was about five years ago. The director said he’d get back to him.
The next Maccabiah Games — in 2013 — included equestrian events. Becca trained with Olympic equestrians Neal and Elisa Shapiro at Hay Fever Farm in Robbinsville, New Jersey, for several years. Neal Shapiro was the coach of the American Equestrian Team, which had 38 athletes. Becca won the first gold medal awarded in individual competition, which also helped the team earn silver overall.
The team members had to compete riding Israeli horses because the expense of bringing their own horses was too great. That was problematic for Becca considering, as her grandparents described seemingly in tandem, the horse she ended up with was “defective.” They said it actually went lame the day before the competition.
Very upset, Becca called her mother to find out what to do.
“She wanted to be the best — to do it properly. She lived her passion and her dream. She worked hard and excelled.”
“You march in there and you tell them you don’t care where they get a horse — just get one!” According to the grandparents, Becca practiced with a reserve horse for about two hours before winning the competition.
“She flew with him,” Richard Weissbard said; “…because she’s been around horses all her life,” her grandmother added. “We were so proud.”
At the games in Israel the then 19-year-old made connections that provided her with European opportunities.
“Wanting to go where the best horses are she chose to go to Holland,” her father said.
Becca worked at a horse stable in Holland for eight months. Her father said she learned a lot about top-tier horses and established a relationship with one particularly difficult horse. She made riding him look easy.
Labor laws for foreign workers dictated a return to the U.S., but a year later she returned to the Dutch farm for another three months. She’d fly back and forth as an escort for horses.
“In those 22 years she crammed in an awful lot of stuff,” her grandmother said. “But most of all she was a wonderful daughter, a great granddaughter, a terrific niece, and everyone who knew her loved her. Wherever there was excitement, there she was. Never a dull moment. She brought laughter and cheer and happiness and joy to everyone. She will be sorely missed.”
The Weissbards are setting up a foundation called Ride for Becca. “It will be a 501(c)3 nonprofit with the goal of helping kids who have potential to get to the next level,” said Eric Weissbard. “We want to find kids who are good and get them good training and get the horse good veterinary care.” They plan to keep Becca’s spirit and passion alive by helping others.
Once the 501(c)3 is established, tax-deductible contributions made out to Ride for Becca may be sent to Sundance Stables, 37 North St., Manorville, NY 11939.