The First-Person Project

Rita Timpanaro ’72

Smithtown, NY

Horse Trainer, Horse Show Judge, Certified Equine Appraiser, Equine Expert Witness

Major: Sociology

I’ve always loved horses. My parents bought me a horse when I was nine years of age and I rode competitively starting at ten. They made many sacrifices so I could ride with a top trainer 90 minutes from our home. We lived on Long Island and my mom picked me up after school and drove me to my lessons. The very first National event I competed in was a Junior Hunter Class, held at the prestigious Madison Square Garden. I was 12 years of age, competed against riders under 18, and rode my horse Nibbles to the blue ribbon win. There are two major qualifying final events offered to Junior riders, who are riders under 18: the ASPCA Maclay National Equitation Championship and the USEF National Hunter Seat Medal Championship Finals. The rider is judged on position and form, jumping a three-foot, six-inch intricate course of fences. I qualified for both Finals starting at age 12. At 13, I was awarded the ASPCA Maclay National Equitation Reserve Championship and at 16 won the USEF National Hunter Seat Medal Championship Finals. It has taken me a lifetime to realize that I was an accomplished rider! My parents never pushed me to ride and compete; they supported my love of riding. I was just a really lucky kid.

When I was 18, while attending my second year at Mount Ida Junior College in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, my mom had a heart attack and passed away suddenly. It was that day that I understood what she meant whenever she said “life is a roller coaster.” Right then, I stopped riding. I couldn’t handle going to horse shows, because she had always been there with me, along with my dad. I earned an associate’s degree in retailing from Mount Ida and was uncertain on what I wanted to do next.I knew I liked to ski, and there were many mountains near Keene. I wanted to attend a small school, and when I visited Keene State, I knew I wanted to go there.

Initially I thought I might focus on elementary ed, but then changed over to sociology. I loved Keene State. I made lifelong friends. It was a great experience. When I graduated, my dad said, “You’re going to get a job.” I had never had a job before. So I moved back home, and I lived with my dad. I was drawn back to my love for horses, and thought I would teach horseback riding. I was hired at a small barn to ride and teach riding. Each day I wrote out an outline for my lesson plan, which I had learned while studying at Keene. After six months, I moved on to work as a riding instructor at a beautiful facility and continued teaching there for five years. During that time, at age 23, I rented and then purchased a house with an eight-stall barn and riding ring on Long Island. The property backs into a park, which is really beautiful. Land is very hard to come by on Long Island, so to be adjacent to a 600-acre park that has horseback riding trails is pretty perfect.

Once I started working, I worked really hard. I was a workaholic and I still am. I’ve always been very focused and organized in whatever it is that I’m doing. Throughout my career, I instructed two types of riders: students who were eager to learn how to ride and compete in horse shows; and students who, for various reasons, just wanted to learn how to ride a horse. I loved teaching riders, young kids to older adults, to be the best they could be. Many students owned their own horses and those who did not own a horse took lessons on my school horses. I taught thousands of lessons and loved it. In addition to teaching, I spent many hours riding and training horses. To see the progress in a horse’s education is just as exciting as it is to witness in the student’s education. Horses are amazing animals! For over 40 years I also freelanced at numerous facilities throughout Long Island.

During my 40-year career on the horse show circuit, I trained many riders competing at local horse shows as well as at “A” rated horse shows throughout the country. Many students qualified for National Finals and won major events. I feel very blessed to have had students become accomplished riders. Early on in my career, I attained my United States Equestrian Federation horse show judge’s license. For the past 40-plus years I have judged horse shows throughout the United States and Canada. I have officiated at local "A" rated horse shows as well as major qualifying events. I’m happy to say I was invited to judge two horse shows in Keene. In addition to judging, I give horseback riding clinics throughout the country. I’ve been very fortunate to do what I love.

Back in 1983, my life was changed quite drastically. I was helping a trainer load a horse into a trailer, and my right leg was crushed by a steel trailer ramp falling on my leg, along with the horse. Despite many surgeries at hospitals across the country over the next ten years, it was evident that I needed to have my leg amputated. I had my right leg amputated just below my knee. But life goes on. I have many different legs: I have a prosthesis for walking, horseback riding, swimming, and golfing. I am very fortunate to have a prosthesis for whatever I want to do. Nothing really stops you in life unless you want to be stopped. Life is a roller coaster for sure.

I have always been very close with my dad. Four years ago, it was evident that he needed me to be around more. He was living on his own, was falling quite often and had signs of dementia. At first I hired aides and then I realized that he needed to be cared for in a nursing home. It was then that I stopped teaching. For the past three years, he has been in a wonderful nursing home, is cared for beautifully, and I am able to visit with him three to four days each week. We always have a great time together and although I do miss teaching, I cherish the time I share with my dad. He is now 97, is happy and doing great! I am very blessed to have him in my life.

About five years ago I shifted into a new horse-related field. My accountant suggested that I become a certified equine appraiser. When a horse owner donates a horse valued over $5,000, an evaluation by a certified equine appraiser is needed. So I went to Texas, took a four-day course and a passed a test, and got my certification. Then, within a few days of becoming certified, I got a phone call from the United States government. I was asked to appraise nine horses that were being seized by the government. That phone call led right into equine expert witness work. Now I work for attorneys throughout the country. I only take cases I believe in; I take about one in every five cases. Often lawsuits are settled the day prior to going to court, but I have testified in court. To date, I have worked on 32 cases, 16 for the defendant and 16 for the plaintiff.

Most days I get up by 5 a.m. I like to do appraisal work or work on expert cases early, before the day gets busy. I took up golf about ten years ago, so for six months of the year, I play golf three-to-four days each week. I really love golf. It is so much like riding: form follows function. If you have the correct form in golf, in general, your shots will be right on target. I take lessons and practice as much as much as time permits. I play on different leagues on Long Island and have competed in tournaments throughout the country. I've always been competitive within myself with horseback riding, and it has carried through with golf.