Three-time Paralympian Rebecca “Becca” Hart is gearing up for her third FEI World Equestrian Games with new mount El Corona Texel, a 9-year-old Dutch Wamblood gelding (Wynto—Urieta Texel, Goodtimes) she imported after a long search with help from her sponsor Rowan O’Riley.
The eventual goal is the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, but the WEG in Tryon, North Carolina, would be a great stepping stone to get in the mix with top European competitors.
For Hart, riding is much-needed physical therapy to help her continue to be able to walk, though she uses scooters or a wheelchair for longer distances. Her condition, called familial spastic paraplegia, is a genetic disease that causes muscle wasting and lack of control from the waist down. After retiring her previous partner, Schroeter’s Romani, being horseless for a year took a toll on her balance, coordination and strength.
Finding a horse that will accept her spasms, tightness and whip aids but also demonstrates the quality and sensitivity to be competitive on the world stage is a needle-in-a-haystack challenge for Hart and many other para riders as well.
Owned and trained by Dominique Mohimont and Arnd Erben, Ainhoa Prada and Mohimont showed El Corona Texel in the young horse classes in Europe. He had only been on the market for two days when Hart tried him.
“It wasn’t perfect, but he didn’t get frazzled by my different aids,” she said. She liked the physical fit and his straightforward mind.
Hart, always a serious contender, has been U.S. National Para-Equestrian champion multiple times, and the new duo topped their Grade III division at the two CPEDI*** qualifying competitions held at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida, in January.
Besides being a high performance athlete, she holds a day job as a Starbucks’ barista as part of the “Starbucks Elite Athlete Program,” which offers financial help and time flexibility.
To cement her partnership with “Tex,” Hart prides herself on doing her own horse care, along with help from her trainer, Melissa MacLaran-Velix. They believe handling Tex on the ground translates to a relationship under saddle.
“I like the knowledge of what’s normal,” said Hart. “It’s valuable to know how the legs feel and look, how loose are his muscles. I want to check in on his mood for the day. Is he docile or spicy?”
“It’s a relationship, it’s about growing trust,” MacLaran-Velix stressed.
Once the tack is on, Tex is all business, according to his team. Hart describes him as a “literal” horse. “By using my aids in the same way, he answers in a consistent manner. He’s quite focused on his job,” she said.
But back at the barn, Tex is able to let his hair down (literally), and his engaging character shines through.
He’s dashing and personable, elegant in his 16.2-hand frame, and is considerate of your space. He comes with a flowing forelock and super cute nose marking, all combined with a curious, inquisitive nature.
“Who wouldn’t love to have this horse in their barn?” MacLaran-Velix asked.
Tex exudes a classy presence, but he’s not arrogant and is polite taking treats. He welcomes admirers but seeks attention from the people he knows, and he is truly smitten with Hart.
“He really responds to his person,” she said. She noted he’s more shy with men, and his inner circle is all ladies at the moment. Not a surprise that his nickname is Sexy Texy.
Things to know about Tex:
• He loves to be touched, all over, which is handy if Hart loses balance and falls into him. He adores having his ears pulled. Bored hanging out in quarantine, they discovered he also loves having his tongue pulled on.
• He goes bananas for bananas; carrots are a close second. Mints and sugary treats, not so much.
• He likes to sunbathe and will lay down to eat grass; it’s just more convenient.
• Tex is a big fan of fans and knows how to relax. “He’ll stand directly in front of it for maximum mane blowing with his lower lip drooping, drool hanging out,” MacLaran-Velix said. Snoring loudly is also part of his chilling routine.
• The shiny bay never passes up mud or a puddle. “He’s a boy, he’s a pig pen,” she said.
• Speaking of pigs, he’s “pig proofed,” as his European barn had a pig, so he doesn’t react to the loose porcine resident named Piglet at the barn in Wellington.
• He likes to feel loose and comfortable and will tear off front wraps or blankets he deems too tight.
• He has a love/hate relationship with his stuffed animal mascots. “He plays and nuzzles them a few days, and then he violently shreds them,” said Hart.
• He’s a bit solitary and not too interested in other horses. “He’s definitely a people horse,” Hart noted, and he likes his routine. She said he wasn’t so happy standing around in the ring when he was being fitted for a custom saddle.
- He’s a very good traveler as long as he has apple juice for plane trips (a tip from Prada). When Hart was evacuating from Hurricane Irma to Tryon, North Carolina, it turned into a 20-hour ride in a bumper pull to empty stables. “He took it all in stride, settled in, took a nap, no worries about being the only horse there,” she said.
- He’s cool with para paraphernalia. He just sniffed Hart’s cane the first time he saw it, and she was rather shocked when the owner just handed her his lead shank to lead him when she was on her electric scooter in Germany. “He was unfazed, followed right along,” she said.