Sunday, Mar. 3, 2024

#RideForHannah: Family Thanks Equestrian Community For Its Support

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The day after news of 15-year-old Hannah Serfass’ death at a Venice, Florida, horse show, the equestrian community came together to support her family and trainers. As countless posts bearing a #rideforhannah hashtag flooded social media, a GoFundMe campaign started to establish a memorial for her at one of her favorite places, the World Equestrian Center-Ocala (Florida), has morphed into something larger, while a memorial service has been organized for Monday at the showgrounds.

Serfass’ parents, Janine and David Serfass, on Tuesday thanked the equestrian community for its broad show of support.

“Our daughter died doing the thing she absolutely loved the most in this world,” they said in a statement. “If from this tragedy one person can be saved and find God, then her death will not be in vain. 

“We are deeply touched by all of the love and prayers everyone has sent us during this very difficult time,” the statement continued. “It means the world to us every person who has taken the time to reach out or post something in Hannah’s honor. We cherish seeing the #rideforhannah campaign and those who have chosen to dress in her favorite color azure blue. We thank you again from the bottom of our hearts! God Bless.”

Hannah Serfass and Quaxx 2 showing at World Equestrian Center-Ocala (Fla.), where she was a regular competitor. Andrew Ryback Photography Photo

Don Stewart, who trained Hannah along with Robin Swinderman Mitchell and owned the horse she was riding, was not at the Venice Hunter Jumper Spring Concours I at Fox Lea Farm when the accident happened, but he talked about the dedicated young equestrian he got to know during their year and a half of working together.

“She was a really good student and very dedicated to the sport and a really good rider,” he said. “She was a great student, always upbeat and wanting to please. She was dedicated to the sport and had a big future.

“The kid wasn’t a complainer,” he added. “If you wanted her to come up at 4 in the morning to ride, she’d be there.”

The #rideforhannah hashtag began circulating Monday evening after news of the teen’s death was made public. Stewart said the outpouring of support has been a comfort to family and friends.

“I know it means a whole lot,” he said. “Everyone is feeling their pain. One of the worst things is to have one of your children die before you do.”

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Various versions of #rideforhannah have started appearing across equestrian social media.

Equestrians ranging from the biggest names in the hunter/jumper realm—Olympians McLain Ward and Laura Kraut, Jimmy Torano, Susie Schoellkopf and more—to parents of newbie riders and competitors from other horse sports—dressage, reining, eventing and cutting to name a few—have posted the hashtag and shared their sentiments.

“I had the honor, along with Susan Schoellkopf, to judge Hannah in the WEC Equitation Championship class. She impressed us and made the top group. A talent gone way too soon,” Torano, a judge, trainer and top hunter competitor, posted to his social media. “As a parent, this one hits home.”

The Pennsylvania National Horse Show, where Hannah made her debut last year by topping a class of 31 in the 3’3” large junior hunter, 15 and under, aboard Apanage, recognized her on its social media page.

In a #rideforhannah post, California-based equestrian and former equitation star Kristin Medall Simpson-Ferguson Hardin talked about the effect of an accident like Hannah’s on the professionals charged with training children.

“I can only find peace in believing that God needed her for bigger things,” she wrote. “My trainer friends are shaken, contemplating their lives. I didn’t know Hannah, but I believe from what I’ve seen that she was doing exactly what she wanted on a horse she truly loved and trusted. Her praise for that horse was clear, and she loved riding him. I want to think in that moment she was right where she wanted to be. 

“Her beloved horse tripped. It was a bad step, a mistake, an accident, a rare occurrence. 

“The fear trainers and parents feel every time our students and children ride was realized Sunday, I cannot fathom those fears becoming reality. But fear cannot rule. 

“I’m going to ride today, my son and students are also going to ride today. We will ride because we love horses, and for now on, I and all of us will also #rideforhannah.”

Allison Gresham, the mother of another teen rider, shared sentiments echoed by many “horse moms” who shared the #rideforhannah hashtag:

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“One of my greatest joys in life is to share my deep love of horses with my darling daughter. Hannah Serfass was the same age as my Anna. Our hearts break tonight to learn of her tragic death. I pray tonight for Hannah’s parents, her trainer, and her barn community. May we always appreciate every single ride. Blessings to all who love Hannah.”

The outpouring of support reached far beyond the hunter/jumper community, to the dressage, eventing and Western disciplines, through people like barrel racer Rebecca Arnold, who posted, “We never know when our time as competitors can come to an end. A 15 year old girl lost her life over the weekend doing what she loved, competing at a jumping event in Florida. We equestrians are a family, regardless of discipline so let’s all show her family some support and #rideforHannah. Fly high sweet girl “

Along with the social media support for Hannah, fellow equitation competitor Kate Egan started a GoFundMe page to raise money for a memorial to Hannah to be erected at WEC-Ocala. Within a day, the campaign had raised five times its target amount of $10,000. Egan said remaining funds would go to the family to use for an organization of their choice. 

“Unfortunately, I did not know Hannah on a personal level; she was a peer of mine. We competed together at the same shows, and I always admired her unmatched talent especially at such a young age,” Egan wrote in an email. “Last weekend we were competing in numerous divisions together at Fox Lea Farm in Venice, Florida. After myself and others witnessed this tragic event, I knew I wanted to do something to bring the community together to honor the beautiful life of Hannah.”

Although WEC-Ocala was willing to pay for such a memorial out of its own coffers, Egan liked the idea of a group-funded memorial that Hannah’s fellow equestrians could have a part in creating.

“I decided to make a GoFundMe with the purpose of creating an opportunity for the equestrian community to contribute to this memorial,” she added. “I want people to see her memorial feeling they were a part of it. We are all in this together as a community, remembering the beautiful soul that was lost too soon.” 

Thanks in part to the fundraising campaign’s overwhelming success, the Serfass family now is working with WEC to use excess funds from that campaign to create a junior rider fund in their daughter’s memory, WEC spokesman T.J. Campbell said. The fund will support an annual grant to help a junior attend a horse show they may not have been able to attend or obtain equipment they may need in order to help them further achieve their equestrian dream. More details on the fund and the application process will be released in the coming weeks, as will information about other WEC-based classes or events being planned in Hannah’s memory, Campbell said.

Hannah’s service will take place at noon (Eastern Time) Monday, May 8, following visitation from 10-11:30 a.m. in the Expo 1 building at WEC-Ocala. It also will be livestreamed on wec.net and Clipmyhorse.tv so that friends and fellow riders can participate from anywhere. The service will be followed by a lunch and celebration of Hannah’s life from 1:30-3 p.m., then departure for the cemetery.

The family has asked that, in lieu of sending flowers, people bring a blue ribbon in Hannah’s honor and leave a personalized message on the ribbon for her. These ribbons will be sent off with Hannah.  For those who are not able to bring a ribbon, there will be some available at the service. 

For more information on the junior rider fund or to make a donation to it outside of GoFundMe, contact TJ.Campbell@wec.net.

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