Wednesday, Jun. 26, 2024

Rustigian Makes Her Dream Come True In Upperville Family Class

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A year ago, LoriAnn Rustigian and her partner Myriah Iles were excited to show under the oaks in the family class at the prestigious Upperville Colt & Horse Show, but a last-minute issue with their horses a few hours before the class, with both women dressed and ready, meant they had to miss it.

When, with some help from friends and leased horses, the couple were finally able to trot around under the oaks of Upperville’s Parker Ring on Saturday in this year’s family class, it was a literal and personal full-circle moment for Rustigian.

“I struggled coming out for years, so this meant a lot,” she said. “It’s an honor to show here, and it’s an honor to show alongside my partner and best friend. This wasn’t about the horses for once, it was about the family and coming together.” 

Rustigian’s 7-year-old daughter, Lana Rustigian, was scheduled to join them in the class, but she was too tired after doing a walk/trot class earlier in the day, so it was just LoriAnn and Iles, who’ve been a couple for two years.

Myriah Iles (left) and LoriAnn Rustigian fulfilled a dream of Rustigian’s by competing in the family class on June 8 at the Upperville Colt & Horse Show (Va.) Lindsay Berreth Photos

LoriAnn, 39, Fairfax, Virginia, grew up with horses and rode professionally, specializing in off-track Thoroughbreds, until 2018, when a combination of injuries and burnout forced a career change. While she’s been coming to Upperville since she was a child, her past visits have been mostly as a spectator, though occasionally she’d enter one of her Thoroughbreds in a class.

“I never had ponies fancy enough growing up, but I worked really hard and rode as a junior and a professional for years,” she said. “I just stopped because I couldn’t do the politics anymore.” 

Iles, 32, is a retired homicide detective who previously worked in Nashville. Now she works as a project manager for a commercial and residential development company. She just started riding western last year. 

“I’m having fun,” she said. “I do English for [LoriAnn]. I like doing western. I have my horse she got me for our anniversary last year. We’re just learning together, and whatever he wants to do is what we’ll do.”

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For the family class, they rode hunt horses provided by Randy Johnson, through the couple’s friend and local Virginia trainer Russell Shifflett and his husband Andrew Camp. 

“I reached out to Russell,” LoriAnn said. “This has been a dream of mine, and he made my dream come true.” 

But the day’s dream was about much more than the horses and riding under the oaks. It held a deeper meaning for LoriAnn as a lesbian.

LoriAnn came out to her mother, Jackie Rustigian, when she was 23.

“She’s amazing,” she remembered. “She looked at me and was like, ‘That’s cool. Nothing surprises me with you. What do you want for dinner?’ ”

Adopted as a baby, LoriAnn knew when she was 5 that something was different about her. When she gathered the courage to tell her mother, it was a relief, but the next 15 years of her life were still filled with doubt.

“I was still in denial, I think because I didn’t want to disappoint my family because they expect this upstanding, hetero niece and cousin and all of that,” she said. “I went back and forth being somebody I wasn’t and going in and out of the closet.”

When she met Iles, her life changed. 

“I met Myriah, and that was it; I’m done,” she said. “She really helped me out of my shell. She showed me it’s OK to be gay, and it’s OK to fall in love with me. 

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“I faked my whole life, being with men and trying to love men—not that there’s anything wrong with them!” she added. “But it wasn’t me. As a result, I have lost family members. In the LGBTQ community, you really have chosen family. Some of my best friends are drag queens, and they’re my family, and they’re incredible.”

“I met Myriah, and that was it; I’m done,” LoriAnn Rusitigan (left) said of partner Myriah Iles. “She really helped me out of my shell. She showed me it’s OK to be gay, and it’s OK to fall in love with me.” 

LoriAnn’s found the equestrian community very welcoming, and when Iles asked her how she would be received as a lesbian, she reassured her she would be accepted. 

“I’m more comfortable in the equestrian community being gay than I was being straight because I felt like I had to hide who I was,” she said. “Everybody’s so supportive. It’s very welcoming. 

“[Iles] being from Nashville in the south, she’s Black, she’s a woman, she’s gay, and she was a homicide detective—she had everything going against her,” LoriAnn added. “Coming into this world, she said it’s really refreshing.”

LoriAnn got back into riding when her daughter Lana became interested in horses. The family took lessons last year in preparation for Upperville. 

Participating in the family class reminded her how much fun showing can be, and she’s signed up for lessons with Shifflett. 

“I have a lesson on Friday. I think I’m going to go to a couple of local shows this summer,” she said. “I told him I’m scared. And he’s like, ‘I’ll fix it.’ I’m even more excited now. I need to get over this fear and do what I love.

“Our goal is to come back and do the family class and not place last,” she added with a laugh. “We’re going to go in with proper lessons, properly schooled, and do it right.”

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