Home Best Foot Forward We Need More Holly Bergays in this World – Part 1

We Need More Holly Bergays in this World – Part 1

Holly 5
Holly Bergay Photo Credit – Elma Garcia

|October 21, 2014 | Cindy Corwin |

Several weeks ago I had the privilege of interviewing stand-out equestrian athlete, riding instructor/coach and para-equestrian, Holly Bergay.    She was gracious enough to spend a lot of time on the phone with me, despite her incredibly busy schedule (Thank You Holly!).    Following is the first portion of a 2-part interview with Holly and I think you’ll see just why this horsewoman & athlete is so special!

Holly Bergay has been training and competing in dressage since she was 6.    As the bio on her website explains, she was born without her left hand.   In 2008, she became the first disabled rider to compete as an able-bodied rider at the NAJC.   In 2009, she was the first disabled rider to compete as a Young Rider at the NAYRC and the USEF Young Rider National Championships.    In 2010, she made the US Para-equestrian World Equestrian Games team.

As Holly recounted in her bio,  “It took dedication, hard work, and above all, lots of support to make the WEG team. I was very fortunate to have the horse, the trainer and the sponsors to accomplish my goal. At 17 years old I had the opportunity to represent my country and my sport among the best in the world! Unfortunately, I had to withdraw due to an injury. I was devastated.    I learned a lot from the disappointment that came from withdrawing from the WEG. Most importantly, I realized how important this is to me, and how lucky I am to get to compete in this sport and have horses in my life.”

Originally from Colorado, Holly now lives & trains in picturesque southern California and she had her sights set on the 2014 World Equestrian Games UTI1773087_t540with her talented equine partner, Rubino Bellissimo.  Rubino Belissimo was a statuesque and accomplished equine athlete, who was owned by Violet Jen.     Earlier this year and prior to the WEG, the 18 year old Hanovererian stallion was diagnosed with a malignant tumor that had spread to his bones, muscles & nerves.  When subsequent tests showed no hope for survival, he was euthanized…a  devastating blow to both Holly and owner Violet Jen.

Perhaps it would have been easier to give up but…that’s not in Holly’s vocabulary and this interview (which will be split into several parts) will give you an insight into what motivates and inspires this exceptional equestrian athlete….and human being!

Q:   You started riding at the early age of 6.  Did you always know that horses were going to be a big part of your life and that this is what you wanted to do?

A:   “I think I knew since before I started riding!   My Mom loved horses, she never really rode or owned horses but she always loved them and she always wanted to get her own horse.    That was actually how I started riding, she bought her own horse.  She just went out and bought some crazy Arabian with very little training and we put him in the backyard and…he was not good to her!   He was REALLY good to me however.  She put me on him and he took really good care of me!.   That’s how I started riding!    Now I own a riding school and compete and I think, it’s just kind of in your blood.   You either have that love and that passion or you don’t.”

Q:   Tell me about your lesson program and riding school.

A:   When I decided to come out to California in order to pursue international riding & competing,  I came out and was a working trainer out here and I found Rubino, eventually.  When Rubino and I were training for London, he sustained and injury and had to have surgery.  After surgery, we moved him from a smaller, private training barn to a bigger barn where I could rehab him.    There was a little bit of everything at this barn:   hunter jumper horses, western horses, you name it.   At that point, I was no longer working for the trainer that I had been riding and training with so, I began giving lessons for the school that was already at the new facility.    The owner of that facility didn’t really want to continue with the lesson program so she got rid of everything and I thought, “I could do this.   It was a scary thing to do at the age of 20!    Other than the business aspect of running my own business, I was already familiar with the lesson program and I had all these kids I had been working with and teaching and they wanted to continue to ride.  I went out and got a bunch of horses and started my own program.    Obviously there was more to it and that but, I did it!   These kids are doing this because they love it and they are enjoying horses and I like to think that my focal point is just good, solid horsemanship.   We’re in an area that has a lot of hunter-jumper people and it’s more of an upscale area.    I just want to teach the kids the importance of working their butts off, learning the basics of good horsemanship and loving and enjoying the horses.   I think that’s the best foundation for good riding”.

Q:  How many studenets do you have in your riding program?

A:   I have 45 students in my program right now at the San Diego Riding Club…it keeps me busy!

Q:  Several months ago, Rubino tragically and very suddenly became ill and passed away.  Tell us about him and was he your once-in-a-lifetime horse?   (Disclaimer, I did ask Holly if it was too soon after Rubino’s passing, to talk about him.  If you’ve ever lost your once-in-a-lifetime horse, you understand why I asked.   She assured me she wanted to talk about him although she said she might cry.   She did.   And so did I.)

Holly Bergay shown with Rubino Bellisimo
Holly Bergay shown with Rubino Bellisimo

A:   When I decided I didn’t want to take one of my college scholarships instead,  I just wanted to go to California and ride, it was seemed like very far-fetched thing.   Especially since I didn’t have a horse.   My horse that I had made the World Equestrian Games on had been injured.   I had no money but I knew I wanted to go to California and compete in the Paralympic Equestrian Games.   It all seemed a little bit crazy and I think my Dad actually  made the comment that people ‘don’t just get to do whatever they want’!    Looking back on it, I didn’t think it was crazy at all!    I came to California and I went month, to month, to month with nothing to ride.  So here I am in California, supposedly training for the paralympic games and I don’t even have a horse.    I’m riding for a trainer but I didn’t have anything to practice on really.    I was looking at horses online, contacting different owners to see if anybody had a horse that could compete at that level.  I was traveling around, mostly in California, trying different horses and I knew that it had to be an awesome horse but it also had to be a good fit for me.      When I looked up the ad for Rubino, it was like one of those things where I didn’t  think anything would be possible with him but I went ahead and sent the email anyway.   I just thought there would be no way I’d get to ride a horse like that but I sent the email to his owner Violet.   Shortly after I sent the email,  Violet’s owner responded and said she was so excited to meet me,  and she told me it would be an honor to have me ride Rubino.    I went up and tried him a couple of times and I think from the moment I saw him on the internet, I knew it was a dream come true.    And every single day, and I’m sure I was obnoxious about it I would just look at him and say “Look at that horse…I get to KNOW this horse”.    It ended in such an abrupt way but I can truly say I didn’t take a day with him for granted.   I feel very lucky and I realize what an awesome experience it was and that definitely gives me some comfort. ”

By this time, the tears were flowly freely for both of us.    I had  been talking with Holly for less than an hour and already I saw her courage, grace and determination and I was in awe.   And inspired.

And the thought that kept running through my mind?   We need more Holly Bergays in this world….


Part 2 of my interview with Holly Bergay continues tomorrow!

Photo Credits for some of these images go to Elma Garcia!



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here