In this new series called “Lifers,” we interview equestrians who have spent the better part of their lives in the saddle or involved with horses in some way. Are you or do you know a lifer? Send us your story to hello(at)heelsdownmedia.com.

Horses have been a huge part of Hollyn Mangione’s life for many years. Hailing from Lexington, Kentucky, she can’t help but feel that horses were in her blood. At the age of three she started taking lessons at Foxfield Stables, which is now Foxfield Race Course. She’s been hooked ever since!

What were your early years in the sport like?

The early years were lots of fun… I rode a lot of school horses at Foxfield until we finally bought a small farm in Barboursville, VA and brought home our growing herd of horses. As a child it was not uncommon for us to hack from the stable to horse shows nearby. There were many Friday nights spent tailgating at the polo matches in my family. I also have fond memories of the horse shows going from dawn to past dark for two days, with riders jumping under the lights in the evenings. By the time we bought the farm, my family had already acquired two seasoned foxhunters for my parents to ride. We did a lot of trail riding in those days as we had close to 40 acres of our own and access to quite a bit more . We had an old dairy barn that we converted for horses. I begged my parents for lessons and did manage to get a few but I was mostly self-taught at this stage. I quickly out grew the ponies and in 4th grade my parents bought me a green four-year-old thoroughbred-cross. I did a few shows and participated lightly in 4-H. My summers were spent riding as many as 5 horses a day. Not just ours, but whatever horses happened to be at the farm.

How have horses and your fellow equestrians changed your life over the years?

The horses have made me who I am today. They have taught me responsibility, humility, love and compassion. They have embodied generosity and kindness. My horse friends are the lifeblood that sustains me. Every day I am astounded by how tight we all are and how large our web of connections is. Just recently, when I was horse shopping, I needed someone to go look at a horse 5 states away for me. My former coach knew someone in that town and connected us with each other. She tried the horse and paved the way for me to come for a visit, buy the horse and find a great place for it to stay till I could bring it home. I swear that some days it’s like playing six degrees of Kevin Bacon…. I meet a horse person….where are you from? Minnesota, oh do you happen to know such and so… you do? Through the equestrian community I have learned so much about volunteerism, leadership and what it means to give back. I have been involved with a number of organizations over the year and enjoyed watching them grow.

What are your fondest memories over the years with horses?

There are just so many great memories. They sustain me through the hard times and disappointments. One memory which makes me laugh: I was at a schooling show riding Training Level Dressage on my OTTB (bought out of a field after his less than stellar 3 race career). At this point he was pretty competitive and ribboning well. There were several really nice greenish WB’s in the show with this lovely younger guy riding them. He was getting ready to ride after me and as I went to go into the ring he said “Now go show us how it’s done”.

Another memory that makes me smile: I was riding XC on my 17 hand creamello draft cross. It was at Va Horse Trials schooling day before the horse trials. I was schooling and asked to ride through a combination that a trainer had a group of students schooling through. My horse happened to be rockin’ that day, and we circled, and came down the hill over a roll top, turn left, dropped off the bank, landed and turned right to another jump and I heard the trainer say to his charges “Yes, JUST LIKE THAT”. I continued on laughing to myself..if you only KNEW what it took to get us to that
The other types of memories that I hold dear are the smiles of former students when they finally make that breakthrough with their horse. When something finally clicks and they start to work as a team. That is priceless and those are the best memories of all.

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