Horseback riding, an occupation long associated with wealth and privilege, has always been less accessible to those without such aristocratic connections.
Culpeper County resident Georgia Osborne—the third-place winner of the 2019 Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Championships at the New York State Fairgrounds last week—attributes her success in equestrian pursuits to the sacrifices of her mother.
“It’s such an expensive hobby,” Osborne said, her voice breaking with emotion. “My mom was a single mother, she took on two jobs and has worked so hard to give me and my brother more opportunities.”
Osborne, age 20, said her mother, Beth Osborne, has been supportive of her interest in horses and riding from the beginning.
“I’ve always loved horses,” Georgia Osborne said in an interview this week at her family’s home in Culpeper County. “A friend of ours offered to pay for my first lesson, to see if I would like it. That was when I was 7 years old, and I’ve been riding ever since, thanks to my mom.”
Now a junior at Bridgewater College, a private liberal-arts school in the rolling green hills of the Shenandoah Valley just south of Harrisonburg, Osborne graduated from Culpeper County High School in 2016.
Osborne, a biochemistry major, plans to apply to Virginia-Maryland Veterinary School in Blacksburg this fall, with hope of becoming an equine veterinarian, a goal she’s had since age 10.
Bridgewater’s equestrian program is among 400 member colleges in 45 states and Canada that are part of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, a nonprofit group started in 1967 that organizes competitions in hunter-seat equitation, Western horsemanship and reining.
On May 2, representing Bridgewater at the National Championships in New York state, Osborne placed third in Novice on the Flat, a competition evaluating the ability of a rider to perform various maneuvers in harmony with her horse.
“Each school owns about 30 horses that are used for competition, and riders are assigned to them randomly,” Osborne said, explaining that this practice tends to level the playing field, since riders don’t use a horse they own to compete. “So as a rider, you have to adjust to each horse, which really highlights the skills of the rider.”
Osborne said she learned to ride at Grovespring Farm, about six miles north of Culpeper.
“At Grovespring, there was a bunch of really good beginner horses that won’t take a wrong step. Even if it’s a little kid bouncing around, they’ll just do their job,” Osborne said. “That gave me a good foundation, and from there, you start to be put on more challenging horses, and learning how to really control them.”
In 2011, with the purchase of Lingo, Osborne became a horse owner herself.
“Lingo is a rescue horse,” she said. The thoroughbred was on a farm in Madison County that went bankrupt and couldn’t afford to care for him and a number of other horses housed there. When authorities seized control of the farm, the horses were in poor condition and starving.
“My best friend, Ouida Ward, and her grandmother went to the farm of Kim Greene, who had taken over the care of the 40 or so horses, and Ouida and her grandmother picked five of the horses to take home,” Osborne said. “Lingo wasn’t working out for them and they knew I was looking for a horse, so I bought him from them for $200.”
Lingo is an off-the-track thoroughbred, a Jockey Club-registered thoroughbred horse who was previously racing, and has since been retired. His condition after his life at the Madison farm caused Lingo’s value to drop severely.
“He’s been a project,” Osborne said. “He raced for six or seven years and I got him when he was 10, and he hadn’t had too much extra training off the track, so it’s been a long process, but now he’s pretty good.”
Osborne described how occasionally she would go to shows with Lingo, who would occasionally exhibit a profusion of energy, and she would hear people say, “Here comes Georgia on her crazy thoroughbred!”
Now, though, when people see Osborne riding him with calm precision, people say to her, “Oh my gosh, is that Lingo?”
“So it’s just cool to see that, to recognize the progress,” she said.
Osborne said her family has embraced the horse. She’s able to care for Lingo for less expense because her grandmother, Mary Frances Philips, allowed Osborne to convert an old hay barn on her property—across the street from Osborne’s home just north of Culpeper—into a horse barn.
“While I’m away at college, my mom gets up at 4:30 a.m. every day to come over and feed him,” Osborne said, adding that her mother “never questions whether we can afford to keep Lingo, because to her it is no question: He is part of the family and he’s my life, and has turned into a big part of her life as well.”
While she and her brother Thomas, four years older than Georgia, were growing up, Beth Osborne’s goal was to pave the way for her children’s success and happiness.
“She would always be taking us to our sporting events, taking us to our friends, making sure we were always active and doing absolutely anything to make sure we were happy,” Osborne said. “And then she’d have to leave us at home with our stepdad to go to work at the second job she had to pick up in order to afford putting both of us in college.”
The recent win at Nationals, Osborne said, was a moving experience for her mother.
“Every time I come out of the ring, I’m greeted by a teary-eyed mother because she is just so proud she can’t even put it into words,” Osborne said, tearing up herself. “I think the win assures her that all the time, money, effort, tears, and smiles are all worth more than either of us could ever imagine.”