Let's Celebrate Strong Horsewomen!
By: Nicole Mandracchia
Although March signals the beginning signs of spring, it is also National Women’s History Month! This was created to recognize and honor women’s positive contributions to society. Here at Excel Supplements, we are not only focused on camelina oil–we love sharing stories of strong, successful women! There are several women who have pioneered many of our equine industry’s firsts. Let’s take a look at the women who traveled down the unpaved road to success:
In 2014, Mandy McCutcheon was the first woman to represent the United States Reining team at the World Equestrian Games (WEG). She also clinched the individual bronze medal in reining with her parents’ horse, Yellow Jersey, with a score of 227. This made her the first woman to receive an individual reining medal at the WEG.
Truth be told, McCutcheon is very familiar with winning. She is the National Reining Horse Association’s (NRHA) only non-pro female Million Dollar Rider. McCutcheon competed in reining and hunter/jumper competitions for her entire life with her parents. Her husband, Tom McCutcheon, is an NRHA Million Dollar Rider and was also named the 2010 USEF Equestrian of the Year. Tim McQuay, her father, is an NRHA Three Million Dollar Rider. Tim was also a member of the 2006 WEG gold-medal winning reining team. Her mom, Colleen, won many awards at US Equestrian horse shows, American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) World Championships, and AQHA Congress. After having two children, Mandy took a step back from the hunter/jumper competitions. But it is clear that she is hard at work paving the way for women in the sport of reining!
“It’s a privilege just to be able to live our lives with horses.”
-Dr. M. Phyllis Lose
Winning a Man’s Game
Before setting her sights on vet school, Dr. M. Phyllis Lose became the third woman in the United States to hold a horse trainer’s license at the age of 19. This was taboo at the time because not many women held horse trainer licenses. In addition to exercising and breezing racehorses, Dr. Lose rode briefly on the show jumping circuit. She claimed a win in the coveted Open Jumper Class at the 1952 Devon Horse Show.
In the early 1950s, Dr. Lose decided she wanted to become a large animal veterinarian. She studied hard and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania veterinary school in 1957. Dr. Lose was one of only two women in her graduating class of 50 students. When she first started practicing equine medicine, Dr. Lose was told that equine vets “were on their way out” (Vet Practice) and that veterinary medicine was a man’s game, not a woman’s.
However, that statement did little to deter her. Dr. Lose built two equine surgical hospitals in Pennsylvania, making her the first woman vet to do so. She specialized in equine orthopedics, soft tissue injuries, horse ulcers, and colics. Dr. Lose developed a “procedure that transects the check ligament sheath. This released the tendon and resulted in nearly 100 percent success in every club-footed horse she tried it on” (Vet Practice). None of Dr. Lose’s surgical patients ever experienced a post-op infection. This was considered her greatest accomplishment because not many veterinarians can lay claim to the same feat.
Unfortunately, both of Dr. Lose’s equine hospitals are closed now. Dr. Lose moved to Florida in 2000, where she continued to work as a track veterinarian for many years. On September 30th, 2019, Dr. Lose sadly passed away. But her contributions to the veterinary world live on in her mentees and four books. Their titles are: No Job for a Lady, Blessed are the Broodmares, Blessed are the Foals, and Keep Your Horse Healthy.
A New PATHfinder
When Octavia Brown saw an ad in The Chronicle of the Horse looking for people with experience in riding for the handicapped, she immediately answered it. Because of her swift action, Brown became one of the first women to serve on the NARHA board in 1969. She is known as one of the pioneers of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA—known today as PATH Intl.). Shortly after in 1972, Brown founded the Somerset Hills Handicapped Riders Club (SHHRC) in Oldwick, NJ. It was one of the first handicapped riding clubs in the United States and initially consisted of three horses and six riders. The program blossomed and grew in size quite quickly. Once this occurred, the directors realized it was time to purchase their own farm.
In 1994, SHRRC purchased a twelve-acre farm in Oldwick and officially opened the doors of the program’s barn in 2001. Nowadays it is now known as Mane Stream Handicapped Riding Center. Students “have access to diversified equine programs. These include adaptive horsemanship, a day camp for all abilities, and various therapy services. Those are as follows: physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language therapy, counseling services, and school and vocational programs” (Mane Stream).
Along with several other accolades, Brown is a certified PATH Intl. Master Instructor. She helped co-found Health and Recreation through Horses of New Jersey in 1980. In addition, Brown founded the therapeutic riding program at Centenary University in Hackettstown, NJ, and is still involved to this day. She received several awards over her decades-long career. These include the PATH Intl. James Brady Professional Achievement Award and the Directors’ Award, and the 1982 NJ Horse Person of the Year award. One of the bigger awards is the PATH Intl. President’s Award for Brown’s and Karen Bocksel’s work in creating a training video for PATH volunteers and future PATH certifications. Brown’s passion for her work clearly shows!
Soaring Through the Air
Professional show jumping rider Debbie Stephens stays busy on a regular basis. Stephens competes on the busy A-rated hunter/jumper circuit, traveling all over the world representing the U.S. team. She runs and trains out of her Centennial Equestrain Farm, Inc. in Palmetto, FL. Her husband, Steve Stephens, is an acclaimed and highly-sought after Olympic course designer.
But Stephens holds a coveted title: she and her Thoroughbred, Rocky Raccoon, claim the outdoor Ladies’ High Jump record in the United States. They successfully cleared a 7’8” solid wall at the 1983 Kings’ Mills Charity Horse Show in Cincinnati, Ohio. No one has beaten this for 37 years!
Taking Life in Stride
And lastly, how could we forget the two women who were the first to represent the United States Show Jumping Team in international competition? After US chef d’ equipe Bert de Nemethy talked several shows into letting him bring extra riders, Mary Mairs Chapot and Kathy Kusner were invited to compete in Europe. Mary has several “firsts” to her name. She was the first woman to win a Pan American Games Gold Medal and the first West Coast rider to win the coveted AHSA Medal Finals and ASPCA Maclay Finals. Mary was also the first woman to ride for the US in Olympic competition, and was part of the first husband-wife combination with Frank Chapot to ride for the United States Equestrian Team (USET). In addition, Mary won the first official Grand Prix in the United States, the Cleveland Grand Prix at the Chagrin Valley PHA Horse Show.
Kathy Kusner was also one of the first female riders to ride for the US. Kusner rode on three separate US Olympic teams, helping the team clinch a silver medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics. When she wasn’t competing in show jumping, Kusner helped exercise racehorses on the track and raced in several unrecognized races. At that time, women could not hold a jockey’s license. Kusner hired an attorney and fought in court for women to be allowed to become jockeys. In 1968, the court ruled in her favor. Kusner became one of the first women jockeys and travelled all over the world racing Thoroughbreds. Kusner also created “Horses in the Hood”, an organization that works with inner-city children in Los Angeles, CA. Another fun fact about Kusner: she is also the first female licensed Learjet pilot.
These lovely ladies described in this blog are proof that women can accomplish anything that they put their minds to!
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About the Author
Nicole Mandracchia (aka “Smiley”) has been immersed in the horse show world for 17 years. She rode and showed in Zone 2 as a junior, attended Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ, and was the captain of the IHSA team. Nicole has groomed, managed, and ridden for several top professionals in the industry, including: Robin Rost Brown, Val Renihan, Missy Clark and John Brennan’s North Run, and Amanda Steege. She has spent a majority of that time traveling up and down the East Coast following the A-rated circuit, including Florida and all the indoor finals. Nicole is also a frequent blogger for The Chronicle of the Horse magazine.
Nicole has won five grooming awards in her career: at The Sussex County Farm and Horse Show (2013), two at The Capital Challenge Horse Show (2018), WEF (2019), and The National Horse Show (2019). Nicole’s most memorable indoors’ experience was at The 2018 National Horse Show when both of the horses she was grooming claimed a tricolor in their respective divisions (Lafitte de Muze was champion in the Green 3’6″ Green Hunter division and Zara was reserve champion in the 3’6″ Green Conformation Hunter division). In addition, Nicole helped run a successful A-rated and C-rated horse show series in Augusta, NJ, from 2012-2017. Nicole owns a Dalmatian named Maddie, and her boyfriend Lee also works the horse show scene as an in-gate starter. Writing is a passion of hers and she enjoys sharing tips, funny stories, and advice on anything horse-related!