Cathy Stangroom

Born to Ride

Some people are just horse people, and by age six, Cathy Stangroom counted herself one of them. Growing up outside of Washington D.C., she had plenty of space to ride around the Potomac River country, enjoying the fresh air and that magic bond that horse people come to feel with their animals. She rode all through school until her sophomore year in college when she suffered an accident that took her out of the saddle for a while.
"I was riding in a field with a friend when it started to rain," said Cathy. "The horse reared up and flipped, and landed on top of me. I broke my pelvis and spent a month in the hospital."

Fortunately, she recovered from this injury and has had no bothersome long-term effects-something for which she credits her chestnut mare, Peaches and Cream. After the horse Cathy was riding threw her and bolted, Peaches and Cream stayed put-contrary to an animal's natural instinct to run with the herd-and let Cathy's friend mount her so she could ride for help.

Everything happens for a reason. Without the all-consuming distraction of riding, Cathy turned her attentions to her studies, earning a degree in biology and meeting her husband, Rob. After she and her family moved to Hilton Head Island in 1982, Cathy suddenly started thinking about horses again. When she saw someone at the elementary school wearing a riding helmet, she asked where they rode and they said Moss Creek Equestrian Center, prompting Cathy to take her daughter there for lessons. Cathy would hang around the stables, filling the occasional water bucket and trying to make herself useful, until eventually she was approached by the owners, who asked her if she would like to work there.

"People probably thought I was going through a mid-life crisis, because I gave up a three-day-a-week job for a six-day-a-week position and less money," said Cathy. "But I love being outside and working with the animals."

When the owners of the Equestrian Center decided to move back to France, Cathy took over and is now the owner, manager and trainer. She enjoys giving lessons to both children and adults, and watching people fall in love with riding. For the adults, it is often a chance to fulfill a childhood dream, while for the kids, it is a hobby that helps them to grow and mature, she explained.

"I look at riding as a life lesson," said Cathy. "Kids learn how to be patient and cooperate, and that their actions have consequences. I tell them, 'This horse does not have to have you on its back. You have to learn to communicate on a different level, like learning another language, so that you can ask the horse to do what you want it to do.'"

According to Cathy, once riders master this art of communication, they will find that they can connect with the animal on a level so basic that the satisfaction can only be understood by those who have felt it.

"It's wonderful when you walk out to the field to get your horse and he walks right up to you," she said. "He's your friend."

Up Close

Hometown: Silver Spring, Maryland Family includes: husband Rob, son Chris, 23 and daughter Caileigh, 21 Hobbies: gardening, sudoku and scuba diving off St. John, Virgin Islands Number of horses she owns at the Equestrian Center: three, plus two ponies Total amount of fodder all animals consume at the Equestrian Center: 200 bails of hay per month, plus 750 lbs. of grain per week On little girls and horses: "For many of these girls, a horse can be like a first boyfriend. Some even write him love letters!"