Jennifer's Story

This story reflects the participant’s personal experience as told by them and may be triggering for individuals who have experienced sexual abuse or misconduct.

My family is not wealthy by any means.

My parents sacrificed a lot for me to be able ride and even then I rode school horses mostly growing up. Around here, you’re lucky if they can jump 2’3”. Jumping big jumps, realistically, wasn't going to ever happen for me. You just don't get those opportunities when you can't afford it. But when you’re 14, you still think you're going to make it to the Olympics someday. So when the opportunity came up to take a clinic with a grand prix rider one state over, it was a big deal for me.

My trainer pulled a lot of strings to make it happen, too. She got me a spot in the clinic and arranged for me to borrow a friend’s horse. He wasn't a fancy sport horse, but he knew enough to pilot a kid who's really never seen a jump taller than three foot.

The day of the clinic, I was so nervous and so excited. It was just a one-day local clinic,but to me, this was my Big Break.

My mom came to watch. It had been years since she last saw me ride, I wanted to show her what she was paying for. I didn’t want to embarrass my trainer. And I wanted to fit in. I put on my nicest polo that had been a birthday present three years earlier. I polished all my tack and got my show helmet out. I felt so fancy. It was fun.

I had my horse ready long before my turn, so I got to watch all the riders who went before me.They're jumping these massive oxers and it was just so cool. In my mind, it was what if this opens doors to other opportunities?

My lesson went really well, too. I got to jump all this cool stuff. It was in a different arena; I'd only seen the same four arenas my entire riding career. I learned about counting strides to bigger fences and what it feels like to hand gallop to a jump and to jump a big fence for the first time. It was so, so, so cool. My mom thought so too.

At one point during the lesson, the clinician put his hands on my back to show how I needed to flatten my back more when I released, so I don't nick my horse in the face when he goes to stretch for the jump. I brushed it off at the time. My trainer at home does that too. Now, looking back, I wonder if he even needed to do that or if he did it to try to see if he could touch me?

Anyway, I went home on cloud nine.

A few days after the clinic, I was tagged in a photo on Facebook with the trainer and he sent me a friend request. I didn't think it was weird. Honestly, I was flattered. It was the first time an equestrian professional friended me. He was famous in our area. Everyone knew who he was.

He started liking my posts almost immediately. And I thought, that's normal. He’s just keeping in touch.

A week or so later, he started to send me random messages, like “How was your day? How are your horses at home? How is your training going?” Keep in mind I’m 14. He’s in his 40s. I had no idea what was happening.

I’d reply with updates on my riding and he started sending pictures of himself in return. Not explicit pictures. At first, it was his farm, his horses, then he'd add at his face in the pictures and ask, “Oh, do you think I'm handsome?”

I didn't reply to that one. I was like, who asks that?

It started to feel weird when the messages turned to things that had nothing to do with horses. There was one where he's asked, “Are you single? Do you have a boyfriend?”

I said, "No," because I didn't understand what message that was going to send. In my 14-year-old brain I thought “no” meant “I'm not interested.”

But the messages kept escalating. He started sending me pictures of himself without a shirt and telling me, “Well, if you were my girlfriend that would be so cool. I would take you here and there” and then things like “What do you look like in a bikini?”

I was really uncomfortable with what was happening but I didn’t know how to shut down that conversation. And I was scared. I grew up in this conservative family. I wasn’t even supposed to be on Facebook—I made the account without my parents knowing because all my horse friends were on social media and I wanted to join in and post pictures of the horses and stuff. And it opened a lot of doors for me. I found all these horse people on the Internet. I mean, that's how I met my trainer.

So, I didn’t tell anyone about the messages.

Even when they started getting explicit. “If you were in my bed tonight…” And then he would sext a 14-year-old girl. He was never bold enough to send below the belt pics.

The last message was, “I should buy you a plane ticket to visit me. You shouldn't tell anybody, though.”

That was the ultimate scary thing. I blocked him and deleted everything after that. I was so scared that somebody would find out and that I would get in trouble. I just wanted it all to go away.

The only way we ever communicated was through Facebook, so I didn’t think he could get in touch with me. But I was terrified that if my parents found out they’d make me shut down my account and then I would lose my connection with all my friends and all these other horse people I could possibly meet. Of worse, that they’d try to pull me from the sport entirely. That they would blame me for what happened.

And if it got out, who's going to believe me? He’s a big, important trainer. I am literally just this kid from Maryland he met once and I had deleted the evidence. What if everybody found out and no one wanted to talk to me or ride with me anymore? Or what if I got thrown out of my barn? This is the cheapest one in the area. I'll never find another one.

It was just this snowball of thoughts that felt like such real possibilities. But mostly it was the fear of what if I say something and my parents go, “Well, that's it, we're done with this sport forever” and I never got to see a horse again. That was my biggest fear.

So I buried it. I stuffed it in a box in the mental closet.

I ended up bumping into him a few years later. It was just after my 16th birthday. My trainer and I went to see her stallion that was in training with his working student and I didn't know he was going to be there. I was so nervous. He waited until no one was around and then pinned me up against the wall and was like, “So you never replied to my messages. I miss talking to you.”

It happened so quickly, I didn’t know how to respond. I got really uncomfortable and then people walked by and he left. And I never saw him again.

Looking back now I shouldn't have been so scared, but I was. Even now I am reluctant to do any kind of training with men because of what happened. Everytime I see male trainers with young children I take note mentally to keep an eye on that kid, you know what I mean?

I found out much later that I wasn't the only girl he did that to. But like me, everybody else was too afraid to say anything about it.

And I get why people have such a hard time coming forward. Telling this story now, I know none of this was my fault. I've been through enough therapy to know that. But the feeling of shame never goes away. At least for me, it doesn't. Part of me still worries that people are going to jump down my throat and be like, why did you do this? Why did you say that? You should have known better.

It’s been over a decade. I’m ready to talk about it and grateful for this safe space for my story to mean something to people. Because if it's not this guy, it'll be another one. There's always going to be predators out there. But when there are people who want to listen, people who take it seriously, that's what changes it.

I hope that my story can start a conversation for children and their parents and coaches and the kids they train. No 14-year-old should have to fend off a predator alone.