South Alum Rides In The Hampton Classic

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Sophie Baghdassarian’s dream of riding in the renowned Hampton Classic came true with HoreseAbility’s special-needs team. (Photos by Anoush Baghdassarian)

Sophie Baghdassarian’s dream of riding in the prestigious Hampton Classic Horse Show came true on Aug. 28.

The Great Neck South alum qualified to ride with a special-needs team through HorseAbility called The Long Island Horse Show Series for Riders with Disabilities (LIHSSRD).

Her mom, Dr. Ani Baghdassarian, explained, “This is a really incredible opportunity and Sophie had been looking forward to this moment for years. Words can’t describe or explain the pride and satisfaction we all felt watching her ride.”

Sophie became interested in horseback riding at age 12 after her sister, Anoush, who’s a-year-and-a-half older, started riding.

“When I saw her riding, it was hard not to want to join,” said Sophie. “So, I expressed that desire, and my parents sent me to Camp Robin Hood and signed me up for the camp riding program. That’s where it all began. My sister then stopped, but I continued—horses have been an important part of my life since then, because it relaxes me and brings me comfort and brings meaning to my life.”

Anoush, who’s now 22, recently graduated from Claremont McKenna College in California. She took pictures of Sophie riding at The Hampton’s Classic and is amazed by and proud of her sister.

“Sophie is a force of nature—I am consistently impressed with her accomplishments every day, and watching her ride in The Hampton Classic was one of my most exciting and proud moments as a sister,” beamed Anoush. “Seeing Sophie so confidently riding in this incredible show was inspiring and I hope to continue to be amazed by Sophie, as well as to continue to learn from her the rest of our lives.”

After volunteering for a year with HorseAbility, a program that aims to improve the lives of individuals with special needs through facilitated interactions with horses, Sophie became involved with LIHSSRD last year. This division of HorseAbility presents showcases, where students can display what they’ve been working on—with the grand finale at The Hampton Classic.

“I found out about The Long Island Horse Show Series for Riders with Disabilities because I had been riding at HorseAbility as one of their lesson riders. Then I found out about LIHSSRD through researching on my own, and my parents got me involved,” said the 20-year-old Great Neck South Class of 2014 graduate. “With LIHSSRD, I found a place that fits my needs and my schedule, and I feel at home there. LIHSSRD has changed my life in many ways that others can’t understand. It made me feel that I’m not alone, and I don’t have to hide behind a screen anymore. After today’s show, it feels like I’m on top of the world.”

Horseback riding has had an enormous impacted on Sophie and has taught her many things.

“Riding horses has been a way for me to escape all the noise of daily life,” said Sophie, who currently attends Nassau Community College. “It also has been a way for me to get life lessons just by sitting in the saddle. One example of a lesson I learned from being in the saddle is to learn from mistakes. Another is to be humble. I’ve also learned you need to be respectful, work as a team and be patient.”

These valuable lessons are helping shape Sophie’s future.

“While I’m still undecided for my major, I’m planning to do the Nassau Community College dance program and I’d love to study something having to do with animal care,” said the horse enthusiast. “As for plans after college, I’m not sure, but I plan to continue riding and eventually start my own family—in addition to an equine family.”

Sophie has been riding at HorseAbility for the past two years and thoroughly appreciates the help and support the nonprofit organization has provided. Her parents are also grateful for the education Sophie and her siblings have received through the Great Neck Public Schools.

“We are so proud of Sophie’s achievement and determination. She is an incredible young woman who has achieved so much through her hard work and dedication, and her accomplishments in The Hampton Classic are just another testament to that,” said Ani, who also has two younger children, sons Aram, 18, who’s a freshman at Cornell, and Antranig, 12, who attends Great Neck South Middle School. “Bob and I have been very blessed with our children. We are so proud of all of them. We feel very fortunate to reside in Great Neck. The education our children received and are receiving in the Great Neck Public School District has been extraordinary, and provided the necessary tools for each one of our children to succeed in their unique and talented ways.”

Sophie’s dad, Dr. Bagdig “Bob” Baghdassarian, added, “Sophie has overcome so much over the years and we, as parents, couldn’t be more proud of her. Watching Sophie ride is one of the most joyous activities for me as her dad. She is so great at it and it’s visible that she puts her heart into it. I can’t wait to see what she accomplishes next.”

Both parents continue to be impressed by Sophie’s passion and persistence.

“No mountain is too high for Sophie and she rises to the occasion,” Ani continued. “What is most impressive is that she always keeps an optimistic approach to whichever goal she sets in her mind and whatever she does, she does with passion and love. Her approach to life is unique. She is amazing! It’s so beautiful and rewarding watching her ride. She was poised, serious and professional in the show, and it was inspirational to know she was amongst some of the best riders in the world as a participant in The Hampton Classic. We felt very grateful to LIHSSRD for giving Sophie and the others riders this unique opportunity.”

Through this special-needs community, doors have been opened for Sophie in unexpected ways.

“Being part of this community has given me a chance to shine a light on special needs, and what it’s like to overcome different adversities and be a part of a team that makes that voice even stronger,” said Sophie. “Together, we don’t have to hide our differences or problems, but instead we embrace them and celebrate them with the horses. Being part of the special-needs community has created many opportunities to get our stories heard. I never dreamed of getting a chance to ride in the most prestigious horse show.”

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With more than three decades of publishing experience at national magazines, Sheri ArbitalJacoby is the editor of the Great Neck Record. She also writes decorating, travel and green articles for <a href=”http://longislandweekly.com” Long Island Weekly and Anton's special sections.

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