Great Neck South High School alumni Sophie Baghdassarian took home a championship trophy in an Aug. 26 horse riding competition hosted as part of the prestigious Hampton Classic.
Baghdassarian was named champion in the Advanced Independent division of the Long Island Horse Show Series for Riders with Disabilities (LIHSSRD), a horse show open to competitors with intellectual and developmental impairments. Seated on the horse The Devil Wears Prada, the 22-year-old rode her way to the top of the competition in her division, culminating in an emotional overflow when it was announced she would receive the orange saddle pad only given out to champions.
“This was my third time competing and it was a pretty unreal experience,” she said. “Competing is always exciting for me but to be in such a famous and prestigious show is such a great feeling and such an honor. I am so proud to be able to compete and to see that I’ve improved each year and to see that my peers around me are always improving too. Every year we all leave champions, but this year was particularly special for me. “
Baghdassarian’s early life with a developmental disorder was far from easy. Her persistent issues with communication led her to constantly feel like an outsider, but with the support of her family, she was able to discover she had a passion for horseback riding. Once she came to the sport, the rest was history.
“My sister Anoush and I both started horseback riding at a very early age,” Baghdassarian said. “Even though she quit horseback riding, I loved it so much that I kept going and never looked back. I love riding because I fit in and I can have that friendship with a voiceless animal and it makes me feel happy and welcome”
Sophie’s mother, Ani Chouldjian-Baghdassarian, said watching her daughter grow into a champion rider was an almost indescribable experience, even if she can’t help but worry about her getting hurt along the way.
“My husband and I and her siblings are very proud of her accomplishment,” Chouldjian-Baghdassarian said. “Everything she does, she does with passion, and seeing her happy and fulfilled lightens our days every day. She has a beautiful connection to the horses, it’s incredible to see her like that.”
Baghdassarian works for the Great Neck Park District as a tennis court assistant at Allenwood Park. When she’s not working or riding horses, she also enjoys dancing and music. She hopes to keep competing and winning in the Hampton Classic in the future, and eventually work her way up to be able to buy her own personal horse.