Crushing Stereotypes: Life of a male equestrian

Biondi with his loving companion Brink, a ten-year-old Friesian horse.

Biondi with his loving companion Brink, a ten-year-old Friesian horse.

Halle Pratt and Sydney Willard

Brink, a ten-year-old Friesian horse, clomped across the wooden bridge. His strides slowed as his 67-year-old owner Steve Biondi applied pressure with the leather reins. Stepping off of the planks, Brink’s hooves were soaked by the muddy water. The warm summer sun heated the silky hair on Brink’s back. His black coat trapped the warmth against his giant body. Brink began kicking up the water, splashing his owner and the other horses playfully. The water rolled down his sides, cooling him off from the unbearable heat. 

   However, this wasn’t enough for Brink to be satisfied, for he had a better idea in mind. He lay down in the water, fully submerging his body. Biondi grasped the reins tighter, but it was too late. His defective saddle strap gave away, sending Biondi into the muck. Sitting in the water, Biondi looked up at Brink, who was utterly confused why his owner was in the water. In a fit of laughter, Biondi rang out the sleeves of his drenched shirt. For Biondi, it’s recalling special moments like these that keep his passion alive.

   As a nine year old, Biondi fell in love with horses at a summer camp where his mother volunteered. Using burlap sacks as makeshift saddle pads, Biondi learned the basics of riding. He rode the horses down the trails with the other kids at the camp.

   Biondi’s passion grew stronger as he became more familiar with the sport. He began learning different disciplines of riding: English and Western. 

   “I loved it so much that I rode every day that they let me during that summer,” Biondi said. From nine years old to twelve years old, Biondi’s riding career flourished. Every moment he wasn’t riding, he yearned for the barn. However, during the following years he was unable to find the time and money for horses.  He had the opportunity to ride a few times during his adult life, but those times weren’t enough.

   At the age of 64, Biondi started riding as a senior at the Great Lakes Equestrian Center. “I wanted to pursue it again now that I was nearing retirement and could finally afford a horse and lessons,” Biondi said. 

   With the help of his trainer Heather, Biondi was able to renew his passion for riding horses. While starting back up, Biondi’s schedule only allowed for lessons on the weekend as he was still working. 

   His schedule began to open up, allowing time to lease a horse. “I eventually leased Bonnie, an Irish Sport Horse, and learned the first two levels of dressage on her,” Biondi said. Biondi attempted to learn how to jump on Bonnie, but dressage was much more fascinating and enjoyable. He was captivated. 

  Nearing retirement, Biondi realized he was not getting any younger and was not going to take time for granted. With age and time in mind, Biondi decided he was ready to buy a horse with a goal of competing in mind. A Friesian to be exact. “I knew I wanted a Friesian as we had two at the barn and I fell in love with the breed,” Biondi said. 

   Biondi alerted his trainer about his exciting decision only to find out that finding a horse could take over a year. Unphased, Biondi was imminent about starting the search. 

   Within a month, he found his dream horse, but there was a catch. “He was in the Netherlands, so I had to fly him over to New York and transport him to Holland,” Biondi said. Despite the 4,691 miles, nothing would stop him from purchasing his future companion. From Amsterdam to New York to Kentucky, Brink completed his journey. 

   On March 3rd, 2019, Brink was finally in his new home in Holland, Michigan. Biondi was unsure of what to expect. He did not travel to the Netherlands to meet his horse beforehand. What if he wasn’t the correct horse for him? However, as soon as they met he immediately fell in love. “He was snuggling and nuzzling me within the first day or so,” Biondi said. “He was just perfect, for me anyways.”

   Biondi has unfortunately been unable to participate in any horse shows due to the circumstance of COVID-19. After shows began to open up again, Brink had a suspensory ligament injury, preventing him from participating. Thankfully, Brink is happy and healthy, eager to earn ribbons at events. Biondi hopes to show Brink next year in dressage competitions and move up the levels as Brink progresses in his training. 

   Biondi now boards Brink at Sandy Hill Farm, home of Great Lakes Equestrian Center located in West Olive, Michigan. The state of the art facility is equipped with heated stalls, a 100×200 heated indoor riding arena, and was built in 2020, making it one of the nicest barns in West Michigan. It was perfect for Biondi and Brink.

   When Biondi first began visiting the barn, he was shocked. “I was surprised when I realized that I was the only guy riding at the barn,” Biondi said. Despite the lack of male riders, Biondi felt welcomed by the other riders. “I am very lucky to have great women riders there to learn and share our experiences with each day,” Biondi said. 

   Throughout the U.S, there is a limited number of male equestrians. “It turns out only about 25% of riders are male. I am not at all concerned about stereotypes as I am also a RN. Not many guys in that profession either,” Biondi said. Although there are few males in the equestrian community, Biondi has learned that there are no restraints on his passion. “I guess as I got older I stopped worrying about what other people thought,” Biondi said. 

   The stereotype: “Only girls do equestrian,” is a statement with which Biondi heavily disagrees. “I wish more guys would try riding,” Biondi said. “It is a very strenuous sport requiring agility, a strong core, and determination.”

   Biondi encourages young equestrians to continue the love they have for horses. He believes that nothing should get in the way of a person and their dream. “We have a few young guys who now take lessons and I encourage them every time I see them,” Biondi said. 

   Since he joined the barn, Biondi has noticed that the riders are all unified by one passion: the love for horses. “All kinds of people with different experiences can get along and be great with each other independent of age, gender, or experience,” Biondi said. 

  The impacts of the barn’s positive environment have not gone unnoticed. “I think being around horses makes me appreciate life each day and allows me to spread some love on not just my horse but many others at the barn.”