It took Denise Solomon more than half a year to recover from serious injuries sustained when she was thrown off her horse, Rio, in 2012, four years after starting riding lessons. As she healed, Solomon—distinguished professor of communication arts and sciences—thought carefully about the accident and came to the realization that it was mostly a consequence of dynamics, “the particular combination of me and that horse.”
The insight helped Solomon get back in the saddle without, she says, any fear. After a few sessions on a trusty lesson horse, she got Chip, a 14-year-old quarter horse already well-trained in dressage—in which a horse executes precise movements in response to subtle signals from a rider—and with whom the chemistry was perfect almost from the get-go. “Chip was just fantastic and hardworking; he would let me know when I got it wrong and when I got it right,” Solomon says.
As for Rio, he proved to be a perfect horse for Solomon’s son, Jackson—who she says was her excuse to start riding in 2008. “That year, my spouse booked a surprise family riding lesson as a Mother’s Day gift,” she says. “Jackson, 8 years old at the time, turned to me and said, ‘One day, I’m going to work at this barn for lessons.’”
Mother and son (pictured above) began taking lessons together. Jackson took naturally to riding and went on to compete in eventing, in which competitors are scored in dressage, show jumping, and cross-country jumps. Solomon trained in dressage—she served as faculty adviser to Penn State’s Dressage Team between 2016 and 2020—and also competed. But, she says, she was equally happy as a “barn mom.”
“Being part of a barn community is amazing. We’re all doing the same thing individually, but we help each other, and when we go to shows with other families, everyone pitches in.”
These days, Solomon and Chip are enjoying being empty nesters—both her sons are in college. She still takes lessons, spends time at the barn, and rides “when the weather is nice.”