That’s the buzzer, medical debt—you can leave the ring.

Whether you’re riding around at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) or watching the Saturday Night Lights’ Grand Prix via livestream in front of a fireplace, you might have noticed some of your favorite riders donning a blue armband.

The curious accessory is not a new show jacket fashion statement. It’s a symbol of solidarity for the Equestrian Cooperative‘s (EC) first major fundraiser. In partnership with the Great Charity Challenge and the nonprofit organization RIP Medical Debt, EC is helping to dissolve medical debt for approximately 1,200 Palm Beach County residents.

RIP Medical Debt is an organization that buys patient’s debt at pennies on the dollar.

EC has set a goal to raise $34,000. This would erase approximately $5 million of debt at about $1.50 to the penny. At the time of publishing, the fundraiser has brought in $22,379, which achieves 65% of their goal.

The four horsewomen of the local medical debt apocalypse are the founders of EC: equestrian journalist Tori Repole; World Equestrian Games team gold medalist Adrienne Sternlicht; Pan American Games team bronze medalist Lucy Deslauriers; and amateur rider and co-founder of the Great Charity Challenge Paige Bellissimo.

EC is an initiative that was developed to engage the horse community in social activism while promoting diversity and inclusivity. Its aim is to connect equestrians with organizations that serve its greater communities to make the practice of giving back more accessible.

“The four of us came together in the summer of last year after George Floyd’s murder. We listened to the conversations that were happening nationally and within our industry and honed in on what we could do to foster diversity, inclusivity, and social activism in the equestrian
community,” said Repole.

Through those discussions came the awareness that most equestrians don’t lack desire to get involved, only time and opportunity. So, EC is helping to find ways to give back to the community even when life exists within the bubble of a barn from dusk ’til dawn.

“There was so much conversation around social injustice at the beginning of the summer. We wanted to be a liaison for continuing that conversation because the equestrian world, by its very nature and design, is quite insular. Even though we exist in different communities worldwide, we end up operating within the little sphere that we live and compete in,” said Sternlicht.

Thank you so much to everyone who has donated and supported our initiative to alleviate medical debt in Palm Beach…

Posted by The Equestrian Cooperative on Sunday, February 14, 2021

So why did the EC start with RIP Medical Debt?

For the winter, a huge portion of the equestrian community calls Wellington, Florida home during the WEF circuit. Florida is a medical debt hotspot, and the global crisis of COVID-19 has made this issue more pertinent than ever.

The recipients of the financial relief will receive a yellow slip in the mail notifying them that they no longer owe on their medical bills.

“I can’t imagine how they’re going to feel and the relief that will
overcome them. It’s incredibly humbling to be a part of this journey with the equestrian community and I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do so far,” said Repole.

How to participate

It’s not too late to get involved. Donations can be made online until March 1 or stop by the Fratelli Fabbri booth at WEF to pick up a blue armband to show support. Donations of $50 and up earn entry into a raffle for a prize giveaway sponsored by EquiFit, Erin Gilmore Photography, Fratelli Fabbri, Ashley Neuhof Photography, Horse Pilot, and artist Meghan Bacso.

What’s in the chute for EC?

“Part of our shared vision is to get equestrians to come together to make these initiatives a reality. We have so many ideas––it’s just considering, realistically, what we can accomplish during this unprecedented time,” said Sternlicht.

EC, making strides towards bettering our community.

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Feature image courtesy of Ashley Neuhof