When she was a little girl Carol McElroy always wanted a horse, but her family couldn’t afford one. So like many little girls with that same dream, she forgot all about it and went on to live her life. Until several years before she retired, when she serendipitously befriended a woman at a dog show who encouraged her to resurrect her dream, and helped her accomplish it.

Above photo: Carol and Kingston at the second horseshow they competed in. They won 1st place in both of the over fences classes and was Grand Champion of the division.

Despite the fact that most equestrians take up the sport in childhood, Angie Heggood, owner of Harmony Stables in Middleburg, told McElroy that if she wanted to learn to ride, she had a horse she could start her on.

“Come see if you like it,” Heggood remembers telling her. “And we just went from there.”

McElroy began taking lessons from Heggood and stuck with them despite undergoing two hip replacements for osteoarthritis. Then, when McElroy decided to buy her own horse, Heggood helped her find the perfect one for her needs. After she retired four years ago from her job as a JEA operations coordinator, McElroy had even more time to devote to the sport. Now she regularly competes in shows and wins championships.

At a recent First Coast Hunter Jumper Association competition at the Clay County Fairgrounds, McElroy won several awards, including grand champion of her division.

It’s true that she “came into this a little later in life than most,” Heggood says. But, “she puts in the time and effort and perseverance, despite her hip replacements. I’m amazed at this woman. She’s my hero.”

McElroy says getting her own horse, a dark brown thoroughbred that she named Kingston, inspired her to ride more often. A neutered male that will soon turn 20, she got him three and a half years ago and boards him at Heggood’s stables. “He’s a good boy,” she says. “Since I was a beginning rider, I needed an experienced horse.”

With her two artificial hips, she refers to Kingston as her “physical therapist.” Her surgeon encouraged her to continue riding, and she says horseback riding has greatly helped to improve her posture.

“It gets you to open your shoulders and sit tall,” she says. “It helps me to keep my back straight. My normal posture is kind of a slouch.”

Heggood says finding the right horse for McElroy was important. “We needed a gentleman, with a sense of humor, who would be forgiving of any mistakes she made,” she says. “We also didn’t want a robot. We wanted a little bit of a challenge, something she could handle.”

During her twice a week lessons, Heggood says Kingston lets McElroy know, by bucking or speeding up or kicking out, if she does something he doesn’t like.

Horseback riding would be easier to start when you’re young, McElroy admits. But she doesn’t let that stop her. Her family couldn’t afford it then, but she can now.

“I don’t like to get stale,” she says. “You have to keep challenging yourself.”

The next First Coast Hunter Jumper show will take place September 17 at the Clay County Fairgrounds. The day-long event is free and open to the public.

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McElroy’s horse Kingston stands tall and rides strong at 20 years old.

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Carol McElroy and her horse Kingston not only win competitions together, but he has also helped her rebuild her posture after two hip surgeries.

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