By Dani Moritz-Long
Anna Rossi was 12 years old when her parents told her, “You’re not going back to school for a year because we’re going to travel the world.” For many pre-teens, hearing these words would be euphoric. No homework or studying, no middle school drama, and the chance to see the world.
But then there was Anna, who, consumed with her life as a budding equestrian, had quite a different perspective on packing her things for a year-long expedition around the globe.
“I was actually a little upset,” she explained. “It was going to be my last year on my small pony, I had all of my friends at home and I was going into middle school. I didn’t know what it would be like. I had watched reality shows and they had shown Third World countries [which were on the Rossis’ itinerary] in a very negative light. I was scared.”
Anna protested the trip, hid the countdown clock her father gave her in the closet and begged her father to postpone this disruption to her pre-teen life.
Her protests, of course, didn’t faze her father — who had long dreamed of enabling his children to see and experience the world. While he was willing to amend their trip so Anna and her mother, who competed as an amateur owner, could still compete in some of their favorite shows stateside, the trip would go on. “You’re going to thank me,” he said simply, completely unperturbed.
Spoiler alert: He was right.
Around the World
Now 22 years old, 10 years after her trip, Anna recounts her travels fondly — grateful for every single experience her family enjoyed on their journey around the world.
Describing their journey, she said, “That year of travel took us to the ends of the earth. We circled the world twice, stepped foot on every continent and stood on both the equator and the Greenwich meridian. I came home with endless stories to tell, plenty of selfies with penguins and a new appreciation for a world many of my friends only knew from their textbooks.”
Her favorite stops included Turkey, Australia and Antarctica — but each stop along the way proved eye-opening for Anna and, in more ways than one, each stop changed her life.
“I felt very special because I had seen things, done things nobody else my age had,” she explained. “When I went to high school, I learned about Masada and I had already been there. It was a way to get ahead that I never anticipated. I never thought I could write my reflection papers about actually being there.”
Her international “studies” weren’t limited to the traditional historic and cultural sites most might pay heed to. She also saw the world through horses’ eyes and, in return, gained a newfound appreciation for the equine species. Most vividly she recalls her first stop in the Middle East, where she came face-to-face with a culture very different from her own.
“When I arrived in Cairo, Egypt, one of the first things I noticed was the abundance of horses pulling carts that brought tourists up to the base of the Giza Pyramids,” she said. “These horses were clearly underweight, with their ribs showing and minimal topline, but their hind-end muscles were powerful as they pulled heavy loads up a steep hill to the pyramids. The horses I saw in Egypt were viewed as equipment, and, while I was conditioned to a world where veterinarians regularly checked horses when they weren’t performing up to our standards, some of the carthorses were openly limping and exhausted. I got pretty emotional seeing some of these hardworking horses struggling to do their jobs, but still working with so much heart.”
Likewise, she was astonished by the culture in India, which dictated that if a horse’s whorl on his forehead is below the eye, he should not be purchased. On the other hand, she was pleasantly surprised to find Indian horsemen’s pride in their indigenous Marwaris — a breed best known for its unique inward-pointing ears.
Whether she was admiring the Indian breed, Peruvian Pasos or Turkish show jumpers, the lesson she learned was very much the same.
“I learned about the value of the horse,” she said. “I’ve always seen a good horse as having one redeeming quality: It is a good mover, a good jumper or is easy to ride. That’s how I was raised; it had to check one of those boxes. But there’s a whole world where that doesn’t matter. It’s not just about aesthetics, it’s not just about something that goes around and jumps. There’s a huge world out there that values their power, beauty and strength and speed. The horse has a place all over the world that’s so different from what I knew.”
While it was difficult for Anna to learn this lesson — to come face-to-face with sometimes horrifying differences in equestrian culture — by the end of her trip she understood.
She understood that the horse’s value is universal; that value doesn’t speak a language or isn’t exclusively embodied in one discipline or role. It crosses borders and oceans, and is found in all breeds of horses.
A horse’s value, she came to understand, is in his heart.
“Ten years after my year of travel, I am still struck every day by the privilege I have to have horses in my life,” she said. “These noble creatures, who give their hearts to us regardless of whether they are pulling a cart in Cairo, running the polo fields of Jaipur or galloping the international ring at the Winter Equestrian Festival, should be revered and honored.”
I Told You So
Today, she’s never been so ecstatic about being wrong and having lived the greatest “I told you so” moment of her life. “I have the best parents in the world,” she said, looking back on what she considers the greatest gift she was ever given. “I didn’t know it then, but I know it now.”