Ride or die

Senior finds companionship and competition through horseback riding


Photo provided by Dori Rembecki.

They don’t speak the same language, eat the same food or look anything alike, yet they’re the best of friends.

Senior Dori Rembecki horseback rides competitively and for fun, and has been doing so for over ten years. Her interest was sparked at the age of six after her family went on a trail ride. With a barn only five minutes from their house, riding seemed convenient until the barn relocated farther away, but by then, Dori was already hooked.

After starting to ride at the age of six, Dori bought her horse, Deniro, a warmblood Hanoverian, six years ago when he was still in his toddler stage. Since then, he has been with her for every competition.

Deniro jumps during a show. Dori has owned Deniro for six years.
Deniro jumps during a show. Dori has owned Deniro for six years.

“It’s a weird relationship because we can’t talk,” Dori said. “It’s all me asking him in other ways and using my leg and my hand. Even where I’m putting my weight in the saddle to ask him to do certain things. It’s a lot of him learning to trust my abilities and then knowing when I can’t do stuff, he can do it for me.”

Dori started riding alongside her older sister, Elaine Rembecki. Although Elaine is now in college and only rides as a hobby, she cherishes the time she spent riding with her sister.

“For so long, Dori and I tried out different sports, but we always just went right back to horseback riding,” Elaine said. “We always rode together. She was such a huge support system for me through competing. We grew as riders together, [and] it’s awesome to look back at that and all of the memories we shared.”

Dori rides four times a week at The Paddocks Stables in Cross Roads, Texas. For two days, she receives lessons from her trainer, Katja Kallenberger, and for the other two days she is free to ride on her own. Kallenberger has been Dori’s trainer ever since she started riding.

“Horseback riding is something that is in your blood, it’s a lifelong passion,” Kallenberger said. “Dori has an exceptionally strong work ethic. She always has. It’s not very often that I’m not proud, [because] Dori works very very hard.”

Dori and her older sister Elaine atop their respective horses. Elaines horse was sold after she started college.
Dori and her older sister Elaine atop their respective horses. Elaine’s horse was sold after she started college.

In show season 2015, Dori placed fifth in the state of Texas for her division, 3’ 3” juniors, and in 2014 placed fourth. Riders are placed into divisions according to their age and the height their horse can jump. Winners are selected by tallying up points earned in shows throughout the season.

“You need to be passionate enough to go out every day for hours on end,” Elaine said. “She’s so successful because she works hard through sweat, blood and tears. She’s out there almost every single day for hours, and has been for ten years, and I say that’s extremely determined and passionate.”

Since horseback riding isn’t a common sport, Dori often encounters a lot of misconceptions about it.

“[People] think I’m some cowgirl that lives on a ranch who keeps her horse in her backyard,” Dori said. “People think that it’s not a sport. They think that you’re just sitting on a horse. When football players say, ‘What you’re a horseback rider? That’s not a sport.’ I can communicate with this huge animal that can’t talk to me, and at one point was a wild animal, and you’re chasing a football. It’s very different from a lot of sports, but it is nonetheless a very demanding sport, mentally and physically.”

Dori doesn’t plan on pursuing a career in horseback riding, but with 12 years of experience under her belt, there’s one piece of advice that holds true in her everyday life.

“One thing that was said to me that I will never forget, my trainer, she says ‘you have to fall off your horse a hundred times before you can become a real rider’ and I have definitely gone way beyond that,” Dori said. “You figure out what it’s like when you can feel the muscles moving underneath you, you can feel each step of the horse. A lot of people are like ‘Isn’t that scary for you? Being on a giant animal?’ and yeah it is, but I trust my horse and he trusts me. It’s honestly taught me a lot about, sometimes you have to mess up before you can get back in it.”