Ross Reisner student's equestrian showing is bittersweet
Related mediaSetauket man fatally shot in home mourned
As she rode out of the arena to cheers, Alexandra Maracic sobbed and thought of the man who couldn't be there to watch the best ride of her life.
The Syosset teenager, a student of slain Long Island riding instructor Ross Reisner, rode Zjappoo Sow -- Po -- to fourth place out of 234 elite junior riders on Sunday at the Pennsylvania Horse Show finals in Harrisburg.
Later that day, Po was named that competition's horse of the year.
"I think he would have been speechless, just as much as I was," Maracic, 16, said Wednesday of Reisner. "He definitely would have been so proud, because Po was his favorite horse."
Reisner was shot to death in his Setauket home late last month. A Suffolk grand jury has indicted the suspected gunman, Brett Knight, 45, of Manhattan -- a friend and former tenant of Reisner and his partner, Kevin Murray. Knight has confessed to the shooting, authorities say, but no motive has been revealed.
The first time Maracic rode Po, she was 12, steering the big bay gelding over fences at twilight in a New Jersey arena as Reisner looked on.
Maracic, a self-described perfectionist, was looking for her first show horse. After the test ride, she complained to Reisner that Po didn't have any "scope" -- the power and ease a horse needs to clear fences and other obstacles.
Reisner turned to the girl and laughed. "Do you even know what scope is?" he asked.
Recalling that moment, Maracic's mother, Joanne, said, "It's been a running joke since."
The Maracics bought the horse, which became a "perfect match" for Alex, her mother said.
The pair trained for four years, with the energetic Reisner guiding Maracic through the dizzying mazes of technical jumping courses, and pushing her to ride without stirrups to improve her strength.
Rider and horse would soon be recognized in equestrian circles, winning ribbons at big-name shows like The Hampton Classic.
"He just always made me work hard," Maracic said. "He was sort of a perfectionist as well. It was kind of like we worked hand in hand; he knew he would have to calm me down a little bit."
At the height of a successful 2013 season, the trio was poised to go to the junior equitation finals in Pennsylvania when Reisner was killed, devastating the Island's horse community.
Maracic, heartbroken, could have given up, but that would have disappointed Reisner.
"I just had to push all that behind myself and just ride. He wouldn't want anything else," she said.
The Syosset High School junior said she wants to focus on show jumping for the next few years and dreams of becoming an Olympian. One day, she hopes to be a trainer like her mentor.
Of last weekend's competition, dedicated by show officials to Reisner, she said: "I think I did so well because I was riding for him."
When Maracic rode into the arena for the first round, she glimpsed Reisner's partner, Murray, in the stands with her mother. He had driven five hours to see her compete.
After getting her ribbons and posing for pictures, Maracic got another prize: Reisner's favorite show jacket -- hunter green with a velvet collar, given to her by Murray.
"He knew how much Ross meant to me," she said. "It just meant a lot."