When retired businessman Jeff Grossman began volunteering at Hoofbeats, he thought it would be his “horse fix.” He and his wife had just moved here from California, leaving behind a beloved Arabian horse, and Jeff was looking for some much needed horse interaction. What he found at Hoofbeats was so much more.
“I started out going for the horses, but by the end of the first year I was going for the clients,” he said. “They are a unique set of people – the clients and their parents and guardians and caregivers. They stick with you. Even when they’re gone or moved on, you still remember them.”
Jeff has been volunteering at Hoofbeats for six years now and his favorite memories are always of the riders. “Jared, Terry, Lindsay, Ryan are just a few,” he said.
Jared, now 14-years-old, has been riding at Hoofbeats since he was a small child. Although he cannot form words verbally, Jared expresses his witty and sarcastic sense of humor with a range of motions, sounds, and facial expressions. He has formed close relationships with many of the volunteers, including Jeff. “Now whenever I help Jared get on a horse, he just laughs and laughs,” Jeff said. “I ask him if he wants to hang upside down, and he just nods, ‘Yes!’”
Jeff has a specialized role at Hoofbeats. He helps riders, especially those in wheelchairs or with severe physical limitations, mount and dismount. Getting on and off a 5-foot horse can be a stressful time for a rider, especially if they cannot use their legs or are very heavy. Jeff chats with them and makes them feel comfortable as he gently leads them up the mounting ramp. Then he and another volunteer on the ground help guide the rider’s body safely onto the horse’s back.
“I don’t have anybody who can do what Jeff can do,” said Carol Branscome, Hoofbeats director. “He is the mounting guy.”
Jeff no longer rides, but he said he plans to continue volunteering at Hoofbeats as long as the program is operating.
Before retiring in Lexington, hometown of his alma mater and capital of Virginia horse country, Jeff built a long and successful career that stretched coast to coast across the nation’s major cities. A native of Caldwell, New Jersey, he studied mathematics and was on the swim team at Washington and Lee University, where he graduated in 1970. That was the first year of the draft lottery. Jeff preemptively signed up for the naval flight program, but his draft board did not call on him. By the time he realized this, he still had not signed the dotted line, and so he decided to go get a job.
A friend suggested a training program at Seagram Distillery, and he applied and was accepted. “It was a kind of a neat program,” Jeff said. He and the other trainees travelled around the country doing market research on a retail level, interviewing bar owners and suppliers. He then became a manager and was transferred to Santa Monica, where he met his wife, Julia. Jeff stayed with Seagram for his entire career, working in sales, pricing, finance and market management in New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Dallas. When the company was sold in 2000, he did some consulting for the buyers and also some individual consulting for former colleagues who now worked in many companies around the world.
After he and Julia retired in California, she began taking some riding classes at a community college where she met a trainer who continued to teach her. Jeff came with her one day to watch, and the trainer asked if he wanted to learn. He was sucked in. He and Julia rode for three years in California and owned a beautiful Arabian horse. When they decided to move to Virginia, they left him behind with his trainer, not wanting to take him away from his environment and put him through the stress of cross-country travel.
Jeff and Julia now reside in Lexington and enjoy engaging with work that enriches this community – Jeff with therapeutic riding and Julia with book fundraisers. They also enjoy caring for their cats. Jeff is one of several retired volunteers at Hoofbeats, some of whom have supported the program for almost 20 years.