By Sydney Masters Durieux
Portraits and Photographs by Isabel Kurek
When Lizbeth Marie Hazoury, aka Cuqui, makes up her mind to do something, there’s no stopping her. The 21-year-old rider from the Dominican Republic began her equestrian endeavors at age 8. She quickly excelled and was competing in the .80m Pony Jumpers in no time. She had a few detours along the way when she focused on her studies, tried other sports and took time away from training to assist others, but she’s now firmly on course and setting a winning pace.
“My dad, who’s not a horseman, always told me and my sibling that we have to try every sport before saying we don’t like it,” she recalled. “When we were younger he took us to dance classes, soccer and other sports but I decided to stay with the horses.”
Today Cuqui has found her stride and is successfully competing in the Amateur Owner Jumpers and Under 25 Grand Prix, all while championing the Step by Step Foundation charity in competition and helping to raise funds and awareness for those in need.
Helping Liliane Stransky’s Florida-based charity isn’t the first time that Cuqui has jumped on board to offer her aid. “I started a summer camp by myself when I was 16 in the Dominican Republic,” she said with a smile. “I wanted to encourage kids my age to get involved and to help others. I used to visit an orphanage and spent time with the kids there and decided to do this camp during the summer since I was free. Nearly 70 kids, up to the age of 15, attended the summer camp. There was pool time, dance class, art classes and of course, horseback riding.”
Finding Her Passion
“When I first started competing, I had a couple of ponies. My favorite was named Cappuccino. I used to win everything on him. He was a tiny Paint and he just knew his job. He wouldn’t hesitate to help me out no matter what and he was one reason I became a competitive rider. We don’t have hunters or equitation in the Dominican Republic. Now that I’m in the United States, I realize how important it is for a rider’s formation but I still find the jumpers more exciting.”
During the early part of her career, Cuqui remained close to home, honing her skills in the saddle, but made her U.S. debut at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in 2008. “While I was in high school, I had two horses that stayed at WEF while I flew back and forth,” remembered Cuqui. Her senior year, she decided to take a break from riding. “Many students decide to go to college in the U.S. or Canada and they tend to drop riding.”
She first attended college in Boston but didn’t return to show jumping until her sophomore year. “In the beginning, I went back and forth from Boston and Wellington during WEF, but it was too crazy. I realized I wasn’t fully committed to school or riding and so I decided to move near where my horses were based most of the time,” she said, adding that she enrolled in nearby Lynn University and began to focus on her show career in earnest. At the moment she lives in Wellington but travels during the year. “Since I’ve graduated, I can dedicate more time to riding,” she said.
Initially Cuqui trained with Andres Rodriguez, whose tragic death at the beginning of this year’s WEF devastated the equestrian community. “I admired him more than anyone. No matter how many victories he had, he’d always stay humble and work to keep improving,” Cuqui said. “Andres came from a country where riding is not a popular sport and he worked his way up to compete against the top riders in the world. He knew everything about the sport: how hard it hits you at times and how hard you have to work to overcome the barriers. No matter what, he always came out of the ring with a smile on his face and knowing next time it would be better.”
In 2014, when Andres went to Europe, he recommended Cuqui train with Brian Walker. In October of that same year, Cuqui was paired with a new horse, Cassino, who would become her favorite. “Once I got him, I started doing the 1.45m within the month. I remember during WEF last year when I was first in the High Amateur Owners with Cassino, some people didn’t believe I was able to do the height since I was just getting back into the ring. It was nice to prove them wrong! When someone tells me that I’m not able to do something, it just makes me work harder to get it. Since then we’ve been in Wellington, Kentucky, Tryon and Europe.”
Riding for a Cause
It was during college that Cuqui met Daniela Stransky, who was also a student at Lynn University and competed in the same show divisions. “I knew who Daniela was, but we became really close friends recently,” she said. “I’d always see her wearing her Step by Step jacket and learned about what she was doing. I found it interesting, that riding could be a way of helping others. I talked to her mom, Lily, about what she was doing and about the team of riders who are lending their support and I didn’t hesitate to join.”
Since then, Cuqui has been sporting her own Step by Step jacket and riding to ribbons on behalf of the charity. “I have two horses now and they have totally different personalities. Cassino is a big and slow horse with a lot of power and Chablis is small with more blood. I think they’re really different and they both help my riding in different ways.
While she’s not from an equestrian family, horses seem to have become a mainstay in their lives. “After being around horses for so long with me, my father started an equestrian community back home, Los Establos at Cap Cana. This is a way to promote the sport in Latin America and the Caribbean and hopefully bring top international shows to that area.
“Next year, I’d like to make the team for the Bolivarian Games and if we qualify, then go to the Central American Games, the Pan Ams and the Olympics!” she explained of her equestrian goals.
The one thing that won’t change is her efforts on behalf of others. “I love getting involved and making a difference,” she said. “Coming from a Third World country, I know how important this is, giving a helping hand.”