Horses have their way of finding the right owners, and when endurance stars Joyce Sousa and LV Integrity first looked into each other’s eyes back in 1999, the match was made. The then 6-year-old Arabian gelding captured Sousa’s heart. Most people in that moment would not have taken “Ritzy” home. The gelding was known for being nasty – charging little girls and vicious bucking. But something about his expression made Sousa take a chance on him, and there hasn’t been a moment in 20 years that she regretted that decision.
Upon buying Ritzy from her friend, Chris Knoch, Sousa was warned not to try to ride the nasty gelding. She took Knoch’s words to heart and sent Ritzy to a cowboy trainer. For three weeks the trainer took things slow. The first six days he couldn’t even get on Ritzy because of the bucking, but by the seventh day, things changed. Ritzy came around and never bucked again.
© William Gore
Sousa was admittedly nervous for quite some time because of the gelding’s history, but he never once tried to hurt her. The bond between Ritzy and Sousa was sealed in 2001 when the family went on a ride from St. Joseph, MO, to Virginia City, NV. Sousa rode him 500 miles in the six-week ride across the country, and two weeks later rode him to a 19th place finish on his first 100-mile ride.
Sousa says that “he took to endurance like a duck to water.” On the trail, he’d take care of both her and himself, always eating at the vet checks, drinking water when thirsty, and making sure that Sousa was safe every step of their ride.
Since Ritzy’s start with the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) in 1999, he has gone on to accrue an impressive 10,555 lifetime miles and has completed 40 one-day 100 mile rides. Sousa herself has 25,034 lifetime miles under her belt and credits Ritzy with changing her and her husband Dennis’ lives: “He has given us a lifetime of travel and opportunities we would have never had otherwise.”
Sousa retired a healthy and happy Ritzy at the beginning of 2018, but only after earning the AERC Double Decade honor – an award that only a handful of horses have ever earned. Sousa is grateful for every step that Ritzy has taken with her and treasures their loyalty to each other.