Wellington Dressage Rider Has a Mission to Support Human-Animal Connection

Jun 7, 2024 - 9:09 AM

Wellington dressage rider Jackie Ducci has a belief in how powerful the bond between people and animals can be.

“My relationships with my horses and dogs throughout the years have meant everything to me,” said Jackie. “Those emotional connections run deep, and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my animals. They always come first.”

Jackie found herself demonstrating this commitment throughout the past year as she navigated her new horse, Westley, through an eight-month rehab of mostly tack walking.

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Jackie and Westley in winning form after months of rehab. Photo: Joanna Jodko Photography

“So many friends asked me why I was doing the rehab myself. They commented how depressing it must be, and suggested I send Westley elsewhere to rehab so that I could put energy into improving my riding on other horses until he was back in full work,” Jackie said. “That didn’t feel right to me. I wanted to be present for him every step of his recovery journey.

“I’m glad I made that decision, because spending so much quiet time together was invaluable, and being there for him every single day showed him how much I care. I really think he felt that. By the time we were ready to begin training again, our bond was much stronger than before.”

Since coming back into full work in early 2024, Jackie and the 17.2hh Hanoverian gelding have competed at the Global Dressage Festival and in their first national FEI classes together. In April, they experienced their first win at the Intermediate I level, judged by FEI 4-star judge Cesar Torrente. “To win a class in front of him felt fantastic, and it was a defining moment that made me feel like, okay, Westley and I are officially back in action!” said Jackie, who, as an amateur rider, has her USDF Gold, Silver and Bronze medals – and acquired them all within a period of three years.

Jackie’s attachment to animals began as a small child where, as an introvert, she struggled for acceptance in private school environments where extroversion was valued above all else. “The mentality was that the louder a child was, the smarter they must be,” Jackie explained. “Year after year, until the day I graduated high school, I was told by teachers that I wasn’t good enough because I didn’t talk enough.

“One administrator told me in the sixth grade that I would ‘never amount to anything in life’ if I didn’t become more extroverted. Looking back now, it’s crazy to me – can you imagine if someone said that to a kid nowadays? But at the time, I assumed they were right because I didn’t know any better. It really did a number on my self-esteem. Thank God for my horses. Horses built me back up again every single time humans left me feeling broken. Our nonverbal relationships taught me that my value had everything to do with who I was at my core, and nothing to do with what I did or didn’t have to say. It was a profound lesson that changed my life.”

Two years ago, after an 18-year career in the recruiting industry ran its course, Jackie shifted gears professionally and formed The Human-Animal Alliance, a Wellington-based nonprofit that promotes human-animal connection nationwide.

“We support programs that promote and enhance human-animal connection. There are so many nonprofits that are doing exceptional work but are lacking funding. The Human-Animal Alliance is that missing link, lending support to help the best nonprofits maximize their impact.”

Jackie covers all H-AA’s overheads personally so that every dollar donated by the public goes directly to helping humans and animals. “When a donor writes a check to a typical charity, they won’t know how much of that gift is actually going to programming vs. overhead expenses like someone’s salary,” she said. “But donors to H-AA have peace of mind that every dollar they contribute will actually touch a life.”

The projects that The Human-Animal Alliance has funded to date have varied widely. Their first year brought Hurricane Ian, devastating parts of Florida’s west coast and displacing thousands of pets. Jackie saw the terrible event as an opportunity to jump in and help. “We identified nonprofits that were finding lost pets and reuniting them with their families in the wake of the hurricane,” said Jackie. “We quickly vetted several of them and were so impressed with Lost Pets Inc., a group that was particularly amazing work. They received a $15,000 grant from us, and with that money were able to reunite hundreds of pets with their owners.”

Since then, other projects have included a grant to Pawsitive Beginnings – a fox sanctuary in Key Largo – to create The Human-Animal Alliance Healing Den. The Den will provide a private space where at-risk youth and trauma survivors can experience a unique animal-assisted therapy sessions conducted with foxes rescued from the fur trade. “Our animal-assisted therapy program was born out of the idea that sharing stories of survival – from the fox’s perspective – has the power to help heal those that may be struggling with trauma, PTSD, or circumstances beyond one’s control, that have placed them in emotional imbalance,” said Pawsitive Beginnings’ CEO Nicole Navarro.

The Human-Animal Alliance has also provided grants to equine-therapy programs including Hope Reins in North Carolina, Ranch Hands Rescue in Texas, and Tomorrow’s Rainbow in south Florida, among others. Tomorrow’s Rainbow has a mission to help children grieving the loss of a loved one through equine-assisted therapy with rescued mini ponies. The Human-Animal Alliance has supported their work for two consecutive years, as well as sponsored individual ponies ‘Dappy,’ ‘Rocky,’ and ‘River’ at the charity’s ranch in Coconut Creek. “We are grateful to The Human-Animal Alliance for realizing the value of equine therapy in helping people to heal from grief and trauma,” said Abby Mosher, Founder and Executive Director of Tomorrow’s Rainbow.


Tomorrow’s Rainbow’s Abby Mosher and Jackie pictured with Rocky and River at Tomorrow’s Rainbow’s small ranch in Coconut Creek, FL. Photo: Sarah Eakin

Jackie runs the charity from her home in Wellington while also juggling a new entrepreneurial venture (details on that coming later in 2024!), being “dog mom” to her two bulldogs (Sadie & Ralphie), and of course keeping on track with Westley. Short-term riding goals include 2024 USDF Regional and National Championship competitions, as well as a debut in the CDI ring at Global next year.

There was a serendipitous moment when Jackie first laid eyes on Westley at the farm of her coach, Shannon Dueck, in January of 2023. After finishing a celebratory dinner for Jackie (who had recently earned her USDF Gold medal), the two went to the barn together to do night-check.

“We walked in, and as the horses popped their heads over their stall doors, something instantly struck about Westley. I felt so drawn to him. I’ll never forget Shannon saying to me, “’That’s my sweet Westley, and I just decided today that he’s going to be for sale.’”

Jackie couldn’t stop thinking about Westley in the days that followed, and asked Shannon if she could be the first potential buyer to sit him. After one ride, it was obvious to everyone that it was a perfect match.

“Shannon loves Westley so much, and I know it was really tough for her to sell him,” said Jackie of the Canadian Grand Prix rider, who is currently in England working with Carl Hester as she brings along her top horse, Angel. “But it all worked out exactly as it was supposed to. Focusing on Angel was the right thing for Shannon, and Westley wound up being the right thing for me – and he got to stay in the Dueck Dressage family. Everybody won.”


Advocating the importance of human and animal connection. Jackie pictured with her horse Westley. Photo: Bethany P Photography.

The eight months of down time that Westley and Jackie experienced not only deepened their human-animal bond, it also gave the horse time to reset and come back stronger. “Sometimes time off, although frustrating, can ultimately position a horse and rider for greater success. Westley feels fantastic in his body now. He’s happy and super confident. I am so excited for the future with him and can’t wait to see what we will accomplish together.”

Written by Sarah Eakin for Paper Horse.



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