By Alexander Rivero
When Jesslyn Bryk-Lucy was five years old, her parents placed her in a summer program that included an assortment of off-campus activities. There was never so much as a doubt as to which one she’d choose. The camp’s horse riding group, which met up once a week, was it. A week in, the instructor of the group told her parents that she was proving to be too afraid of the horses to participate, and that she might like to give swimming a try. “I wasn’t having any of that,” recalls Bryk-Lucy. “I absolutely insisted on staying.” And stay she did, right to the end of the program. One look at her resume since that fateful summer, however, suggests that the experience would forever stay with her.
Today, Dr. Bryk-Lucy is Centenary University’s resident veterinarian and assistant professor of equine studies, and was recently bestowed the honor of Veterinarian of the Year by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl). The honor places her among the world’s top equine veterinarians in therapeutic riding. PATH Intl, a nonprofit organization for therapeutic riding and other equine-assisted services, chose Dr. Bryk-Lucy—who splits her time between teaching at Centenary and her own private ambulatory veterinary practice, Leg Up Equine Veterinary Services—from a group of veterinarians who had each won regional Veterinarian of the Year awards earlier this year. She had been previously honored in Region 2, which encompasses New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC. It also includes parts of Europe and the Middle East.
At the base of Dr. Bryk-Lucy’s impressive achievements remains her inner child’s fascination with horses. The Chinese, she explains, have for centuries classified the animals of the world into element categories depending on that animal’s core qualities. Some, for instance, fall into the “fire” category for being impulsive and temperamental, but the horse falls into the “earth” category for its gentle and stoic nature around humans, qualities that have enchanted Dr. Bryk-Lucy for as long as she can remember.
“Horses are just special, as special as dogs,” she says. “And when you consider the way in which we handle them—riding them and working them and transporting them in trailers and such—their gentleness is really remarkable. They let us do all these things to them, and we forget that a horse is a 1,000-pound animal that can very well kill you.”
As an undergraduate at Cornell University, during which she did some horse breaking and training, she shied away from veterinary school after a difficult semester with organic chemistry. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science and took up a full-time position as a trainer alongside Kevin McQueen, a professional hunter/jumper trainer, at Mill Stone Farm in Asbury, NJ. Three years of full time work there convinced her that she could happily ride and train horses forever, but there was a limit to how high she could ascend in the field given her own talents and capabilities. “Had I stayed on as a trainer, I knew I wasn’t good enough to go beyond the local scene, and I wouldn’t have had regular access to the big-time horse shows, and all for relatively low pay,” she recalls.
So she decided on becoming a vet. “I decided I needed something that would allow me to sustain a family,” she says. “I had to get my pre-recs done at different colleges, all the while teaching part time at Centenary and training at Mill Stone. I got into Cornell and went. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but looking back I don’t regret a thing.”
Asked what is the most rewarding part of her professional life today, Dr. Bryk-Lucy doesn’t hesitate: “Seeing my students go from novices to skilled practitioners, and seeing a horse that I’m working with do its job, whether that be therapeutic riding or performing.”