At Wellington, Florida, the equestrian capital of the world, horses are treated like royalty. Groomers for the 2,800 riders who arrive for the winter season (often by private jets) cater to the horses’ needs with meticulous care. They manicure their hooves, polish their coats, coif their tails and feed them gourmet hay.
For Georgina Bloomberg, daughter of former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, treating animals lovingly is a must.
The accomplished equestrian — who has won more than 10 Grand Prix jumping prizes, a bronze at the Pan American Games, as well as qualifying at the World Cup finals — grew up surrounded by horses and beloved family dogs.
So imagine her shock when she drove from her Wellington farm to adopt a dog at a nearby shelter. There she learned that as many as 60 percent of the forlorn animals cramped in crates were killed within days or weeks if not adopted quickly.
“I was so overcome by emotion,” she recalls. “I walked out of there and started crying in the parking lot and then made myself go back and adopt the dog. On my way home, I told that dog, a black-and-white mutt named Hugo, I would fight to save as many dogs as I could. That was the moment when I realized I needed to be doing something to make a difference. Just loving animals wasn’t enough anymore. I had found my calling in life.”
In the past few years, the animal-rights movement has progressed from a slow walk to a gallop, based on the premise that animals are sentient beings who should not be made to suffer.
At a time when this issue wasn’t on people’s radars, Georgina Bloomberg actively started raising awareness, lending her star name to various events, including ASPCA, Friends of Finn Committee for the Humane Society of the U.S. and the upcoming Pet Hero Awards.
Simultaneously, others were moved to action, including equestrian pals Cornelia Guest and TV reporter Jill Rapport. As a result of these collective efforts, aided by organizations like the Humane Society and PETA, animal protection is now a national conversation.
Bloomberg’s activism was never limited to squeezing her petite five-foot-two frame into fashionable gowns at black-tie fundraising events. As someone who likes to be in perpetual motion, she’s always been a go-getter, jumping into cars and taking road trips to rescue dogs, then spending weekends calling people to find animals new homes.
“Anytime I am able to pull a dog from a puppy mill or a high-kill shelter, I feel a sense of satisfaction knowing I saved its life,” she says. “The more I learn — by promoting adoption, spay and neuter programs and fighting supply mills — the more passionate I become. It reinvigorates my desire to save more.”
Scientific research provides a human-needs rationale for this activism. In the 1970s, researchers began recognizing the healing power of animals. They serve the blind and the handicapped, calm troubled children as well as Iraqi war veterans, and give comfort and joy to the elderly and people in hospitals.
The Research Center for Human/Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine proved how interacting with animals increases oxytocin, the happy hormone.
Another successful program has returning soldiers training shelter dogs while adjusting to civilian life, which helps both man and animal. The National Institute of Health is studying the impact of animals on child development, especially how being around them reduces or even prevents disease.
Bloomberg is generous in lending her name to many causes instead of aligning with one organization. “At the end of the day, we are all fighting for the same thing and all respect each other’s work,” she explains. “It will be easier to save animals if we all work together. The animal-welfare world does a great job of that. When it comes to animal causes, I never tire and take pride in being involved with as many as possible.”
Bloomberg’s animal activism has its roots in the equestrian life, which has been a magnet for the ambitious children of the wealthy. The sport is demanding, dangerous and thrilling, played out in exotic global locales from Monte Carlo to Dubai. It teaches essential life skills, such as focus, determination, perseverance and bravery.
“If you have a show on a weekend, you are not going to go out the night before partying because you could get hurt,” says Cornelia Guest, an actress who rescues animals on her 375-acre farm in upstate New York. “These are strong, powerful animals that you have to control.”
Equally important, the equestrian circuit provides a built-in group of friends who can relate to being treated as an extension of a famous family member instead of as an individual. Among those on Bloomberg’s circuit are Jennifer Gates, Jessica Springsteen, Eve Jobs and Destry Spielberg. And there are countless others who didn’t rise in the ranks for a Grand Prix victory, like Bloomberg. The sport played at this level can be backbreaking — literally. Bloomberg broke her back twice in 2002 and 2011. The travel can be exhausting. She competes in 30 show jumping competitions a year.
It is also a very expensive sport. Thoroughbred horses routinely cost as much as $1 million. “You can buy a $1 million horse, but it won’t win you a Grand Prix event,” says Bloomberg’s friend, equestrian Alex Hamer. “That comes from talent and hard work.”
The idea that talent and hard work are irrelevant is a misperception that bothered Bloomberg enough to want to transfer her frustration into action. Partnering with children’s book author Catherine Hapka, she produced a young adult book, The A Circuit, where the heroine, Thomasina Aaronson, is angry that people think her career is based on her parent’s ability to buy a horse.
It also examines the frustration of a father who didn’t think riding was a proper profession. Sound familiar? The four-book series, which Bloomberg claims is mostly fictional and a glimpse into the horse-show world, was a success.
To address the other common complaint — equestrian life is only for the wealthy — she launched the Rider’s Closet in 2006, encouraging people to donate new and gently used equestrian attire to pony clubs, schools, needy kids and later the nonprofit Pegasus Therapeutic Riding organization, when it got too big to operate from her mother’s North Salem, NY farm.
Sitting at her North Salem home, which she shares with her adorable toddler son Jasper Michael Brown Bloomberg and a menagerie of animals (including five rescue dogs, one rescue pig, one rescue goat, two rescue miniature horses, two rescue mules, along with her championship thoroughbreds), Bloomberg reflects on how momentous the Rider’s Closet was in her life.
“It showed me that you can have an idea, start small and then work hard to see it grow,” she says proudly. “I created it.”
Prize ribbons and framed newspaper clippings decorate the room, as do pictures of Bloomberg in motion — always in motion — jumping in various global horse shows. Asked if establishing the Rider’s Closet was daunting, Bloomberg shrugs, saying she learned to take chances from her maverick father.
“My father always taught me not to let what others think of you affect you or what you want to accomplish in life,” she explains. “No one believed he could become mayor when he decided he wanted to run, but he never let that hold him back. He lets what others say bounce off him, and he goes for what he wants, no matter. That is something I greatly respect.”
She adores her mother, Susan Brown, who in 1993 divorced the visionary tech financier, when Georgina and her sister Emma were young girls. She, too, was a maverick in shunning wife-style trappings for independence.
“My mother has never cared about money or status, and I truly respect that,” says Georgina, her affection palpable. In fact, the girls lived for a few years with her mom’s boyfriend and his family.
“She has kept us grounded and taught us to be real and never think too much of ourselves,” says Georgina. “She is always the person I go to for advice. She is brutally honest and always tells me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear.”
When you are in Georgina’s world, such candor is much needed and appreciated.
With Susan and Michael as role models, her sister Emma, a Princeton graduate like her dad, went into politics. When naming her newborn daughter, Emma combined the name of Bloomberg with her husband’s last name, Frissora, to create Zelda Violet Frissberg. Now Jasper, who is the result of a relationship with Argentinian equestrian Ramiro Quintana, will share Thanksgiving and Christmas with his cousin at the family’s beloved compound in Bermuda.
Although Georgina can envision more children in her future, marriage isn’t on the horizon. She never married Jasper’s father. “I was a tomboy as a kid and have never dreamed of a big wedding or wearing a white dress,” she says. “I just don’t want that stuff. But I am not against the idea of being with one person for a long period of time.”
Still, she maintains long-term friendships and is fiercely loyal. Did it complicate her relationship with Ivanka Trump when her father called Donald Trump a “dangerous demagogue?” It turns out that before the Democratic Convention, Georgina spoke to Eric and Ivanka Trump.
“We all agreed we won’t let our fathers’ views affect our friendship,” she says. “I believe we will be able to keep our word. The fight is between our fathers, not us. I have nothing but love and respect for her and her family, and wish them all the best no matter how the election turns out.”
Asked if she thinks it’s easier for her as the daughter of a respected politician and entrepreneur to navigate political waters, Bloomberg carefully carves out boundaries, reminiscent of her own struggle for individual respect.
“Ivanka is a smart and successful woman who has created her own career and name. Most people don’t see her just as Donald’s daughter,” she insists, adding, “I may not agree with Donald politically on some things or like what he has said about my father. But he has raised some incredible children who I love. I don’t know a single person who agrees with or likes every single thing that their parents have said or done. I don’t think the Trump kids do, either. I know they respect and support their father, as they should, and I have nothing but respect for that.”
It is now afternoon and Georgina is sorting through her schedule with her publicist Dana, who has been with her for years. Georgina Bloomberg — or George as her friends call her — has never had to stay put in one place for long, until now.
“I’m not going to Europe this fall because Jasper is starting school,” she says, without a hint of regret. At her New York City apartment, decorated by interior designer Jamie Drake in fiery red, her favorite color, she is looking forward to taking him to nursery school and “embracing this new chapter of life.”
Although the single mom still hopes to compete in the Olympics, other goals have moved to the back burner.
“I have loved this sport and the experiences it has given me, the places I have been able to travel to,” she says. “But I always knew that having children was the most important thing in the world to me. No riding accomplishment would ever come close to that. Now that I have a child, I know I was right. Every moment that I get in the saddle, I see as a bonus. Jasper always comes first and brings me more joy and satisfaction than any ribbon I have ever won.”
However, her animal advocacy work still continues at a roaring pace.
“I am proud every time someone comes up to me and asks my help finding a dog,” she says. “It means they are seeing the work I do and that my message has gotten to them.”
Georgina Bloomberg still revels in being a rebel with a cause.