Sisters engineer a happy life with horses


Suzanne Norris was happy to exchange her life as a civil engineer for the pleasure of a horse farm.

Until recently, much of Suzanna Norris’ professional life involved issuing permits for water treatment plants.

The Florida civil engineer spent hours poring over paperwork from power plants that were trying to meet construction criteria and standards.

And all things considered, she was pretty content with her life.

Until that is, she decided she wanted to be really happy, as happy as she felt riding horses.

“When I was in my late 20s, I decided that life is just too short not to live it in a way that makes you really happy,” Norris says. “That’s when I decided to take a chance.”

On April 1, 2007, Norris and her sister Shannon Norris, a chemical engineering graduate and also a lifelong equestrian, opened Hidden Acres Equestrian Center in Cocoa, Fla.  Norris quips: “We’re both degreed engineers, but we decided we’d rather play with horses!”

Closing Costs
Barn: Slater
Sire: Devil His Due
Dam: Broker’s Delight
Age: 4
So the sisters purchased an 18-stall barn on seven acres, and turned it into a thriving equestrian center, offering lessons, training and boarding. Their philosophy was to teach riders to better understand their horses, and to teach them “the foundations,” says Norris. But more than that, they want to help foster positive experiences in the barn that can translate into their everyday life. “I hope that our experiences here help show others that they should go for it in life, and not be afraid,” Norris says. “I want people to walk away from Hidden Acres a little bit happier.”

And she hopes to instill in her students and clients a deeper appreciation for the ex-racehorse Thoroughbred.

Last December, Norris decided to make stalls available to foster horses, who she would retrain for next careers.

Partnering with the Florida TRAC (Thoroughbred Retirement & Adoptive Care) program, the sisters agreed to work collaboratively to provide sound ex-racehorses adequate training and care, making them ready for their next owner and home.

The ladies and their OTTBs gather for a good time.

The ladies and their OTTBs gather for a good time.

On Dec. 10, the first four racehorses were brought to Hidden Acres, and when they were retired a short time later to a Florida TRAC retirement pasture, Hidden Acres asked for more Thoroughbreds.

“My sister and I have been riding off-track Thoroughbreds since we were kids. They’re great horses at a great value,” Norris says. “When we decided to (partner) with Florida TRAC, we decided we should focus on taking in sound horses that can be retrained.”

The idea is working!

Since taking in a total of seven ex-racehorses since the beginning of the year, five will be successfully adopted as of June 1. And Norris herself has succumbed to a four-year old Chestnut with flaxen mane and tail.

Norris met Closing Costs, (later renamed Slater) at a fundraiser at Gulfstream. He was recuperating from a shin fracture at the time. And when she learned he was available for adoption through TRAC, she jumped at the chance to own him. He came to live with her last month.

Suzanne Norris enjoys a happy life with her horses.

Norris beams with joy, and her horse looks pretty happy too!

“I don’t usually buy a horse without seeing them move first. But he was sound when he got off the trailer, and when I put him in the round pen, he was just gorgeous,” she says. “He’s just got this personality: he’s so full of himself.”

Norris rode Slater for the first time last week, and the experience was so positive she plans to make him the “poster child” for her center’s retraining program, as well as the Norris’ newly registered nonprofit Thoroughbred rescue. Her goal is to get him ready for an eventing career, and as he advances in training, he will demonstrate how talented a Thoroughbred can be.

Considering her life today, four years after leaving the relative quiet of a desk job for the hectic horse world, Norris admits she’s never worked so hard in her life. “But,” she adds, “I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”


16 responses to “Sisters engineer a happy life with horses”

  1. Julie Chaffee

    I just love this story! Congrats ladies on taking the leap. I think off the track horses frequently make the best riding horses. I always tell people “don’t buy a horse when you can adopt!”. I have 3 standardbred mares that I adopted from the SRF in NJ and just love them to death. One has been with me for about 10 years now and it’s like we have a spiritual bond. She had been abused as many of them are and took a while to come around. But it was time well spent. I hope to own a farm again in the near future and do work like you ladies are doing. I can’t think of anything more gratifying 🙂 Julie

  2. Natalie Keller Reinert

    Suzanna.. I don’t have any horses now, I live in NYC. But when I was a kid I lived in Port St. John, and for a few years I kept my OTTB, Amarillo, at Heider Ranch, at the corner of Ranch Rd and 1-95. We would ride over the interstate bridge and go out exploring on all that land in the St John’s River Water Management District.. there was a bridge under 405 (407?) and we could go the whole way to the river. There was even some sort of midden or burial mound you could ride up onto… it was amazing. He got all his early training for eventing out there in those woods and fields and swamps.

    I will definitely come visit.

  3. Suzanna Norris

    Natalie, Definitely come see us!! Do you have a thoroughbred or two of your own? I love their sensitivity and their heart! It doesn’t really get much better than a thoroughbred, and they are so often misunterstood.

    Amy, If you ever come home… you come see us too!! 🙂 The thoroughbred is amazingly loyal with a lot of love and a little finesse there is nothing they won’t do for you!! And so full of life!!! Thoroughbreds and I get each other!! 🙂

    Kelly, I have a purpose and a passion that I dedicate my whole life too. It was a scary move, and there have been days where I have been completely pulverized. But with each morning as I awake I am rejuvenated by the reasons and the purpose of why I do what I do. I plan to make the world a better place one happy, healthy horse at a time!! There are no bad days when you get to teach horses and people how to be little bit happier with each passing day!! And with each passing day… I learn to be a little bit happier myself! It was so worth the risk that I took!! I highly recommend diving into your dreams!! 🙂

    Susan, Thanks for the wonderful article. I will keep you updated on Slater’s progress! I burst into tears on my first ride with him! There is something about this horse … like he was born just for me!!

    1. Kelly

      You know, one of our former volunteers did the same thing, complete with cross-country move, and is now running LOPE in TX 🙂

      I would love to take that sort of plunge, but the timing is unfortunately very, very bad right now, and my lack of financial discipline means it would probably be a bad idea, to boot, heh!

      Thanks for doing what you’re doing *grin* I will also be sure to point folks to you, I get a lot of inquiries from FL. 🙂

    2. Ashley Heclo

      take ottbs and reeducate them for new careers. I evented, showed, fox hunted, you name it, when I was younger. So I guess my question boils down to how do you team up with the rescue organization and what were some things you would have done differently given the chance?

  4. Highgunner

    Gutsy career move. Thanks for getting the word out about the spirit, athleticism and versatility of thoroughbreds. What is the name of your new TB rescue?

    1. Suzanna Norris

      Our organization is Hidden Acres Thoroughbred Rescue. 🙂

  5. Kelly

    What a great story! I can’t even imagine leaving my job to take a plunge like that! So glad they are making it work 🙂

  6. Amy Bush

    I too lived in Cocoa when I was a kid!!! How neat!! I love this story of following your dreams. I am so glad that she is teaching the fundamentals. They so often get forgotten. Also, I am so glad to hear that they partner with such a great cause. I just think that these ex-racers make the best most loyal friends. They are truly valuable. I am so glad that she is promoting them the way she is. Good fortune to them!!!!! Thank you for what you do!!!!!!

  7. Natalie Keller Reinert

    WELL… while I do not see living in Florida getting a second chance… I think I see an interesting plan besides “Go to Disney” and “Go to the beach” next time I’m in town! Hey Shannon and Suzanna, watch out, I’m coming home!

    Okay probably not until next year, but yeah.

    And YES. I think that small operations scattered around the countryside are just as likely (more likely?) to succeed as the large and venerable adoption agencies that have been handling the burden of not just the adoptions but also the media attention and publicity of retiring Thoroughbreds.

  8. Natalie Keller Reinert

    Amazing.. considering I GREW UP IN COCOA FLORIDA. There were no equestrian centers then.. that wasn’t that long ago! Haha! I love that there are now, though. MUST come visit when I am down to see my family again… in Rockledge…

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