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!”
Sire: Devil His Due
Dam: Broker’s Delight
Age: 4So 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.
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.
“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.”