Hope C. Hand, 73, of Newtown Square, the pioneering and inspirational founder, president, and executive director of the U.S. Para-Equestrian Association, a two-time U.S. Paralympian, and longtime corporate tax auditor for the Internal Revenue Service, died Sunday, June 12, of pancreatic cancer at her home.
A rider and animal lover as a child, Mrs. Hand was instrumental in the rapid increase of disabled American equestrians and their ability to compete in the Paralympic Games, World Equestrian Games, and other local, national, and international competitions.
A member of the 1996 and 2000 U.S. Paralympic equestrian teams, she ushered para-dressage into mainstream American equestrian organizations in the 1990s, organized fund-raising events and public relations and recruitment campaigns, established rider and trainer clinics, attracted sponsors, and founded the U.S. Para-Equestrian Association in 2009.
She was a longtime board member of the U.S. Equestrian Federation, chair and vice chair of the U.S. Dressage Federation’s para-equestrian sports committee, a member of the para-dressage technical committee of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports, and a participant on many equestrian advisory councils and panels.
“My leadership role is to educate riders,” Mrs. Hand said in a 2011 story on HorsesDaily.com. In a 2011 story on EastCoastEquestrian.net, she said: “Some of the tragedies that people have had in their lives have turned into real triumphs when they get back on a horse or compete at this level.”
Laureen Johnson, director of para-equestrian for the U.S. Equestrian Federation, credited Mrs. Hand with much of the team’s success at last summer’s Paralympics in Tokyo, saying: “The para-dressage community worldwide has lost a legend and a true friend.”
Another rider said on Twitter: “Every U.S. rider currently out competing on the circuit was started by, encouraged, or mentored by Hope.” In 2011, a fellow rider said: “Her encouragement, love and passion is contagious. It’s hard to put into words.”
Born with spina bifida, a defect of the spinal cord, and paralyzed from the waist down, Mrs. Hand was an alternate rider for the U.S. equestrian team at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta and U.S. team captain at the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, Australia, where she finished sixth in mixed dressage. She won gold and bronze medals at the 1997 British Invitational, helped her team win the Bradshaw Challenge Cup at the 1998 USEF Festival of Champions, and earned a bronze medal at the 1999 World Dressage Championships in Denmark.
She won awards for her leadership and was president of the Reins of Life therapeutic riding program in Chester County. In awarding her the 2020 Pegasus Medal of Honor for “outstanding service to horses and the sport,” officials at the U.S. Equestrian Federation called Mrs. Hand “both ambassador and role model.” Others called her “irreplaceable,” “a para guru” and “the superwoman for para-equestrian.”
Born June 9, 1949, in Philadelphia, Hope Kean graduated from Widener Memorial School in 1966 and earned a degree in accounting and mechanical engineering at Temple University in 1974. She began working at the IRS in 1967 and rose to corporate tax auditor by the time she retired in 2009.
She was drawn to fast cars and sports as a girl, but her use of crutches or a wheelchair kept her out of most team activities. So she kayaked, rafted, skied on snow and water with her father, and started riding horses at a stable in Northeast Philadelphia when she was 10.
“The horses gave her freedom,” said longtime friend Diane Kirlin Murphy. “She could leave the crutches and wheelchair behind.” She also hand-cycled in the Boston and New York marathons and elsewhere.
She met Stan Hand through a mutual friend, and they married in 1981 and had daughter Amy. The couple shared a love of adventure, animals, and the outdoors, and lived in Charlestown and later Newtown Square in Chester County.
“She had incredible tenacity,” her husband said, “and a brilliant mind. And she was beautiful.”
Mrs. Hand was organized, optimistic, and whimsical, often joking about her crutches and wheelchair. She called herself “para normal,” whizzed her young daughter around the house on her lap in the wheelchair, and later took her family to England, Denmark, Norway, Australia, and elsewhere on equestrian road trips.
She was, her daughter said, “the true meaning of the human spirit.”
“She was my rock, my friend,” said her daughter. “She was so many things to so many people. But she was my mom, and that was, to me, her biggest achievement.”
In addition to her husband and daughter, Mrs. Hand is survived by two grandchildren, a brother, and other relatives.
A celebration of her life is to be held later.