When Lindsay Jacob was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at the age of 15, doctors told he she had at most, six months to live. Her parents decided those last months should be spent with a horse so they bought her one. Her love for that horse and passion for dressage kept her alive not six months, but six years.
But on June 15, Lindsay lost her battle with cancer at the young age of 21. She had just made it through her junior year at Princeton University where she was studying comparative literature and rode on the university’s equestrian team. Despite her passing, her ‘barn’ family is determined that Lindsay shall never be forgotten and they want the world to know just how special was this young woman who spent the last six years of her life living every day to the fullest.
It’s often said that you should live every day as if it were your last. Lindsay did, because for her, each day she lived really could have been her last.
“What Lindsay taught me is not to live life on auto pilot,” said her father, Stuart Jacob. Jacob himself rode as a child, but in the past six years he joined his daughter in studying dressage, partly so that he could help keep her horse going when she wasn’t well. And through is daughter and dressage he learned a valuable life lesson.
“Lindsay and dressage taught me to ride every step. With hunter/jumpers, you are always looking to the next fence. But Lindsay said dressage is about riding ‘to now.’ You don’t worry about 10 strides out,” he said.
For Lindsay Jacob the Barn Was a Cancer Free Zone
“In her last days at the hospital, she told her dad that you have to ride every stride in life and not let things pass you by,” said Francine Gentile, Lindsay’s instructor of six years.
Lindsay certainly never did. Even though she knew there was little likelihood she would live long into her adulthood, if at all, she still sought to make something of herself. While many youngsters might have given up on life, and especially school, Lindsay put in tremendous effort. She was an accomplished writer, a graduate of the Hun School of Princeton, where she received the Donaldson Merit Scholarship and was the first-ever student speaker at the school’s 2004 commencement ceremony. At Princeton, she was also a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma and of the Nassau Literary Review.
Lindsay was born in White Plains, New York and lived in both Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania and Greenwich, Connecticut. Gentile first met Lindsay when she was 16 and her parents brought her to Gentile’s Fire Creek Farm in Newtown, Pennsylvania for dressage lessons.
“When she came down the driveway of our farm, she left the cancer behind,” Gentile said. “She never complained. She was a remarkable person. Such perseverance and determination. And she was a wonderful student. She would ask lots of questions and think things through. She was a thinker.”
During her initial cancer diagnosis, her parents, Stuart and Laurie, would videotape the new horse they had bought for their daughter, a Quarter Horse gelding named Toby that is now 10. They hoped the images of her new horse would get her through. They did. But once she began riding him, Toby would constantly take off, especially to the left, Gentile said. It was a long time before she learned that one reason was because medications that Lindsay took caused some loss of strength and feeling in her life side. But Lindsay never mentioned it because she refused to use her cancer as an excuse for anything.
Her Illness Never Defined Her
“She wanted to make sure that her illness never defined her,” said her father, Stuart Jacob..
She was so adamant about that, that Lindsay did not even want people to talk about her cancer at the barn. She simply refused to allow her cancer to follow her to there, Gentile said. “She’d hide her cancer from us. The barn was her sanctuary where she was never treated like she had cancer.”
The only way her barn family could tell when Lindsay wasn’t well was that her father would show up more often to ride her horse and take lessons. The last trip she made to the barn was Memorial Day weekend for a barn party. She hadn’t been to the barn recently and when queried by her friends over the phone, she merely told them it was because she had just finished her junior year of college and was busy moving out of her dorm room. But they knew otherwise when they saw her on Memorial Day weekend.
“She had become very thin and had so little strength,” Gentile said. “But her spirit was still there. She was laughing with all her friends and even played some volleyball with them.” But the next morning, Lindsay could not get out of bed. She died two weeks later at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
To honor her, Lindsay’s barn mates are donating a perpetual trophy in her name that will be awarded each year at Lendon Gray’s Youth Dressage Festival. Last year was the first, and only, year that Lindsay qualified to compete in the Festival. Her academic talents certainly showed. She tied with another rider for having the highest score on the written test among all participants.
The design for the trophy will actually be by Lindsay herself. She designed a logo for t-shirts for Gentile’s farm and that’s what the barn group has decided to use as the trophy design. Gentile said that Lindsay loved the experience at the Youth Dressage Festival.
“She had the most fun at that show because it was her first overnight experience, getting to compete every day and she was so helpful toward the others,” she said. The trophy will come with a helmet, which Gentile said always signified to Lindsay that she had no cancer because it covered the bandana she always wore on her head.
Stuart Jacob said that his wife and Lindsay’s sister Jennifer are thrilled with the idea of the trophy. “We love the concept.”
The Student Teaches Her Trainer the Bigger Lessons in Life
For Lindsay, last summer was one of her best as a dressage rider and not just because of the Youth Dressage Festival. It was also last summer, over the Fourth of July weekend, that she made it through her very first dressage competition. She and Toby had competed before but Gentile said something had always gone wrong – mostly Toby left the ring.
Toby clearly had a penchant for running away. But that didn’t deter Lindsay. She had started her riding career as a child doing some hunter/jumper riding and loved the idea of trying eventing. One day, Gentile obliged and took her for some cross-country schooling.
“Toby took off on her. We have this videotape. I told her, ‘just keep going and eventually he’ll stop.’ She was galloping for like an hour. He was going so fast she had those tears in her eyes that you get when you’re out in a cold wind. But when he finally stopped, she had the biggest smile on her face and said, ‘Fran, this was so fun, could we do it again?’ If I could be one-eighth the person that she was, I’d be happy with myself.”
Lindsay may be gone, but she has clearly left much behind her – not only memories, but lessons that perhaps we should all learn about life. Gentile will carry with her “Lindsay’s motto of ‘do it.’ She changed the Nike motto of ‘Just Do It,’ because she said the ‘just’ implied that maybe you wouldn’t. So she made it simply ‘do it.’”
Lindsay’s message to all is that it’s not just in our riding that we should enjoy every stride. All of life is a series of strides and we should focus on and enjoy each and not worry about the next. Her father will be constantly reminded of this connection between dressage and life because one other thing that Lindsay left him is her horse.
“I’m continuing on with dressage and Francine is working me back into shape,” he said. “I’m planning to show him next Mother’s Day weekend.” Lindsay will be watching them both.