A Lubbock Light: Horses help Janet Tornelli-Mitchell give back to Lubbock

This is the second in an ongoing series of columns on people who are making a positive impact in our community … in other words, A Lubbock Light.

Janet Tornelli-Mitchell started riding horses in Mexico City – where she was raised by her Italian father and Texas-bred mother.

She hoped her parents would buy her a chestnut Thoroughbred gelding named Buck, but her mother was not in favor.

Janet promised herself that one day she’d have her own horse.

Janet promised herself that one day she’d have her own horse.

Years later in Dallas, she was waiting in a veterinarian’s office for her cat.

The night before and the night before that she dreamt of her father, who had died 11 years earlier. It was the first time she’d dreamt of her father since he passed away.

Janet was reading a newspaper in the waiting room when she saw an ad:

“10-year-old Thoroughbred gelding. Good looker. 15.2h. Nice mover, basic dressage. No vices. Owner to college. $1,500.”

Janet wondered what was wrong with the horse based on the price, but set up a meeting to see it. She liked the way it rode.

The owner said the horse – named Afilado – was bred in Mexico and had been registered at the Mexico City Jockey Club. When she looked at the registration papers, she noticed her father had known the breeder.

Janet finally got the chestnut Thoroughbred gelding her father wanted her to have.

Thirteen years later, retired physician Janet lives in Lubbock, owns three horses, rides competitively and has found ways to combine horses and healing.

Her equestrian experience was recently called on to help people putting together the proposed Lubbock County Expo Center on Tuesday’s ballot as Proposition A.

She’s also expanding her role at Texas Tech University as the wife of new Chancellor Tedd Mitchell, who she met in medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

Growing up in Mexico

Janet’s father furnished and decorated hotels, restaurants and other businesses in Mexico City. One of his clients could not pay for furniture and traded riding and jumping lessons. He agreed because he knew Janet loved horses.

‘There is something so grand about horses … so majestic, but so tender.’

“There is something so grand about horses – so majestic, but so tender,” she said.

Janet wanted to be a veterinarian because she’s always loved animals, but her father knew better.

“My father was very wise and knew I was too emotionally close to animals. He knew I would figure it out,” she said.

Janet got a job with a vet but gave up after a week.

“I was going to end up depressed or in jail for going after someone for what they did to their pet,” she said.

Coming to Texas and medical school

Since she was already into sciences, Janet decided to go into medicine.

She went to college in Texas and rode recreationally by jumping horses, but quit after a head injury.

After graduating from medical school and doing their residencies, Tedd joined the Cooper Clinic and Janet went into private practice in internal medicine.

She later joined the Cooper Clinic with her husband, becoming its first female physician and developed its women’s health program.

Janet started riding again in 2005 when she got Afilado, focusing on dressage. She uses her maiden and married names when competing to honor her father.

“Dressage shows your horsemanship – that the horse is supple, obedient, you can showcase its range of motion and the extended movements your horse has,” she said. “It’s one of the more popular Olympic events and routines are choreographed to music to show off the different gaits of the horse.”

“Dressage is very intellectual. You have to be focused and in touch with that animal and where the right shoulder and other body parts are. Equestrian sports are the only sports where two different species have to work together. You have to focus on how to work and communicate with the horse,” she said.

Janet competed with a quarter horse, not usually used for dressage.

“When I started showing up with the quarter horse people laughed, but there were three quarter horses out of 453 horses at nationals and one was mine,” she said.

Janet said the horse most used for dressage is more skittish.

‘I always wanted bad weather because my quarter horse would take it in stride.’

“I always wanted bad weather because my quarter horse would take it in stride,” she said.

Coming to Lubbock

When Tedd became president of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Janet decided to retire.

“We had two boys still in high school,” she said, saying  they didn’t want to uproot the boys from their friends.

Janet stayed in Dallas with the boys until they graduated high school. She went back and forth to Lubbock for TTUHSC events before eventually moving.

The other reason to retire was the thought of returning to private practice after the Cooper Clinic was not attractive.

“I was spoiled at the Cooper Clinic, where I had time with patients,” she said.

It also gave her an opportunity to spend more time training and riding.

But the dressage community is extremely small in Lubbock. She does remote training and hauls her horses back to eastern and central Texas. She’s put 20,000 miles on her horse trailer.

“Most of the competitions are in Katy,” she said.

Janet is also able to merge horses and healing.

The Texas Tech Therapeutic and Therapy Center has a licensed healthcare practitioner using equine movements as a therapy tool. A stroke patient who cannot walk can get on a horse because a horse’s gait is the closest to a human gait and it sends impulses to the brain to help the patient learn to walk again. Some children with developmental speech problems say their first words on a horse. Riding helps veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Janet helped educate Medicaid in Texas about Hippotheraphy and Medicaid agreed to reimburse Hippotherapy medical expenses.

Expo Center

Friends introduced Janet to Randy Jordan, who is leading the campaign for  Prop. A  – the Lubbock County Expo Center, a 6,000-seat venue that can host many events, but also equestrian and other livestock shows.

“I provided advice on what it needed to look like. They’ve got rodeo people and western people,” said Janet, who rides English-style. “They wanted to know as a competitor what I look for in a venue. Does it have good stalls or good footing for my horses? They wanted to know what it needed to attract equestrian competitors,” she said,

‘What the Expo Center can bring to this community is great and I would love to compete in my own home town.’

“I love living in this community. What the Expo Center can bring to this community is great and I would love to compete in my own home town,” she said of Lubbock.

Why horses, God?

“I kept asking God why he was filling me with passion for horses other than a way to lose money. It’s like an addiction. What I realized over time  was it has helped to do things like be on the Texas Tech Equestrian Advisory Council, help the Hippotherapy program and it’s been an honor to to be asked on the Expo Center Steering Committee. I have this passion for horses and I can serve God by giving back to the community this way,” she said, adding she mentors kids through equestrian programs at Texas Tech, employs members of the equestrian teams and knows the students in the Masked Rider program.

“I can make a difference one person at a time,” she said.