By Allyssa Baird
Every once in a great while, a person so exceptional comes into the world. They are kind, gracious, and possess a unique characteristic that sets them apart. They leave a positive impression on everyone they meet. Yet they leave us far too soon. Rebecca Durr Vesty was that exceptional human.
“Rebecca was fairly shy growing up,” her mother, Susan Durr, recalls. “She always had horses as an outlet, and she never went through the teenage rebellious phase. As she matured, she was very friendly and became more confident and outgoing. I think the horses had something to do with that.”
Aside from the horses, Rebecca loved the outdoors, snowboarding, wakeboarding, mountain biking and hiking. She was also very involved in church and became a Christian when she was five. “Even when she went away to college, she found a church and continued attending,” Susan says. “Her faith was real and deep, and she was blessed to be baptized in the Jordan River in Israel.”
Horses were always in Rebecca’s blood. Her grandparents, Ken and Gradie Bevan, started raising Arabians in 1959 in Dallas, Texas. They purchased two stallions: Kimfa, a chestnut stallion by Mustafa out of the Crabbet mare *Iorana, bred by Anne McCormick, and a few years later, Rahalima, by Ansata Ibn Halima, bred by Deep Creek Ranch. What started as an idea to enjoy weekend pleasure horses eventually became ownership of 80 horses and the breeding of 252 Arabians, according to Arabian Horse DataSource.
Rebecca, Susan and Kenyon riding Rahfet.
When Rebecca was five, her mother and grandmother decided it was time for her to have her first horse. The Bevans sent Rebecca a horse they bred, a 12-year-old gelding named Rahfet, sired by Rahalima, out of a Kimfa daughter. “Rahfet had just been gelded. He was a well-mannered horse that was wonderful with kids,” Susan beams. “Rebecca’s younger brother Kenyon would sit in front of me, she would sit behind me, and we would go galloping through the trails.”
Rebecca began showing at schooling shows and Class B shows. Before too long, when she was around 10, she was ready for class A shows. Susan’s mother purchased Whistler V, a bay gelding bred by Varian Arabians. Susan showed him to the 1995 Reserve National Champion Arabian Country English Pleasure AAOTR, and in 1996, Rebecca rode him to multiple Canadian National Top Tens and several regional wins.
Over the years, the mother-daughter duo owned many champion English horses, such as Toi Celebrity, RW Candy Kisses (who Rebecca showed to three Canadian National Championships in 1997 & 1998), WLF Firefly, Sage Dancer, Celebrity’s Encore, A Love Supreme, and Apallelujah. But one horse they purchased as a five-year-old would be the one to steal their hearts.
Rebecca and RW Candy Kisses.
Apaladin and Mitch Sperte winning the Region 5 Arabian English Pleasure Junior Horse Championship.
Enter Apaladin, a stunning, high-trotting steel grey stallion sired by AA Apollo Bey and out of the El Magato daughter Amanda Of Aerie. Apaladin had the wow factor in the English and Park divisions and was a sight in 2006 when he entered the arena in hand for the U.S. National stallion halter championships, trotting over level with his head held high as if he was being ridden.
But this isn’t what stole their hearts. For most of the 20 years they owned Apaladin, he lived at home in Washington, breeding and just “being a horse.” Rebecca would spend hours with him on bareback trail rides. Susan’s favorite memories of Rebecca were the many times they rode double bareback on him through the woods together. “It was one of my happiest memories, especially sharing it with her. We had many laughs, a few close calls, and most of all experienced joy in the trust the three of us shared,” Susan reminisces.
Rebecca soon had something else steal her heart, this time in a person. Renowned photographer Stuart Vesty had bred the first foal by Apaladin, creating a quick connection to Rebecca and Susan upon their initial purchase of the grey stallion. They became friends, seeing each other at Scottsdale and U.S. Nationals each year.
Fast forward 19 years to Scottsdale 2018, where Rebecca and Stu end up at the infamous 92nd Street bar after a long day at the horse show. “I always thought Rebecca was adorable and enjoyed talking to her,” Stu says. “She asked if I needed a ride home, and although I hadn’t been drinking, I said yes. We talked, exchanged numbers, and continued to stay in contact.”
Their first date was on April 9, 2018, when Stu noticed online that Rebecca was heading to the ski slopes and asked where his invitation was. “She invited me, and when she picked me up from the airport, she asked what my plans were after the trip,” Stu recalls. “I told her I was headed to Santa Ynez, California to ride horses through the river and then to the vineyards for some wine. She showed interest in that since she spent several summers there as a kid visiting her grandmother, so our second date was all set before we had the first!”
Rebecca and Stu on their second date in Santa Ynez.
Their Santa Ynez date was a success, and Stu recalls them already naming their kids on the trip. “We had so much in common and always laughed a lot,” Stu says. “She wanted to show me where her grandma’s house was, and as we went in the entrance, I saw a horse and said, ‘That’s the cleanest pinto I’ve ever seen’, and she replied with ‘I’ve never dated a boy that knew what a pinto was.’”
Although Stu was living in Michigan and Rebecca in Washington, they found ways to spend time together. Their fourth date was ten days in Europe, between Stu’s photography schedule. “She was hesitant, but her mom told her that she would really get to know me after that much time together,” he laughs. “We had a blast touring England, Paris, and Prague.”
Apaladin, Rebecca and Stu.
Stu and Rebecca were a match made in Heaven and married five days before their first date anniversary. “We had so many great times together. Before Apaladin went to greener pastures, she would ride him bareback on the bridle trails while I jogged alongside her since I didn’t have a horse,” Stu says. “Once Apaladin passed away in 2019, his son Appletini became available, so we purchased him and did the same thing.”
Rebecca loved beauty, horses, adventure, kids, and God. “She had a dream that she wanted to start a faith-based youth ranch for at-risk kids to experience horses as part of a therapeutic program. She named it Hello Heaven Ranch, the HHR standing for hope, healing, and restoration. Papers were filed, and she received her 501(c)(3).”
The future of Hello Heaven Ranch was put on hold when, in August 2020, Rebecca and Stu received some unexpected news. At 39, she was diagnosed with Triple Negative Pleomorphic Lobular Carcinoma, an extremely aggressive and rare form of breast cancer that affects less than 1% of breast cancer patients. This would change the trajectory of their next two and a half years, seeking treatments and praying for a miracle.
In December 2022, Rebecca and Stu were between Southern California and Mexico for treatments. They had entered Rebecca to show a mare that Stu owned and bred, Olivia Pope, at the Desert Classic Show in Scottsdale. Rebecca had been in the E.R. the previous week and still bedridden three days before her class, but it was her dream to show Olivia, and she was determined. She won her class and then went on to win the championship with a gleaming smile. This memory would become Stu’s favorite.
Rebecca and Olivia Pope on their Championship victory pass.
An emotional Stuart Vesty after winning at Region 2 atop Olivia Pope.
“A month or so after the show, Rebecca told me she didn’t feel up to riding and wanted me to get on Olivia. I didn’t want to, but I did at her request, “Stu says. “We agreed that I would qualify her for this year’s Nationals, and she would show when she was stronger. Now, I am showing Olivia in Rebecca’s honor in the same class that she would be in, but I’m not the one that’s supposed to be in the saddle, and that’s what hurts the most.”
“We tried to have kids but couldn’t. Rebecca always wanted to be a mom and cared for anyone in need. We always joked that we married each other’s horses. She married this old grey stud, and I married a young, pretty brunette filly,” Stu laughs. They decided if they couldn’t have children, their horses should, so they bred Olivia to Apaladin using frozen semen in 2022. However, when they contacted the clinic, they realized that there wasn’t any left. They vigorously searched and found one dose to attempt the breeding. “It was too risky to use the only remaining dose for A.I., so we decided to do ICSI and got one embryo!” Stu says. “We had a beautiful bay colt on March 19, 2023.”
"We always joked that we married each other's horses." - Stuart Vesty
Stu and Hello Heaven, sired by Apaladin, out of Olivia Pope.
At the end of March, Stu pressed Rebecca to name the colt. He asked her if he could name him Hello Heaven. She happily agreed. Just a few days later, Rebecca passed away.
At Rebecca’s request, Stu donated Appletini to the Arabian Riding Academy in Santa Ynez, California. “He’s been a show horse his whole life, and he’s spicy,” Stu says. “Within minutes of coming off the trailer, kids were all over him and riding him bareback. He has been amazing and has turned into a wonderful Arabian ambassador. I can only imagine how big Rebecca is smiling right now.”
Appletini with one of his new kids.
To know Rebecca was to love her. She always had a glowing smile and a friendly and positive attitude. “I think she would want to be remembered as someone who is still changing people’s lives through her journey and testimony,” Stu explains. “She believed that your circumstance doesn’t define you, and she found joy in every day. She taught me how important Faith is, and I know she would still want me to do what makes Him proud. We prayed for a miracle, but Rebecca was the miracle, my miracle, and I miss her so much.”
Rebecca’s family had a Celebration of Life for her on June 24. In case you missed it, there will be another celebration during U.S. Nationals. AHW will update this page when we have details. Stu will also present a memorial trophy in Rebecca’s honor during the Half-Arabian Park class on Thursday Evening, October 26.
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.
He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.
Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.
Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.
With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.”