That same toughness fueled Goldstein as she majored in business education at Florida International University, where she wound up near the top of her class. And it propelled her painstaking metamorphosis from the Daredevil of Gladewinds Farm—a trick-riding, head-over-heels urchin who would sooner ride a horse backward, bareback, than any other way—into a polished rider and businesswoman. In less than five years she rose, improbably, to become one of the most prominent figures on the national tour, finally making a comfortable living (top riders can earn upwards of $100,000 annually).
Goldstein's friends say they never had any doubt that she would come back from her latest injury. "If she had to cut her foot off to ride again," says Patti Harnois, who owns a stable of show horses on Cape Cod, "she would have cut it off."
Fortunately, it didn't come to that. During her 10-week convalescence, Goldstein bought a modest house in West Palm Beach and moved out of her parents' house for the first time. She renewed a close relationship with Steve Engle, a veterinarian who occasionally travels on the show tour. And despite her doctor's warnings, she was soon back at work, using crutches to get around, riding with her foot in a cast and keeping the other riders loose with her joking manner and upbeat personality.
"Everything about her is exuberant," says Darlene Sandlin, another member of the U.S. team. "But obviously she knows how to get down to business."
Now it's showtime in New Jersey. The cappuccino drinkers are settled in their seats. Even the VIPs in a pink-and-green terraced dining area at one end of the arena stop nibbling on Brie and turn their attention to the floor. In the AGA Championship, riders must clear 16 barriers in the first round without a mistake to have a chance at the $30,000 first prize. Goldstein's two closest rivals, Lisa Jacquin and George Lindemann Jr., have a slim chance to overtake her for Rider of the Year. To clinch the title, Goldstein doesn't have to win this event outright, but neither can she afford to fail in the first round.
Her mount, Saluut II, seems tired from the long season and affected, she thinks, by breathing polluted air. How would you like to sleep in a tent in the Meadowlands parking lot? "He didn't have a lot of energy left," she would say afterward. So, in a move that's decidedly out of character, she plays it cautiously, riding deliberately rather than going for speed. The strategy works; although Saluut II nicks several of the fence rails, none fall. In the timed jump-off against the five other riders who had a clear first round, Saluut II finishes third. "Ah, he was never in that much trouble," says Goldstein, the newly-named 1991 Rider of the Year, as a broad smile spreads across her face.
After the awards ceremony, at which she is handed the keys to a new Cadillac convertible, someone asks about her height. "I only look small," she says. "On the horses I'm as tall as I need to be."