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The Disabled Equestrian – determination to follow a dream
Tuesday 23 August 2011
I'm not the typical equestrian. I'm a little different than the rest. You won't know it by looking at me, but managing to fulfill my dream of riding horses came about in a very unexpected way and with very unexpected results and challenges.
After being diagnosed with fibromyalgia and other multiple chronic illnesses at the age of 35, I was forced to rebuild my life. I needed something to motivate me and give me a reason to want to get out of bed and fight the disease. I love my children and my husband, but we all need to pursue that one passion that is "ours." I wanted to pursue my childhood dream of owning my own horse and enjoying it to the fullest extent possible. I was done hiding away from the world and being "sick." Oh, I'm still sick, very much so, but I no longer let it define who I am.
I knew that I would need to make adjustments to be successful due to my disease. Just as my father had to make adjustments as a paraplegic to live a fulfilling life, I was determined not to let my disability take my dreams away.
I've found there are good days and bad days, but it never fails. If I manage a portion of the day with my mare, Filly, it is always a good day. I also found myself surrounded by inspirational people who had overcome serious horse accidents, yet come back full force, determined to ride and have horses in their lives.
Parades are my favorite all-time activity; trail riding is a close second. I am also a member of a drill team. When I first joined, I wanted to ride fast and hard in the drill so badly! I tried extremely hard to get to the point where I could do the seven-minute high speed routine. Unfortunately, what I found was that my body cannot take the physical demands that are required to ride rodeo drill. I was disappointed, but do not count it as a failure because I still ride in parades with them.
This isn't just any drill team either. I'm a parade-riding member of the Canadian Valley Rangerettes from Mustang, Oklahoma, who are three-time National Equestrian Drill Team Champions. To top that off, this past June, they won the 3rd SuperCup Ride of Champions out of the 4 years it has exisited. They are TRULY amazing.
I've watched these ladies ride with broken wrists, at least one broken ankle, many severe bruises and torn up knees. They ride close maneuvers at high speeds and bumped knees come often. Sometimes, it's more than a bump. As one fan said at a less than perfect performance, "Wow, that was so cool! It's like NASCAR on horseback!" These ladies don't let their injuries stop them from doing what they love. So why should those of us with disabilities give up the things we love IF there is a way to make it happen?
Were it not for meeting this team of women back in 2005 I would not be where I am today. That evening as I stood in the dirt of the arena and watched in amazement, I was truly inspired. My life changed that night forever. This was before they won any titles. They were just a local team of women and close friends, traveling to local rodeos and parades to entertain the local crowds and enjoy their own love of horses.
I rode with them in my first parade a few weeks later on a borrowed horse. Their drillmaster took me under her wing as a mentor and helped me along that first year as I learned with Filly. Over time, I grew confident enough to care for her on my own.
There is a place for the physically challenged in the horse world. We just need to find out where the limits are to safely ride and enjoy our beautiful horses. Do I want to be a part of the big team and share the close bond that those women do? Absolutely! But it would be unfair to the team for me to be a drill rider as I'm not able to ride back-to-back days. And believe me, when I say ride, I mean they ride.
My body would punish me for a week after just one drill routine. So I stay back just a little and I can't always keep up, but I still stay as a member and ride parades when I can. Do they respect me as I am now? Yes, I believe they do ... and that's good enough for me.
There is no question that horses are very therapeutic, not just in the physical sense that they give us balance and strength in our core muscles. The bond that we make with that one special horse is something truly special. It will last a lifetime and it is something that only horse people understand. You need a cure for your depression? Go out and spend 20 minutes brushing out your horse, or any horse. Find that one spot that they love where they drop their ears and their head and just lean into it as to say, "Ahhhh....right there!"
I look just like everyone else, but on the inside, my body is constantly fighting severe muscle and joint pain, fatigue, or perhaps it’s shortness of breath or nausea. I don’t ride on bad flare or migraine days. Sometimes these flares come with very little warning, which are the cause for frequent short notice cancellations. But should that mean I bury my head in the sand and stay in bed on the days when I’m not flaring? Should I stop trying? Not if I want to have any type of a fulfilling life it doesn’t!
Before anyone makes the decision to mount a horse, they need to honestly evaluate their ability. If they have a physical challenge, the decision should be made with their doctor’s input. For me, my doctor says ride carefully.
I take it easy. There's no rodeo events for this girl and someone else must saddle my horse these days. I lost that ability this past year. So when I ride, it’s with a system in place so I stay in compliance with doctor's orders. Following this dream of mine keeps my body moving, my muscles strong, and that eventually means the pain is reduced. It also keeps depression away and my spirits up!
Unfortunately, sometimes the biggest challenge for those of us who want to continue riding but have a disability, is not the disability itself, but rather the attitude and treatment we encounter from other equestrians. My Rangerette teammates are my friends. They would never say the things I'm about to share with you. But I want to bring light to the opposition that I have encountered. It's not always physical challenges in our path.
Not all people are cruel and some are just ignorant, but there are far too many people out there that take their health and the little things for granted. I've found that at times I've needed support in the face of criticism. I've been told things like:
Probably the cruelest thing I've ever heard is this one:
What a horrible and foolish thing to say without all the facts.
Would I give up living this dream because someone has a burr under their saddle about me being on disability? Absolutely not! I might be able to have a good ride one day, but I always pay for it the next. But as I rest, I remember how much it was worth it to be out there in God's beautiful nature with my horse and just "be"!
Sometimes all we need is a kind word of encouragement to keep going with our dream, or compassion and understanding if we have to cancel. Many times we will find solace from other people like ourselves who have a physical limitation, but refuse to let it stop us from doing what we love.
So the next time you see someone out on a horse, think for just a second. Maybe that person is living out their dream right in front of you. Why would anyone want to take that away?
With that said I leave you with wise words from a dear friend:
“Ride until you can ride no more, groom until you can groom no more, lean on Filly taking in her horsey smell until you can stand no more.”
Never give up on your dreams!
The above, with comments, originally appeared here.
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