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I was lucky enough to meet Katie this past season at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival, just before she flew to Omaha to take part in the para-dressage demonstration at the 2017 World Cup Finals! She is an inspiration to say the absolute least. I hope you are as inspired by her story as I am!
Q: How long have you been involved with horses? What made you fall in love with riding?
A: I began riding when I was six-years-old when my birthday wish, to ride a horse, came true. From that first pony ride I was hooked! I continued taking riding lessons and was introduced to dressage when I was ten. I continued riding through high school and then had to make the difficult decision to sell my competition horse in order to focus on my college studies. I returned to riding as an adult amateur and fit riding in mostly in the evenings and weekends while growing my career and business. I was fortunate to have a sweet Holsteiner gelding come into my life during that time and did get to ride and compete through third level with him before he took an early retirement due to ongoing soundness issues. Before going down centerline for the first time as a para-equestrian last year I had been out of the show ring for almost 5 years. I am loving being able to devote more time to my riding now and feel so fortunate to have been able to turn something that I have always loved into a second career. It has been very rewarding.
Honestly, I don’t remember one particular thing that made me fall in love with riding, I love everything about it! I love being with the horses at the barn, taking care of them, and of course riding. Horses are such amazing animals!
Q: Riding means something different for everyone. What does it mean for you?
A: For me, there is no better place on earth than being on the back of a horse. Even before my cancer, I loved how horses require you to be 100% present in the moment. When I’m riding, I’m not thinking about anything other than the conversation going on between me and my horse. It’s my meditation, my happy place.
After losing my leg to cancer, my riding means even more to me. I knew I wanted to continue riding but wasn’t sure what it would be like or if I would be able to compete again. Technically I have a disability, but I don’t feel disabled when I’m riding. Challenging my body to ride these big moving horses and compete at a whole new level of competition has been very fulfilling. I don’t know what I would have done to get through such difficult times if I didn’t have my riding to focus on.
Q: What have you learned about yourself through riding?
A: It sounds kind of silly but I’ve learned that I can accomplish some pretty amazing things if I put my mind to it. I have also learned that I am someone who needs some quiet time each day to decompress, reflect, and re-center. Also, I can be hard on myself as times and am continuing to work on being compassionate and forgiving with myself.
Q: What do you want people to know about para dressage?
A: Para-equestrian dressage allows riders with permanent physical disabilities to compete parallel to their fellow able-bodied riders. FEI level para-dressage tests have been created to mirror the requirements of able-bodied FEI tests, with the requirements being based on the amount of impairment the rider is faced with. Para-equestrians competitors are held to the same high standards and judges are looking for the same ideals for each movement that is being performed. Rider’s undergo an evaluation process known as classification to determine at which of the five grade levels they will compete at. Once the rider’s grade has been designated, then they have the option of utilizing compensating aids, or dispensations, that will help them communicate with their equine partners. For example, I am allowed to use a break-away Velcro strap across my residual limb to help me in case the horse were to spook and I carry a whip on my right side to compensate for my missing leg.
I have been most impressed by what an amazing group of people are part of this sport. Everyone is welcoming and supportive, and very thankful for the gifts that horses have given them. Many riders have overcome unimaginable challenges to be able to ride again. They are beautiful riders and humble as well. The sport is really growing and the quality of the horses and riders is very high, and just keeps increasing. It is an exciting time for para-dressage and I am thrilled to be a part of it!
Q: What are some of your riding goals?
A: My biggest goal is to continue challenging myself, both physically and mentally, to become the best rider I can be. As part of that journey, I hope to represent our country as part of Team USA for the upcoming World Equestrian Games next year. It is also my goal to become a Paralympian and ride down centerline at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.