Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Elephant and the Dressage Horse

So, I've had a lot of friends, near and far, asking me for "horse updates".  Here it is in June, and it would appear I'm still sitting on the sidelines.

The reality is...much like an awkward facebook relationship status..."It's complicated".

I spend a lot of time on these blogs and updates talking about riding, and my journey, and my inspirations, but what I haven't really spend a lot of time talking about is what makes me a PARA equestrian versus a "regular".  What puts the DIS in my abilities.

Frankly, disability hitting you at the age of 20 really screws you up.  I was pretty much sure I was invincible, then one day I got sick, and never got better.  It took me a long time to realize that I could have a beautiful, meaningful, life that also involved being disabled.

When I took up riding again in 2003, I told a lot of people that it gave me an identity outside of a disabled adult, and it did.  I got involved in competition, and realized that holy was a sport I was GOOD at.  As a kid, I desperately wanted to be good at sports, and would try my ass off to run faster, hit the ball, climb the rope...but was hopelessly uncoordinated and slow.  In ballet class I was labeled "The Elephant".  If I were born in a different decade, I would have been labeled differently, and shunted off to early intervention therapies.  For a kid, is there a difference between being the elephant, or having hypotonia?

As time went on, I realized that my identity as a rider, however, was inexorably linked to the fact that I was disabled.  At first I tried the Rah Rah Pride Embrace my Difference Approach.  But as I continued to struggled with my "illness", I continued to question my identity.

Doctors have never clearly figured out what my "problem" is.  I have been diagnosed with a myriad of issues, and the general consensus is that I had a congenital issue, that was complicated by an infection in college.  Even in the realm of attempting to embrace my disability....what was there to embrace?   I had no "name", no easy explanation.  My elevator speech was complicated and vague.

I suppose I started to feel shame at some point.  That because there is no Facebook page or support group, no 5k fundraising run for what I have, it is not worth talking about, that people don't care.

As I continued my riding, my journey, I became lost.  A rider without a vision.  My focus become very narrow, very "horse-centric", and very focused on the technicalities of I shoved away the pieces of myself, I did not allow much if any room for true partnership, the joy, the grace the dance, which is why I fell in love with this sport.

Life has a funny way of making us humble when we need it the least, though.  As I have been trying to put the pieces together of how to make myself "whole" again, I found myself dealing with a flare of my condition, along with complications of an injury to my foot last year, culminating in a pretty big reminder of the DIS in my ability.   Accept it baby, the elephant is here.

To give you an idea of what I live with, I have little to no sensation below the knee.  Since the foot injury, I now have a new sensation - pain.  I wake up from dreams that my foot is a giant ball of fire.  Thankfully the pain is not constant.  I have fatigue and muscle weakness.  And while my muscles are weak, they also spasm, and don't always react in the way I expect them to.  For example, I might go to pick up a mug with my right hand.  I will reach out, grasp the handle, but as my arm goes to lift, my hand will let go, or my arm will jerk forward.   Most days, nobody will notice anything wrong.  I know my boundaries, know how far I can walk before fatiguing, my pain is managed, and I am great.  But when the Elephant is around, it's anyones guess.

So...getting back to that "horse update".  I have never been more sure in my life that I am ready to dance.  I have never been more sure that I belong in Para Dressage, and while Elephants and Dressage horses are unusual companions...I think this time it might just work.

I believe I have found a suitable competition horse for Normandy, and my greatest challenge at the moment is funding.  I am admittedly feeling a little behind the eight ball, as I lost so many weeks to my own process.  But with hope, determination, and my community behind me...well, "where there's a will there's a way".

Thank you for stickin' with me...Ride Strong!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Greatest Journey Begins...

All journeys must begin with a single step.  For those who have followed my story, you know I have been on a helluva ride already for the past 6 years, but after what has probably been the longest break from riding and horses within that period, this feels a bit like a new beginning.

I am very excited to announce my "Northwest to Normandy" Campaign.  My goal is to represent the United States at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France in 2014.   While I have literally been all over the country, and all over the world in competition, now more than ever I realize the importance of my home.  My Northwest horse community has been tireless supporters, and I want to recognize what an incredible group of horse people, trainers, philanthropists, and cheerleaders we have here.  I also want to help inspire the next generation of competitors to get out there, make the leap, and chase their dreams.

I also want to underscore what an incredible journey this will be.  A journey of incredible distance.  One that will take me from my home in the Northwest, not only across the country, but across the ocean for qualifiers and competitions in just 12 short months.

I hope to use this blog to keep everyone involved as the story unfolds.

The first step begins today.