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This is a story about two women – let’s call them Ann and Judy. Later in life, one was diagnosed with MS, the other one suffered a stroke, and both turned to horseback riding as a form of therapy.

Let’s start with Judy. As a part of her recovery process, she bought an older thoroughbred, nothing fancy, worked with a local dressage trainer, and rode her horse every chance she got. But in the meantime, she thought a lot about how much her riding was helping her and how she might be able to share that with others.

Judy looked into therapeutic riding programs and realized that there weren’t any in her area. She read, studied, and ultimately received training through NARHA (which has recently been renamed PATH International). Judy then set about starting a therapeutic riding program in her own community. She has worked tirelessly over the last 20 years to see her dream come to fruition.

It started with a donated horse boarded for free in a sympathetic friend’s barn, some borrowed tack, a friend who built a mounting ramp, and a handful of volunteers who came out to help two afternoons a week. Then she found a larger space that she could lease at a good price. Next she found a newly-retired physical therapist/dressage rider who energetically joined forces with her to design individualized regimens for each rider. Slowly, over many years, she got more horses, more trainers, more tack, and improved her facilities.

Judy kept finding volunteers, hunting down donors, and finally, just this last year, on the eve of the program’s 20th anniversary, she was able to realize her long-time goal of building a covered arena so that her program could operate year-round.

Over this entire period, the waiting list to get into her program has just gotten longer and longer, since the program can only sustain so many horses and so many people in the space it has. Judy is now in her 70s, but she’s made sure, through the NPO she founded, that her dream will continue long after she’s gone.


Then there’s Ann. As part of her recovery process, she also got involved in horseback riding. But she took a different path. She gravitated to one of the premier dressage trainers/riders in the US today, German native Jan Ebeling. Under his tutelage, she pursued competitive dressage, buying and showing on very expensive horses that had been trained to the highest levels. But she didn’t stop there. Next she started buying world-class horses for Ebeling to advance his career (a time-honored way to gain any trainer’s attention and approval). The Washington Post, in an early-March profile, gave a pretty good accounting of Ann’s equine activities over the last decade.

However, there’s one part of the story that the WP got wrong. One of the horses Ann bought for Jan Ebeling to ride, Rafalca, is most definitely not out of contention for the 2012 Olympics. In an article published just two weeks ago in Chronicle of the Horse entitled “Road to the Olympics: Jan Ebeling, Pt. 1,” Ebeling spoke of his show plans for Rafalca and the exhausting travel involved:

I think that the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final [held April 18-22 in ’s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, where Ebeling will be one of two U.S. riders] is going to be a big step toward the ultimate goal, which is making the team for the Olympic Games. It also means we have to go to Europe and then back to the United States for the selection trials [scheduled for June 8-10 and 13-17 in Gladstone, N.J.]. And then we go back to Europe if we make the team.
So, it looks like, with any luck at all, Ann Romney’s way of giving back to her community will be letting us watch her fabulous horse and her fabulous trainer compete in the Olympics.

10:32 AM PT: Thank you for the rescue! And the recommended list!

Originally posted to babaloo on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 01:59 AM PDT.

Also republished by Pink Clubhouse and Community Spotlight.

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