Dressage Junior Young Rider Holly Bergay Sees the Positive Side of Everything, Even Her Disability

By Lynndee Kemmet for DressageDaily.com

Holly Bergay always sees the bright side of life, even when it comes to her own disability. Born without a left hand, the 14-year-old believes that being hand-less gives her an edge over other dressage riders. Because while most struggle with the notion of riding with seat and leg and not hands, Holly does it naturally.

“I think I use more back and core strength and more leg and seat. Ideally, dressage should be ridden from your leg and seat. So in that way, I think maybe I have a little advantage because I’ve always used so much leg and seat anyway. Hands isn’t really an issue for me,” said the Tucson, Arizona resident. Her partner in competition is a 17-year-old Canadian Warmblood mare named Soliloquy, but with the barn name of Lilly. Together, this pair has been competing in the FEI Junior Tests, as well as in the USEF levels.

And despite her disability, the high school freshman has racked up numerous wins, including championships at the state and regional level. More recently, she not only qualified for and competed in the North American Junior and Young Riders’ Championships, held in Virginia in early August, but finished fifth overall individually. “I’ve always ridden with able-bodied riders and I kind of consider myself able because I can do everything so why limit myself.”

Holly’s success doesn’t surprise her mother, Mary Bergay, who said that Holly “has been an amazing kid since she was born and never stops amazing me.” Although she has never yet competed in a disabled dressage competition, Holly may be venturing into one soon. That’s because she’s aiming to represent the U.S. internationally and has set her sights on the Para-Olympic Games and perhaps even the 2010 World Equestrian Games. However, she admits that ultimately her goal is to compete at the highest levels against the best able-bodied riders.

“I want to go as far as possible. There are a ton of opportunities. My current goal would be to do the Para-Olympic Games in Beijing but it’s a bit late to qualify. But there are also the World Equestrian Games in 2010 and I’m aiming for that. Ideally I’d like to do both the able-bodied and disabled for that,” Holly said.

Dressage Rider Holly Bergay Sees the Positive Side of Everything, Even Her Disability
By Lynndee Kemmet for DressageDaily.com

For Holly Bergay, It Was Dressage From the Start

While most young riders come to dressage from other equestrian disciplines, Holly Bergay took a more direct route. Although she did a bit of jumping with Pony Club, her start in dressage was very early in life. And she can thank her mother, Mary, for that Mary Bergay had a life-long love for horses and mistakenly believed she’d have time for one while she was home caring for her young children.

“I always wanted a horse and about 11 years ago, we bought a horse for me. Holly was four at the time and my youngest child was 2. I didn’t really have the time I thought I would,” Mary Bergay said with a laugh. “I couldn’t ride him anyway because he just didn’t like me very much. Every time I got on him, he’d just buck me off. I was just a backyard rider and he knew it.” That horse, named Ambition, is still alive and at 22 is happily giving dressage lessons to young girls. He even does a few low-level shows. “I’ll never sell that horse, ever,” Mary Bergay said. “Holly still rides him and keeps him schooled and the little kids love him. He takes such good care of them.”

So what did Holly’s mother do about this bucking bronc? She put four-year-old Holly on the horse. “And he just loved her,” Mary Bergay said. “He was an Arabian and we thought he’d take off on her or something, but he didn’t. She’d ride him bareback and take him on trail rides.” Thus, the next step was riding lessons and Holly’s mother had a friend who was a dressage instructor and that’s where Holly began her lessons.

And since she started riding with only one hand Holly said she has never known any other way. “People ask me, ‘is it harder with one hand?’ and I say, ‘I don’t know because I’ve never tried it the other way.’ I kind of think that’s a silly question, actually. Growing up I did everything this way so it’s what I know.

Dressage Rider Holly Bergay Sees the Positive Side of Everything, Even Her Disability
By Lynndee Kemmet for DressageDaily.com

Holly Bergay is a Serious Student, Whether in the Dressage Ring or the School Room

This year, Holly Bergay started her freshman year in high school. And her academic goal for the year is to achieve what she did last year – straight As. “I’m taking difficult classes so my life is pretty much just school and riding,” Holly said.

Although she doesn’t yet know what she’ll do for a career, she does know she’ll go to college and she knows that horses and riding will always be part of her life. And most likely, she’ll succeed at whatever she does because hard–working is one word that describes her. This young rider, who trains with Pat Baker-Hutter, describes herself as a “perfectionist.” And she likes dressage because “I like a challenge and dressage is very empowering when you do it right and I like that about it. It really fits my personality.”

To compete in regular dressage competitions, Holly had to get special permission from the USDF, which required a lot of paperwork. “It’s basically just stapled to all my tests and the judges can just look and see what I’m allowed to use. It makes my test like a whole book, but other than that, it’s not a big deal. We’ve pretty much got it down by now,” Holly said.

She also had to make adjustments in how she uses her reins, particularly for double bridle work. “I use one rein. My left rein has loops in it, but I still use two bits. I have a converter system and with that, I can pretty much ride how other people ride.” And she’s not the least bit worried that her disability will limit her as she rides her way to the Grand Prix level. Holly matter-of-factly states that what ever challenges arise will be overcome. “There is always something we run into, but we always figure it out. We just work things out as we go along and if anything else comes up along the way, we’ll just adjust.”

Dressage Rider Holly Bergay Sees the Positive Side of Everything, Even Her Disability
By Lynndee Kemmet for DressageDaily.com

Debbie McDonald - A Fan of Holly Bergay

"I had never taught a disabled person until Holly and was not quite sure how to go about it." said Olympian and Holly's idol, Debbie McDonald. "But it didn't take me long to figure out that this kid has feel beyond most and talent we all envy."

"Not to mention guts! She is such an inspiration for all of us. We can learn so much from such an amazing young lady like Holly." continued McDonald. "She is not going to take no for an answer and has proven that she doesn't need to. I can only say that the riders that complain about there horses being this or that, Go and watch what it takes to be a champion, watch Holly Bergay!"

There is one final advantage Holly sees to her disability. It has made her appreciate things more, especially the fact that she is able to compete in dressage. And the fact that she does so with a disability “has gotten me a lot of attention. And that’s kind of nice.”


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