DressageDaily Amateur in Focus - Tacie Saltonstall - Battling Cancer With Dressage

In the midst of her battle against breast cancer, Tacie Saltonstall found the energy to ride her first Prix St. Georges during the recent Welcome Back to White Fences II dressage show. And what a ride it was for her, winning her class.


“It was great. It was so much fun. Even with the mistakes I made, it was just a gas,” she said. “I was excited. I was so excited because I had trained so hard and I felt so good. I knew the pattern and I felt ready and other than making mistakes in my tempi changes, I was right there. I felt it was great.”

Saltonstall, 53, is an adult amateur rider from the Finger Lakes region of New York. Back home, she owns and operates a vineyard and winery with her husband, Peter. King Ferry Winery, home of Treleaven Wines, sits on 27 acres of land that has been in the Saltonstall family for generations. The winery produces about 10,000 cases of wine a year, with Chardonnay the dominant wine.

When not busy running the winery, Saltonstall is busy riding. She’s been training in dressage rider for years and during the winters, she and her husband often migrate to Florida for a few months, leaving the wine business in the capable hands of their staff. “Thank God I have some awesome staff,” Saltonstall said. “They make it possible for us to be in Florida.”



DressageDaily Amateur in Focus - Tacie Saltonstall - Battling Cancer With Dressage
By Lynndee Kemmet for DressageDaily.com

Diagnosis - Florida for the Cure!

Just how much riding matters to her was clearly evident last September when Saltonstall was first told she had breast cancer. Her first question to her doctor was, could she still go to Florida for the winter show season? She was given the green light to travel south provided she had doctors and a chemotherapy program in place in Florida. So she went to work getting her cancer care set up in Florida and then packed up her horse, Alten Gold, and headed south.

Known around the barn as Bennie, Alten Gold is a 15-year-old International Sport Horse, originally from Canada, whose previous rider was Courtney King. Saltonstall’s trainer, Pam Goodrich, found the horse for her and last year, the pair spent their time just getting to know one another. “This year has been a big difference from last year. I totally understand now what I have to do. It’s like a light bulb went on,” Saltonstall said her developing relationship with Bennie.

She gives credit to Goodrich for making it possible for her to continue advancing her riding despite her cancer. “I can’t thank Pam Goodrich enough for all the patience and understanding. She has been so patient and has worked so hard with me. If I didn’t understand something, I could look at her and she’d know and she’d be able to explain it a different way. Or she’d say, look at me and give me a visual cue.”



DressageDaily Amateur in Focus - Tacie Saltonstall - Battling Cancer With Dressage
By Lynndee Kemmet for DressageDaily.com

Dressage is Great Therapy

Even before she was diagnosed with cancer, Saltonstall used her riding as a form of mental release from her long, busy days helping manage the family winery. “It let’s you turn the world off and for 45 minutes focus just on what your body is doing and on the connection between you and your horse,” she said. But since she began her battle with cancer, the riding has become even more important.

“It’s very cool to be able to turn off everything when you ride except what your body is doing and what your horse is doing. Most of the time I’m always thinking, ‘okay, I have to have shots this week or I need something the next day or I have to go to this doctor’s appointment.’ When you have breast cancer, you live around doctors’ appointments. And so for every day, in the time I’m at the barn, maybe an hour and a half or more, I can turn it all off,” Saltonstall said.

Her cancer treatment has included four months of chemotherapy. Starting in early April she’ll begin her six weeks of radiation. “That’ll be it. Then I’m done,” she said with a determined finality. Her prognosis is good and for the most part, she said she feels great, but she admits the chemotherapy has impacted her riding, but she’s made sure it’s as little as possible.

“The day of chemo, I usually can’t ride, but the day after I come and I ride and I just do the best I can,” she said. Along with the occasional lack of energy, the chemotherapy has also affected her focus. “They talk about chemo brain and that really does exist. There are days when I think that my body should do something but it’s like ‘hello, is anybody home?’ On those days, Pam knows it and I say, ‘Pam, it’s not working’ and she’ll say ‘no problem, I brought my boots, if it needs fixing we can do it!’”



DressageDaily Amateur in Focus - Tacie Saltonstall - Battling Cancer With Dressage
By Lynndee Kemmet for DressageDaily.com

Friends and Family - Always There

Riding gives Saltonstall a much needed break from the world of cancer and doctors, but it also reminds her just how deep is the love and support of the equestrian community and her friends within that community. “I have wonderful friends – it helps so much just being around them and watching them and giggling with them. It’s like a big partnership where everybody helps one another. It’s a support network. You watch others and if someone else is having a difficult time, it helps you forget about your own problems. You think about what they’re dealing with and you don’t worry about your own challenges,” Saltonstall said.

But her horse friends are not her only support system. Her family has been tremendously supportive as well. In solidarity for the impacts the chemotherapy has had on her, Saltonstall’s husband and 18-year-old son, Lev, shaved their heads. “My son looks like a skinhead. I told him he’ll get arrested.” Her daughters, 25-year-old Courtney, and 23-year-old Hattie, cut their hair short.

“Godsend” is the word Saltonstall uses to describe her family, her friends, her horse and her trainer. While most might view a cancer battle in negative terms alone, she focuses on the many positive experiences that have come her way these last few months. And among those experiences was her very first Prix St. Georges ride. For Saltonstall, it’s those moments on the back of the horse that have given her the energy to battle on.

“When you have a good ride, you feel like you can conquer anything.”

Editor's note: Our dear friend and breast cancer survivor, Cathy Morelli is due to go into surgery this month. Our thoughts and prayers are with Cathy and her family, friends and students. We know she is in good hands, with both her doctors and the hands of God, where her faith runs deep. We love you Cathy and are praying hard.