Fueling Dreams - A Para Equestrian’s Long Trek to Gladstone

Lise Yervasi on Brendan Braveheart win Third Level-3 with 65+ at Summervale Dressage Festival 2011. Credit: Damien Yervasi
Lise Yervasi on Brendan Braveheart win Third Level-3 with 65+ at Summervale Dressage Festival 2011. Credit: Damien Yervasi

The USEF Para-Equestrian National Championships and Selection Trials for the 2012 London Paralympics take place June 11-13 at USET Headquarters. Live scoring during the competition at USEFNetwork.com!

“The only way I can afford to go to Gladstone is by driving myself,” explains Lise Yervasi who left trainer Jennifer Schrader Williams’ Summervale Farm in Roy, WA on May 18, 2012 with her rig and two horses for the 2800 miles to reach New Jersey. Accompanied by her 13-year-old daughter, Sophia, and extra driver Deborah Parker picked up in Idaho, Team Braveheart, named for her FEI horse Brendan Braveheart, a 13-year-old Hanoverian by Brentano II, charted their course across the country to include nightly stops for paddock turnout with lengthier layovers in Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Colorado State University Veterinary School checked the horses gratis and Centenary College in Long Valley, NJ, generously offered to stable the horses when they arrived June 1st for a week to rest and regroup before competition starts.

“Why am I doing this? Maybe because it’s always been a dream. Maybe simply because right now I still can,” she says. Call it driving ambition but Yervasi is a woman familiar with formidable undertakings. Living on a 900-acre ranch, she and her husband, Damien, raise grass-fed beef cattle along with their three adopted children from Haiti. Until recently, she worked as a lawyer and public servant in her role as Justice of the Peace in Baker City, Oregon.
Diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gerig’s disease) in 2009, doctors later found her to have to a form of spinocerebellar ataxia and autoimmune issues caused by a genetic mutation. While not terminal, the ataxia, muscle weakness and coordination, degenerates over time. Lise can stand but must use a cane or wheelchair most of the time. “I don’t know where my feet are spatially, it’s like walking on a narrow balance beam that you can’t see.” It also affects her hands and to an extent her core. Still, Yervasi competes in Grade IV, the least disabled group with tests roughly equivalent to Third Level.

Two Gift Horses

Highway hospitality: Brendan and Tyler relax on a layover on route to Gladstone.
Highway hospitality: Brendan and Tyler relax on a layover on route to Gladstone.

In early 2010, staying with family in Jupiter, FL on her visits to the Mayo Clinic after her ALS diagnosis, Lise sought out a dressage barn to fulfill a long held passion to compete again. She knew she had limited time. It can be dire news that gives you permission to chase your dreams.
Lise started lessons at Teamwork Dressage, also in Jupiter, with Jules and Libby Anderson on their horses, first on the lunge and later in the arena. “Although weak on the ground, Lise had a good feel for a horse and because she couldn’t grip tightly with her knees or legs, this made it possible for her to progress to our FEI horses. Lise is very diligent and she improved daily over many visits to the Mayo 2010 and 2011,” recalls Libby Anderson, a retired FEI Grand Prix and para judge.
Her favorite horse, Brendan Braveheart, turned out to have a reputation and a few choice nicknames, sometimes known as Beautiful Brendan and/or Bad Bucking Brendan. Lise laughed at that. Over two years, Jules Anderson had worked on his dark side but admits she always rode him with a bucking strap. A successful FEI competitor from 2008-10, Brendan required annular ligament surgery on a front leg due to a compromised tendon sheath. Although the result was a complete success, it was recommended that Brendan focus on the USDF levels.
The connection between Brendan and Lise was immediate. The former Bad Boy, Brendan would do anything for Lise under saddle or in the barn. “We were thrilled that Brendan could serve as her hopeful Paralympic mount,” says Libby. “Also, the veterinarians thought that the hills and freedom of Lise's Oregon ranch would be great therapy for Brendan.” When Lise received the horse’s papers in the mail, it seemed like more than coincidence that they shared the exact same birth date.
She found her second horse, Tailor Made, free on Dreamhorse.com two years ago. The 19-year-old Anglo Trakehner, once trained and competed through Prix St. George, had been patiently rehabbed by teenage rider Jenny Mix, after sustaining injuries in a trailer accident. Leaving for college, Mix looked for just the right home and chose Lise. At their Colorado State University layover, Lise was proud that the CSU veterinarians pronounced Tyler the soundest 19-year-old they’d ever seen.

Going the Distance

Team Braveheart in Wellington. "He's a puppy dog with her," says coach Jennifer Schrader Williams. For others, not so much.
Team Braveheart in Wellington. "He's a puppy dog with her," says coach Jennifer Schrader Williams. For others, not so much.

“Eight hours away, that’s local,” laughs Lise about the distance between Yervasi and her trainer Jennifer Schrader Williams. They met at a clinic where she impressed Williams as a quick study. “She has the best outlook, it’s nose to the grindstone, we’ll figure out ways to make it work,” says Williams who calls Brendan an interesting character. “He’s a puppy dog with Lise but he’s not easy for other people to ride.”
When the pair won a Third Level-3 with a 65+% at the Oregon Dressage Society’s Summervale Dressage Festival, Williams encouraged Yervasi to pursue her para goals offering her services free of charge. “I love the idea of promoting this program. How can you not when you meet people as motivated as Lise?”
Whether able-bodied or para, for most High Performance riders, the geographical distances in the U.S. make competing very expensive. After shipping Brendan commercially to Florida this past January, where she qualified for the Para National Championships and U.S. Team Selection Trials, the $5,000 left was just enough to fly her coach to Gladstone, get her a room and the rest went for diesel for the haul East.
Lise says she struggles with fund raising to ride and compete in comparison to her rival causes like the Haitian orphanage her kids came from and the ALS association. Driving across the country was one way to network and promote all three issues. “It's my hope that we can make a difference on this trip. If nothing else our trek might give exposure to dressage and 4-H clubs along I-84 about ataxia, becoming disabled and how riding has helped.”
 Although the trip entailed a few detours, Lise emphasizes that her horses comfort and well-being always came first. She know her horses well. “I have a housebroken Hanoverian, Brendan won’t pee on the trailer,” she says. Of the three times she shipped Brendan cross country commercially, twice he arrived at the other end in rough shape. While she made sure to arrange turnout for the horses on route, Team Braveheart’s humans camped out in the trailer.
Self-sufficiency is an ingrained character trait for Yervasi who grew up delivering newspapers in Colorado at a young age on horseback, her own version of the pony express. She reflects on reaching her goal of riding at Gladstone as proof of the support of so many behind her. “I want people to know how much it means to this para rider to be able to compete.”

To learn more about Para Equestrian www.uspea.org or Lise Yervasi go to www.TeamBraveheart.org




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