Just 13 months after undergoing a third open heart surgery, Dale Dedrick is feeling blessed beyond her wildest expectations. Defying mortality and impressing her doctors and friends alike, Dale is soaking up sun, palm tree trail rides and marching down centerline on her new ride, Bardondales Ultrasuede.
An accidental but adorable mutt of sorts, the 15 hand buckskin gelding is made up of one half- Connemara, one quarter thoroughbred, and one quarter percheron, aptly named "Suede" for his soft gaits and cool color.
Dale had just finished packing her car last winter season ready to drive from MI to Wellington when she felt desperately short of breath and called 911. It was what she feared most, after 12 years, her second heart valve was giving out and being a former orthopedic surgeon herself, she knew all too well there was little healthy heart material left to work with.
A gifted surgeon at University of Michigan, Dedrick had to give up her career after suffering a stroke brought on by Lupus, which attacks the heart and also left her with gnarled joints in her hands and feet. She also remembered with dread the grueling recovery period after her last open heart surgery that kept her bedridden for seven months, tremendous weight gain from steroids and her spine fractured and fused from medication and resulting osteoporosis.
After the long haul to recovery from that surgery, finally walking with a cane, Dale threw herself full throttle into the only physical activity she could still enjoy with a degree of mastery: dressage or more specifically, para-dressage.
A lifelong rider, Dale turned to a long time co-competitor and friend, Rosiland Kinstler, who became her coach in 2007 and would find an elegant gray Oldenburg named Bonafatius that carried Dedrick all the way to the 2012 London Paralympics as part of Team USA.
It's hard to tell who is prouder when Dale jokes that her heart surgeon keeps a picture of her competing in London displayed prominently on his office wall.
Faced with the looming third surgery in January 2016, she put up her then current dressage mount, Mr. Bockman, a Westphalian, for sale. (She had retired her London partner from competition). At 16 hands, his size was proving too big for her to handle. She did not know if she would survive the surgery, much less ride again.
With no family nearby, friends anxiously awaited on word via Facebook from Dale's most trusted groom and young friend, Meagan, attending veterinary school an hour away who held vigil at the hospital. When Dale gave a thumbs up in ICU and the doctors told Megan after three days to bring in her cell phone and sneakers, there was a unanimous sigh of relief. Yet another remarkable feat is that this woman is also a breast cancer survivor.
The Trust Factor
Dale was still in cardio rehab in Ann Arbor when Rosalind Kinstler saw a posting on Facebook for a pudgy school pony listed in TN.
She admits scouting for a new mount for Dale even before Mr. B sold. "Oh, I was convinced Dale would ride again; the surgery, that was iffy and very concerning," Kinstler says. What drew her to Suede? "Without being picky, I liked his overall look. The video showed him steady, even if not dynamic, with three correct paces."
It was imperative he had his own motor as Dale doesn't possess enough strength to motivate a lazy horse. (After London, she was reclassified down from Grade 2 to Grade 1b). When a second video showed a stick thin child cantering Suede around the arena bareback, Kinstler packed her bag.
There was a little pressure as Dale couldn't travel and other buyers were lined up. "I hoped I'd love or hate him, I was most worried if I wasn't sure," she recalls.
Suede proved to have good natural balance, and an active walk Kinstler calls reliable. "It never feels odd, you can make it big and small, and he has enough elasticity. We can improve that with work in half-steps."
Kinstler says she tried him as she would for anybody with a blunt spur and found him smart, but not deceitful,
Coincidently, Suede had some dressage background as his former owner had schooled second level before he had joined the walk-trot string and went to 4-H shows the last couple years. "I wouldn't have looked at the horse," admits Dale, but his video showing good use of his hind end told her an athlete lurked underneath the exterior and the fact he had taught children spoke volumes about his character.
An unregistered product of poor fencing, Suede proved his mellow nature early upon arriving in MI when Dale mounted for a first photo op outside and a gunshot in the woods sent two other horses bolting for the exit. Suede flicked his ears, but stood calmly. They had struck gold or at least, beige.
Suede's smaller stature also meant Dale can handle and groom him easily. "He's a simple soul, a handful of feed, barefoot, and he thrives on all the attention." She says he does cute pony things like nickering at horse sounds on the radio.
After a lifetime of horse experience, Dale is well aware of the nature of horses, and noted with wisdom, "You never really know until the first show, but I was thrilled how we improved each day and my stamina held up for three days in row in the heat."
Asked how it felt seeing Dale back in the arena at the Welcome Back to White Fences III show Feb 24-26, Kinstler let out a loud "Whoo-hoo!" "I figured we always would get there but it's a long way from the first step to going down centerline." To find a really good horse, she says, look past the breeding, the price tag. "Look at the creature itself, it's the character, even for able-bodied riders." The bonus is it's fun to find the overlooked, odd horse and discover its niche.
For Dale, the best part is the trust factor in her unorthodox horse alongside the journey with her good friend and coach. "I'm thrilled to challenge myself. Can I last in the heat? Can I push myself under pressure? Face it, none of us push quite the same in practice. The judge, the audience is immaterial. It's can I put myself through the test, hitting my marks and transitions well?"
With a vibrant techno blues beat to their freestyle designed by Karen Robinson, there is nothing stuffy about this newly minted dressage duo. They are on track for their first CPEDI3* at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival this week March 10-12. Treat yourself as a spectator, there are many reasons to cheer.