Para-Dressage Riders Get Ready for the Alltech World Equestrian Games

Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Posted by Diana DeRosa


Susan Treabess. Photo by Diana DeRosa
Susan Treabess. Photo by Diana DeRosa

The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy are just around the corner and everyone headed to the Games is anxious for everything to start. Opening Ceremony takes place on August 23rd with the actual competition beginning on the 25th. While media and spectators are packing their bags, riders and horses competing in the first week and prepping for their journey to France. On Sunday, August 10th, the Endurance and Para-Dressage riders were sharing quarters at the USET Foundation Headquarters in Gladstone, NJ. With camera in hand, it was the perfect opportunity to capture pictures and listen to the excited voices of the riders as they talked about the impending journey. The Para riders will be competing at the La Prairie Racecourse August 25-29.

Since the Para riders’ disabilities have a wide range there is a set of criteria used to identify which category they will be competing in. This is done by assessing the mobility, strength and coordination of competitors and athletes with similar functional ability profiles are grouped into competition grades that range from Grade Ia for the most severely impaired to Grade IV for the least impaired.

Para-Dressage Riders are gearing up

The Para-Dressage riders will be led by Chef d'Equipe Kai Handt. 

On the team will be: 

Grade II rider Rebecca Hart (Unionville, Pa.) and Schroeter's Romani, owned by Rebecca Hart in conjunction with Margaret Duprey, Cherry Knoll Farm, Sycamore Station Equine Division, Barbara Summer, The Ruffolo's, and Will and Sandy Kimmel. Rebecca is a two-time Paralympian (2008 and 2012) and also competed in the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.

Susan Treabess, Hart’s teammate in Kentucky, will also be part of the 2014 team. A Grade IV rider, Californian Treabess will be riding Kathryn Hill's Kamiakin.

Grade Ia rider Roxanne Trunnell (Rowlett, Texas) and her own Nice Touch will be competing in their first World Equestrian Games, as will teammate Grade Ib athlete Sydney Collier (Ann Arbor, Mich.). She will be riding Victoria Dugan's Willi Wesley.

Angela Peavy (Avon, Conn.) and Rebecca Reno's Ozzy Cooper will represent the U.S. as an individual in Grade III. She too is excited and ready.

Roxanne Trunnell and Nice Touch

Roxanne Trunnell with her Parents Sid and Josette. Photo by Diana DeRosa
Roxanne Trunnell with her Parents Sid and Josette. Photo by Diana DeRosa

Watching the excitement on these rider’s faces was a real treat. While it wasn’t the time to distract them from what they were up to, it was a great opportunity to learn about newbie Roxanne and the hurdle she’s climbed.

The 27 year old rode able body dressage until 2008 at which time she took a break from 2008-2009 competing (but still rode 4-5 times per week). At the time she was finishing her bachelors and preparing to take her LSAT.  

“I wanted to be an animal rights or ecology lawyer.  I graduated in May, took my test and was planning on starting the next show season at Prix St George, and law school in the fall,” she confided.

But destiny doesn’t always happen the way we expect and such was the case with Roxanne, who developed an infection, which was believed to be Swine Flu affecting her brain and causing encephalitis.  Then a blood clot got loose and unfortunately did major damage to her cerebellum.  

“Thus my balance and coordination was affected,” continued Roxanne who began rehab and eventually continued riding in November of 2012 as a Para rider.  

“My hope was to return to able bodied dressage quickly but I needed the dispensation to compete.  I rode my first Para test as a Ib in April 2013, went to a symposium in Maine that May and my first CPEDI in June 2013. I was re-rated to Ia as my handicap affects my ability to manage the trot.”

Roxanne then had a wish to compete internationally, which she felt she could do with the right trainer.  

“My family supported me and we moved to Texas in January 2014 so that I could train with Kai Handt. The rest is history, my next CPEDI was in Florida and I moved to the top of the ratings. At selection trials I held my own and won a spot on the team.  During the time I was training, I was also completing a Masters in Psychology.” 

Her next goal is to start either an MBA program or PHD between WEG and Rio. 

Her horse, Nice Touch (nicknamed Touché) is the perfect horse for Roxanne. This 16.2 hand, Dutch Warmblood, (1995) liver chestnut mare has been her partner since 2003.

“She taught me all I know about Dressage. Her highest level was I1, so she is a competent trainer.  She still takes care of me and was the best physical therapist anyone could have,” commented Roxanne.

Nice Touch has been her teacher as well as her partner and helped Roxanne to learn how to balance in the saddle again and sit the trot. She refers to it as being “able to translate that to walking with a walker at times, transferring from my chair easier and walking up the mounting block to step into the stirrup.  She was ever patient and together I was able to ride independently.”  

It took two years before she was able to ride off the lunge line, but “it did happen and once I got it we were off. It is only fitting she will accompany me to France and help me ride at WEG,” she said about the horse that is goofy, loves her treats and scratches.

The pictures captured at the USET Headquarters show the side of these two that many have often witnessed with Nice Touch’s nose close to Roxanne’s lap. “We are a team and soul mates. WEG for us is an affirmation of our partnership and her loyalty. I am here going to WEG because of Touché teaching me to ride again and my parents determination that life will continue in spite of how your course is changed. They have funded me, moved to Texas, gone to my shows and pretend to like and understand this horse thing,” she added.

Roxanne is quick to explain that it’s riding that has renewed her vigor for life and her ability to move more fluidly. “Magic happens at the point I step into the stirrups, my tremors get better and I can have control of my movements.  They still aren't as smooth or as quick but much better than when I am not on the horse. I love riding, I am free, I can do what many cannot; ride well and be an example to others that life must go on even if different than what you had hoped.”

Follow this column and Roxanne’s web site at roxannetrunnell.com to find out more about Roxanne and her World Equestrian Games journey.

Rebecca Hart and Schroeter's Romani

Rebecca Hart. Photo by Diana DeRosa
Rebecca Hart. Photo by Diana DeRosa

Unlike Roxanne, this international journey is not new for Rebecca, who has been competing internationally for a long time and is a six-time National Para Equestrian Champion. She suffers from a rare genetic condition called hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP). The primary symptoms are progressive spasticity and weakness of the leg and hip muscles. 

It took Rebecca a long time to find the perfect horse but she found it in Romani who she says, “combines the athleticism and skill of a high-performance Dressage horse with a very giving and adaptable intelligence and temperament." She feels this is the horse that will take her to a Gold medal.

The difficulties of riding for someone like Rebecca are combined with the need to find a horse that is neither too sensitive to the rider’s aides (which tend to be very different then an able-bodied rider’s aides), nor too responsive. Too sensitive and the rider could have difficulty maintaining control; not responsive enough and the rider would have difficulty getting the horse to perform the intricate Dressage movements. 

Hart, who is a financial analyst, puts a lot of time and effort into her riding six days a week and is headed off to France with a lot of confidence in her and the horse that she considers her true partner.

To learn more about the Para-Dressage discipline at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Normandy, France go to: http://www.normandy2014.com/the-disciplines/8/para-dressage.