So, I've had a lot of friends, near and far, asking me for "horse updates". Here it is in June, and it would appear I'm still sitting on the sidelines.
The reality is...much like an awkward facebook relationship status..."It's complicated".
I spend a lot of time on these blogs and updates talking about riding, and my journey, and my inspirations, but what I haven't really spend a lot of time talking about is what makes me a PARA equestrian versus a "regular". What puts the DIS in my abilities.
Frankly, disability hitting you at the age of 20 really screws you up. I was pretty much sure I was invincible, then one day I got sick, and never got better. It took me a long time to realize that I could have a beautiful, meaningful, life that also involved being disabled.
When I took up riding again in 2003, I told a lot of people that it gave me an identity outside of a disabled adult, and it did. I got involved in competition, and realized that holy hell...here was a sport I was GOOD at. As a kid, I desperately wanted to be good at sports, and would try my ass off to run faster, hit the ball, climb the rope...but was hopelessly uncoordinated and slow. In ballet class I was labeled "The Elephant". If I were born in a different decade, I would have been labeled differently, and shunted off to early intervention therapies. For a kid, is there a difference between being the elephant, or having hypotonia?
As time went on, I realized that my identity as a rider, however, was inexorably linked to the fact that I was disabled. At first I tried the Rah Rah Pride Embrace my Difference Approach. But as I continued to struggled with my "illness", I continued to question my identity.
Doctors have never clearly figured out what my "problem" is. I have been diagnosed with a myriad of issues, and the general consensus is that I had a congenital issue, that was complicated by an infection in college. Even in the realm of attempting to embrace my disability....what was there to embrace? I had no "name", no easy explanation. My elevator speech was complicated and vague.
I suppose I started to feel shame at some point. That because there is no Facebook page or support group, no 5k fundraising run for what I have, it is not worth talking about, that people don't care.
As I continued my riding, my journey, I became lost. A rider without a vision. My focus become very narrow, very "horse-centric", and very focused on the technicalities of riding...as I shoved away the pieces of myself, I did not allow much if any room for true partnership, the joy, the grace the dance, which is why I fell in love with this sport.
Life has a funny way of making us humble when we need it the least, though. As I have been trying to put the pieces together of how to make myself "whole" again, I found myself dealing with a flare of my condition, along with complications of an injury to my foot last year, culminating in a pretty big reminder of the DIS in my ability. Accept it baby, the elephant is here.
To give you an idea of what I live with, I have little to no sensation below the knee. Since the foot injury, I now have a new sensation - pain. I wake up from dreams that my foot is a giant ball of fire. Thankfully the pain is not constant. I have fatigue and muscle weakness. And while my muscles are weak, they also spasm, and don't always react in the way I expect them to. For example, I might go to pick up a mug with my right hand. I will reach out, grasp the handle, but as my arm goes to lift, my hand will let go, or my arm will jerk forward. Most days, nobody will notice anything wrong. I know my boundaries, know how far I can walk before fatiguing, my pain is managed, and I am great. But when the Elephant is around, it's anyones guess.
So...getting back to that "horse update". I have never been more sure in my life that I am ready to dance. I have never been more sure that I belong in Para Dressage, and while Elephants and Dressage horses are unusual companions...I think this time it might just work.
I believe I have found a suitable competition horse for Normandy, and my greatest challenge at the moment is funding. I am admittedly feeling a little behind the eight ball, as I lost so many weeks to my own process. But with hope, determination, and my community behind me...well, "where there's a will there's a way".
Thank you for stickin' with me...Ride Strong!
It's time to get this show on the ROAD!! I have had a rough start to the year, but am anxious to get my NORTHWEST TO NORMANDY campaign rolling, to see everyone out at the shows, and immerse myself again in this sport I love so much.
Funding is the greatest obstacle for any of us. I was floored at how our community came together last year to raise over $4,000 to help get Rocco and I to Selection Trials.
I continue to look for new sponsors and new ways to get the word out about the amazing things that are happening in the world of Para Dressage, and in Disabled Sport as a whole.
I hope to have many more exciting announcements in the weeks ahead, and thank you for all your support, from hoof to heart!
It's been what feels like an eternity since I last posted an update...but it's long overdue!
I took a bit of a break through the Fall to focus on my business, and to gain a bit of clarity about my competition future. After 6 years of pushing and struggling and competing, and a number of fantastic victories, along with some heartache, I needed to decide what I really wanted.
After a lot of thinking, I decided that this sport is my passion. Horses and Riding give me reason to get up in the morning, and competing gives me such joy in "the dance".
I have missed it.
I also decided that if I was going to continue to compete, that I should push myself harder, and really set my aim high. Work to win, not to just "get there".
I wasn't sure it would happen...finding/funding an international quality horse, along with a campaign, while also putting energy into my small business is not a small task.
All things happen for a reason, however, and it looks like whether by providence, serendipity, or because I have a lot of people in my world who care, I may be ready to get this show on the road!
I will have a lot more to report in the weeks ahead...so stay tuned.
I cannot do this without your help, and I would not be here without you. Thank you for all that you do, and thank you for all that you WILL do!
To the journey ahead!
Thank you ALL for your incredible support. I am sorry I was not able to post more, but ended up being quite busy!
The good news: Rocco travelled incredibly well, and garnered fans at every stop along our journey.
The bad news: I made the decision to withdraw from Selection Trials on the last day of competition, because Rocco and I were just not ready. He warmed up great, and was a cool customer around the showgrounds, but the test itself proved challenging, and I did not see the purpose in pushing Rocco beyond his comfort level.
All along it was a risk, but sometimes you just gotta leap. Horses can be heartbreaking - I vividly remember the 2007 Selection Trials for Para World Championships, when minutes before the vet inspection, Valeur bruised his foot on a rock walking out of his stall. It is of course disappointing after all the work, and really after all the support I have had to get that far.
However, my horse will always come first, whether we are at a show just down the road, or thousands of miles away.
Rocco will begin his journey home from his "vacation" at Whiskey Lane Farm (where he has been enjoying sunshine, grass, and lots of attention).
I am not sure "what comes next", but surely Rocco and I will have more adventure ahead.
Thank you all for believing in me, Rocco, and for your tireless support.
Quick update - Rocco and I are safe, sound, and ready to rock & roll!! He traveled well to NJ, and he rested wonderfully at the incredible Whiskey Lane Farm.
We moved to the showgrounds today, and they are stunning. We are competing at the Pine Hollow location, rather than at Hamilton Farm - amazing arena in the trees, quiet, and lovely.
Rocco is a little tired from all this travel, but still his typical goofy self.
Marci and I had an adventure-filled day of nearly running out of gas on a New Jersey back road, filling her jeep full of bales of shavings, and of course doting on Rock-star-Rocco.
The jog is tomorrow - looking forward getting competition underway!
Thank you again for all your support!! If you have not yet contributed to this campaign - please consider giving now, or sharing this page! Ride strong!
I have had a few people ask me to use this page to keep everyone updated! (and of course, the fundraising never ends, ha!).
Rocco left home-base in Snohomish Friday morning. Carolynn Bunch took some fantastic pictures, and provided some much-needed moral support - I was beside myself with worry. It was much harder than anticipated to send Rocco off on the first leg of our journey - I was agonizing every detail and decision. He is so incredibly special, and special to me, I just wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing.
I had a packing-frenzy Friday evening (after seeing patients and teaching a lesson!). Flight to Ontario, CA departed 7am Saturday morning. I was into California early, as Rocco was not scheduled to arrive until that evening at the earliest. First hurdle conquered - I was able to successfully rent a car without a credit card (I cut up all my credit cards last year in an effort to be more financially accountable - but kick myself every time I head out on a big trip - travel presents some unique challenges!). Second hurdled was also conquered - I drove in Southern California without dying (I am the worst kind of Seattle driver, no shame).
Then...the waiting. Initial ETA for Rocco was around dinnertime. By lunchtime, I had a call letting me know the drivers had been significantly delayed leaving Washington, so it would be more like 10pm. No problem. I figured I would be able to take a nap, get some dinner and a shower, and we'd be set. Unfortunately...10pm became midnight...and midnight eventually rolled into 1am. Thankfully by that point I was too tired to be obsessively worried.
I have to thank Amanda Olson at W Farms for rolling with the punches - and being so incredibly helpful at such an awful hour!!! I could not have asked for a better landing place for Rocco at the end of such a long journey. I had to laugh as the shippers dropped the ramp - there was a lot of worried nickers from the truck full of ponies, yet there was Rocco, with a giant mouthful of hay, calm as can be, and not at all surprised to see me waiting for him! He traveled well, the shippers reported he drank plenty of water, and clearly enjoyed the snacks.
We both rested this morning. I headed over around lunchtime to see how Rocco was feeling, and give him a bath - the first of many in the next few weeks. Rocco apparently and by report slept hard - there were shavings in strange and exciting places! He is in great shape - eating and drinking well, and clearly wondering "what's next?".
So...what's next? Tomorrow, more rest, a light schooling ride, and lots of carrots!
Thank you all for your support, and for believing in "Team Rocco"!!!
My head is swimming in details. Hotels, bran mashes, ulcergard, adequan, health certificates, coolers-blankets-sheets, saddle pads (laundry?), whites, nosebands, snaffle, curb, bridoon, grain rations, supplements, rubber bands, quick braid, fly spray, ripped paddock boots (argh)...and trying to reassure myself it will ALL WORK OUT!!!
I will be keeping this page updated, and have also been asked to keep a journal at Barnby notes - if you are not familiar with Barnby notes, do check them out! I will be using that space to reflect on the training aspects of this adventure...it has been such a learning process as I have put my full faith in Rocco.
Please continue to spread the word, your continued support is so appreciated!!
I would like to thank "Team Cavallis" for going above and beyond!! We have a fantastic dressage community here in the Pacific Northwest, do not ever doubt it!
It is coming down to the wire, and plans are coming together!! I am finding that between juggling my business, teaching, and riding, that I have not left much time in my day for planning such a huge trip!
I am carving out space this week to start working on all the nitty-gritty details. Lots of paperwork and lists. Laundry. Packing. Phone calls!
Rocco will ship to California on Friday. I am hoping to send a small container of his "stuff" with him. His journey to the LA area is approximately 24 hours. I fly down Saturday, and meet up with him upon his arrival. We will use our time in California to rest, but also to prepare. Short, sweet, focused rides for Rocco, and a chance for me to strategize.
I will end up flying out on a red-eye June 5, and Rocco will fly out the morning of June 6 to NJ.
I am a bit anxious about how it will all work out - not sure where I am staying or how I am going to get there, but just have to believe it will all work out somehow. Sometimes you just gotta leap.
Rocco is doing wonderfully, and for that I am thankful. We finally found the "medium canter" button (although there is still more in there), and now we have to re-locate the "canter half-halt" button, but so it goes. It is always a balance (literally and figuratively!).
I want to thank everyone for their support, financial or otherwise. I will be keeping everyone updated, I promise!
If you have not yet contributed, please consider a gift to help keep this journey on track. I am still facing extensive costs. By helping remove the financial stress of this journey, you will allow me to focus on what I truly do best - ride to win!
I just saw that a dear friend has donated in honor of Amy Tryon. I have to confess, that stopped me in my tracks, and brought tears to my eyes. Amy was an icon in this area. She worked hard, and aimed high, and there is such a huge hole left with her passing. If we do not have role models showing us that hard work and big dreams DO pay off, what do we have??
At any rate...the clock is ticking. Rocco will head to SoCal June 1. My plan at this point is to fly down and join him upon his arrival, and have a few quiet days to wrap our heads around the impending Selection Trials. He will fly back East June 6.
I am still looking for your support to make this trip a success. Donations can be made directly through this website, or tax-deductible donations can be made through my fiscal sponsor - Little Bit TRC - call them at (425) 882-1554, or visit their website littlebit.org.
Immediate financial need is for donations towards travel expenses - airfare, hotel, meals, as well as Rocco's return trip. Please help make this dream come true!
We are coming down to the wire! I am so thrilled to report that Rocco is back to work and feels the best he ever has. It is such a good reminder that no matter how big a goal, we must listen to our equine partners, and respect their health and well-being first and foremost.
Today I head to Bridle Trails State Park, where Equestrian's Institute is hosting a one-day show. We are using this opportunity as a "dress rehearsal" since we were unable to show Rocco last weekend. So...time to dig out my whites, and get Rocco bathed and braided!
Plans for travel are coming together. Rocco will ship down to California, then fly from there. The long haul is not ideal, but he will have a few days to rest before his flight. Huge thanks to Dutta Corp for their amazing help in getting this organized, and to W Farms for hosting Rocco during our layover. Their facility is amazing, and he will undoubtedly feel like a prince!
I will post another update soon, hopefully with some pictures from today's adventure!
Thank you all for your continued support!
Hi Friends -
Trials begin in exactly a month. Needless to say, I am a little stressed out as I work to make this dream a reality.
Rocco and I had hoped to enjoy this beautiful Pacific Northwest sunshine, as well as the fantastic showgrounds at Donida Farm this weekend. But, nothing is certain in horses!!
Rocco was behaving a little unusually last week, and rather than "wait and see", we immediately took him to the veterinarian for an evaluation. Thankfully, he checked out great, but we suspect he was a little sore. So, he was treated him with some anti-inflammatory medication, and he is getting a few days off to rest. Horses are athletes, too - and we have to make sure they are at their absolute best!
So...no horse show for us, but we will plan another "field trip" next week - so stay posted!
In terms of fundraising, I am SO thrilled to announce that the Margo O'Callaghan Memorial Fund at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center has stepped forward to help pay for a large portion of Rocco's flight to New Jersey. THIS IS HUGE!
Now, the focus will need to be on raising the funds to get me there (ha ha), hotel costs, and filling in the gaps.
If you know someone who has a business who would like to be a part of the Olympic/Paralympic movement, and perhaps sponsor "Team Rocco", this would be a wonderful opportunity! Great exposure for your brand, logo, or product. Contact me for more info!
Thank you ALL for all that you do!
Wow wow wow! I am so grateful for all of your support!!
With your help, Rocco now has his USEF passport underway, and a new, fantastic freestyle in the works!
Selection Trials approach rapidly, and we are training hard. For Rocco, a lot of this work is new, and he seems to love learning. He tackles each day with enthusiasm and interest. The training is also solidifying our partnership - we have really began to trust one another through this process, which will truly be invaluable as we go down centerline.
Here is a quick clip from last week -
I realized (thanks in large part to some little birdies who have reminded me) that I have not been updated this site recently.
I will admit, I got a bit discouraged last week in the face of such a daunting task. To feel so ready, but yet so far (literally!) from being able to accomplish a goal...these are the struggles that every athlete faces.
But, with the support of my community, I am ready to keep putting one foot in front of the other (or to "keep swimming, Nemo!).
I had the opportunity to help two great friends at their first show of the season last weekend, and Rocco seemed downright puzzled as to why he was getting left at home. This week, he seems to be trying "extra", as if to show me "I'm ready, Mom...let's go".
So...the task at hand is fundraising for Rocco's big adventure...his FedEx trip across the country!
Thank you ALL to have contributed, and let the adventure continue!
Well folks, we have a date, and we have a location! Team selection trials/National Championships will take place in Gladstone NJ, at the US Equestrian Team headquarters June 10-13. This is a facility and competition steeped in history and tradition, and it's very exciting to be included.
The able-bodied dressage team selection trials, and national championships for juniors, young riders, and a few other upper level FEI divisions will take place over the weekends, and we will be sandwiched during the week.
I am now trying to wrap my head around what all will need to take place for Rocco and I, as New Jersey is really too far for him to travel by truck. He will need to fly in order to be at his best, which is a bit of a new venture for me. I estimate the cost of the flight at $5,000 one way, but am still getting quotes.
The wonderful news is that Rocco is training better than I could have ever hoped for at this point. I have our music selections and choreography for our freestyle, and we will continue working on our compulsory tests as well. He continues to get stronger and more confident in the work, and I think he knows something exciting is down the road!
A special mention to The Gift Horse Saddlery - thank you for hosting our "Meet & Greet", and for helping spread the word about my campaign.
I want to thank ALL of you who have supported this dream, and I will keep everyone posted as the story unfolds!!
Thank you again for your incredible support. I am floored by all the visits, donations, and KINDNESS.
I am still anxiously awaiting word on when and where our team selection trials will be held. Until then...training continues.
I have decided to push back my first competition for a few weeks. I want to feel 110% prepared, and there is still some homework to be done. I am hoping instead to take Rocco on some small "field trips" so that we can get familiar with the travel and riding in new areas on a small scale.
A number of you have asked for video...well, I'm afraid I haven't taken any recent video!! I have instead attached the piece that was done by a local news team in Kentucky just before the World Equestrian Games in 2010. Enjoy!
I want to thank everyone who stopped by the Gift Horse on Saturday! So good to see so many friends, and make some new ones!
On this week's agenda: hopefully I will hear from USEF on the location and dates of the Team Selection Trials. Rocco will also hopefully have an appointment with the vet to have his FEI passport started - a complicated process. Horses that compete internationally are required to have an official record of their identity and vaccination history. At any international competition, he will be inspected for health and soundness, and his passport reviewed.
Hoping for a break in the rain so I can start riding tests in the outdoor arena. Along with practicing movements, I am also learning how to ride a big horse with big movement in the right balance - yeehaw!!
I am so thrilled to welcome everyone to the Team! In particular, thank you to Nancy Sosnove and her community for their support, and a big thank you to Carolynn Bunch, for not only lending her expertise in providing fabulous photographs (coming soon!), but also having a wealth of fundraising ideas.
I am again so lucky to be working with the fabulous Karen Robinson of Applause Dressage to put together a freestyle (my FAVE) for Rocco and I. I have decided to include music to honor a dear friend - Margo O'Callaghan. There is nothing I would love more at this point in my journey than to ride to "Margo's Music".
My first show is scheduled for April 15.
In the meantime...there are a lot of expenses as I prepare for Selection Trials. We still do not have a firm date or location, but they could be as soon as May!! None of the locations on the table are remotely close to me here in the Pacific Northwest, so I am trying to prepare for the possibility that Rocco may need to fly to trials in order for him to be at his best.
In the meantime, we train, train, train. I am thankful to be working with Alyssa Pitts, who is gently pushing Rocco and I to be our best. I can see so much amazing potential in this partnership!!
My ask today...please share this page if you believe in the Team! If you have fundraising ideas, or "know someone" who may be able to support the effort, please do not be shy. I am currently looking for expertise in the area of horse transport and logistics.
Thank you all again for ALL that you do!
Well, it may have snowed this morning, but I had perhaps the best training ride of my LIFE yesterday, so I am in good spirits!!
Time is short, lots to do! Rocco and I will start work on a freestyle in the next few weeks, along with continuing to work on our compulsory tests.
I am very excited to meet this week with Anja Swenson of Custom Saddlery, in hopes we can find a perfect fit saddle for Rocco and I! Thank you Custom for joining the Team!
I am also very excited to announce that I am a recipient of a grant from the Women's Sports Foundation in support of my campaign to London. I am honored to be a part of such a great organization, and among such an incredible group of female athletes!!
Please help spread the word, and share the page! It will take an enormous effort to get Rocco and his support team (and me!) to Selection Trials. Tax deductible donations can be made to Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center, c/0 "Erin Alberda Fund", 19802 NE 148th ST, Woodinville, WA 98077.
Lastly, thank you to my incredible sponsors, supporters, and donors, and in particular, I would like to thank Melissa Mulcahey for giving me the opportunity to partner with her amazing horse.
Show schedules, training, freestyles, OH MY! There is much to do in a very short period of time. I cannot thank you all enough for your help - those who have given through this page, those who have contributed in-kind gifts (Cynthia Toomey), and those who have given tax-deductible gifts through Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center. I would in particular like to acknowledge Kelli Imlay, for her generous gift that allowed me to travel to the CPEDI3* in Saugerties, NY. Without that trip, I would not have realized that I really do "have what it takes"!
I have many exciting announcements coming in the next week or two, so stay tuned!
Until then, enjoy the ride!
I am a Seattle-area based disabled equestrian, working towards representing the United States at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy in 2014, and the Paralympic Games in Rio 2016.
I became involved in para equestrian in 2006, and since then have had the incredible experience of competing (and winning!) at multiple international competitions in North America and even Australia. I had the incredible experience of competing at the 2010 World Equestrian Games, the first year that disabled riders were included in this amazing event. I am so excited about the opportunity to return to WEG, and my ultimate goal is to bring home a medal.
I live with a rare condition that is a result of a genetic condition that caused low muscle tone and some impairment of coordination, that combined with nerve damage resulting from a severe illness in college. Since I have lived with this condition for some time, I have adapted fairly well, and many people are unaware that I do not feel my feet or parts of my hands, or that I have muscle weakness.
One of my greatest joys in having been a part of the para equestrian program over the past 6 years is seeing the sport grow, the quality of riding and horses improve, ever-increasing acceptance of para athletes at able-bodied events, and push for us to "raise the bar".
That being said, as the sport grows, as do the costs. My campaign over the next year and a half will easily cost upwards of $50,000. These costs include horse care, training, travel to Selection trials, and costs associated with competition (show entries, for example).
I am looking to build my "Team" of sponsors and supporters as I work towards bringing home the Gold!