Mika's Journey Back into the Saddle

Like many passionate horsewomen, Mika McKinney spent much of her childhood at a barn, learning the ins and outs of horse care and riding whenever and whatever horse she could. She was bitten by the ever-strong horse bug that so easily infects those who cannot fathom a life without these incredibly magnificent creatures. At Age 11, Mika started competing in dressage under Barton Patrick, who has remained her trainer throughout most of her riding career. From Belfast, Maine, Mika competed in the greater New England circuit in both schooling and USDF shows, receiving her USDF Bronze. Mika started working on her USDF Silver last winter in Wellington, Florida, receiving her needed fourth level scores with her eyes set on the prize of reaching her Prix St-Georges scores to complete that goal.

Mika competes in Wellington, Fl 2017. Photo by Steph Calas

An avid equestrian, Mika wanted to continue her riding career while she attended college. She joined both the dressage team, eventually being named captain, and hunt seat team at Mount Holyoke College, while studying psychology and biology and becoming an Equestrian Fellow for the College’s Admissions. Described by teammates as “an amazing friend, supportive, selfless, and strong,” Mika’s positive outlook made her a wonderful teammate and fierce competitor, collecting many wins to her name.

Mika with teammate and friend, Mollie Kowalchik.

Mika took every challenge she met and faced it with positivity, strength, and courage. These qualities would be tested when in March of 2017 she was diagnosed with bone cancer that had already metastasized to her lungs. She started chemotherapy immediately and kept her fighting spirit with the help and endless support of her father, teammates, friends, coaches, and many others she hasn’t even met.

Not to be outdone by her diagnosis, Mika was able to return to college between her treatments to finish her Junior year. In April, she received the wild card spot for first level dressage at the IDA National Championships. Even though Mika could not ride often due to chemo treatments, she buckled down and took the honor of being able to compete at Nationals for her team. Competing individually, she placed 8th the first day. True to her grit and determination, she was inspired to try even harder the next morning, winning her class and being named, Team, First Level National Champion, scoring a 74.1%, helping Mount Holyoke’s Dressage team become Reserve National Champions! Mika was so proud and elated for her team, and what each rider had accomplished during the season, she describes this win as “a dream come true”.

Mika with friend and teammate Camille Reppert, at IDA Nationals, 2017.

Mika competes at IDA Nationals. Photo by Emily Taratini.

To stay on track with her studies and graduation in May 2018, Mika has continued taking classes online while combating her disease at a hospital in Boston. Chemo treatment became the center of her and her dad’s world, with her receiving treatment three days a week for three weeks in a row. Mika’s dad continued to be her strength through her exhaustion, staying with her every single night while admitted and at home. True to her horsewoman roots, Mika visited the horse barn as frequently as she could during this time in the summer for some quality horse therapy, by just merely being in their presence. These moments gave Mika renewed strength to continue her battle.

Unable to return to school this past fall due to chemotherapy and low blood counts, energy, and health, Mika, with her unrelenting strength, decided she still wanted to work on graduating with her class, signing up as a full-time student online while balancing her chemotherapy schedule. Classes allowed her to work on her long-term goals, as well as keep her mind busy during these trying times.

A test to her strength, after Mika’s chemo treatments ended, she received news that she may need to decide to have her left leg amputated above the knee, and have her lungs operated on to remove the metastasized nodules. A monumental, scary, and life-changing decision, after talking with many others and holding hope in the idea of one day being able to compete in the Dressage Paralympics, Mika came to peace with this idea and decided to take the most aggressive approach possible to combat her cancer.

On December 22nd, Mika had two operations to remove her leg and rid her lungs of cancer, staying in the hospital for 10 days. But due to her optimistic and power-through nature, Mika was able to walk with a walker the entire length of the hallway of the hospital wing she was in. Mika is currently working on PT and OT to help with her recovery and learn the everyday life of an amputee. She’s been able to start exercises to help prepare her leg for a prosthesis and make sure all the right muscles and tendons are fit and strong, as any true athlete would.

Many people in Mika’s situation might not be as strong and positive, but throughout this entire diagnosis and treatment program, Mika’s spirits have remained high. She believes and acknowledges she is very lucky to have the support system and network that she has had to help her push through. There are definitely challenging days, but Mika is forever finding the silver lining even in the scariest and toughest moments, which has taught her a lot about herself mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Mika’s dream is to return to being a fit and strong athlete in the sport she has come to love. She dreams not to watch from the sidelines, but to be able to compete once again on the back of a horse with the best view--through two furry ears--at the Dressage Paralympics. To make this dream come true, Mika will need to have a prosthetic leg that has high functioning joints, which will be very costly. Here is where we can all help-- to help someone who has faced such adversity and obstacles with grace, positivity, and strength, always with a smile on her face--realize her dream. Please consider a donation.

Thank you for taking the time to read, and thank you for considering a donation to Mika. She is thankful to have support and an endless stream of positive messages sent her way. Throughout her experience, Mika continues to look on the bright side, intent on improving herself and once again finding herself on the back of the animals that bring her to her happy place. Here’s to Mika and her continuing journey of optimism and success!

Mika and her father. She describes her dad as the “best cheerleader, biggest supporter, inspiration and motivator”.

Mika helped Mount Holyoke’s Hunt Seat team clinch the Reserve Champion title at IHSA Nationals, 2016


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Organizer and beneficiary

Felicia Harrsch 
Baltimore, MD
Mika McKinney 
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