Lara Oles and her para dressage partner, Bella: “She is my athlete, who makes up for my paralyzed arm and leg, and makes me feel whole again.”
A few weeks ago, we sent out a call for stories from readers about how horses have helped them through tough times. Man, oh man, did you guys respond — we received dozens of heartfelt entries.
I spent hours combing through the stories and went through at least a box of tissues in the process. Your tributes to the horses that have touched your lives moved me in ways that shot straight through to my soul. They were stories of horses helping you through heartbreak, sickness, loss, abuse and utter brokenness. They made me smile, and they made me weep. Every last one of the horses you described were beyond deserving. To determine the recipient of a new Back on Track Therapeutic Sheet, we drew one essay at random, the winner being Lara Oles and her horse Bella. As for the rest of the essays, we’ll share each and every one here on HN in the coming weeks and months to recognize the horses that have helped their owners through so much.
The winning essay, from Lara:
In 2006 I was injured in a skiing accident that damaged my spinal cord, leaving me with permanent paralysis in my right arm and leg. I am now disabled equestrian with sights on the 2016 Paralympics, and I require a very special horse. In February 2014, my dressage horse, Slate, injured his suspensory ligament. The prognosis was good, but he was probably going to need a full year off. Slate was so well mannered and took such good care of me throughout our year of training in preparation for Rio.
We did not have the money to replace Slate, so our show season was lost. I felt discouraged and heart broken, but it was short lived. Incredibly, the day after Slate’s diagnosis, we saw an ad for a 15-year-old mare trained up to Second Level dressage that was for sale in our town. It turns out she was only a half mile from where Slate was boarded. Her name was Bella, and she was 17.2 hand bay Canadian Warmblood. The price seemed too good to be true, and was negotiable to the right home.
When we went to see her we were amazed at how big and beautiful she was. My trainer, Annie Sweet, rode her first to see if she would work with my disability. To my surprise Annie thought she might work, and said I should ride her. Although she had never been ridden with one hand, Bella intuitively followed my feel and let me guide her. Bella’s owner, Rachel, had let a handful of people try her before me. It was clear she wanted to pick the best person for Bella. Rachel said Bella looked so happy when I rode, that it made her cry and she decided that Bella and I belonged together.
With Annie’s coaching and training, Bella and I quickly gelled together into a team. Our first show was in May 2014, just a few months after we met. We travelled to Nampa, Idaho and competed in the 10th Annual Idaho Dressage Festival. Annie rode Bella in First Level the first day, and even though she hadn’t been shown in six years, they won high point of the show. I rode her the next day in Training Level, and we won high point adult amateur.
Bella went on to win numerous high points this summer, in fact half our scores were 70 and above. My 2014 show season went from disappointment to amazing success. Bella has been an absolute dream come true for me. Her sweet temperament, honest attitude, impressive presence, and correct gaits, have given my goals of representing the United States at the 2016 Paralympics new life. She definitely deserves to wear a Back on Track sheet! She works hard every day as we develop her back muscles for upper level dressage. She is my athlete, who makes up for my paralyzed arm and leg, and makes me feel whole again.
Here at Horse Nation, we believe that the best therapists are our own horses. We love sharing the stories of special equines and the lessons horses have taught us — email yours to [email protected] to be featured in an upcoming edition of Back on Track “Horse Therapy.” Go Back on Track, and Go Riding!