A rider who has cerebral palsy wants to inspire others to know what is possible, as she works on her Paralympic dream.
Bryanna Tanase, from Florida, US, started therapeutic riding some five years ago, aged 17.
She told H&H she had loved horses since childhood, but her parents were unable to find a safe place for her to learn to ride.
She took every opportunity to learn everything she could about horses, so she would be prepared when the opportunity came to ride, which was at a therapeutic centre in Odessa, Florida.
“I still remember that first day; it was amazing to finally touch a horse,” Bryanna said. “Everyone there was so welcoming, and to have that experience of finally being with horses and starting to understand how to ride was really special. And everything has just grown from there.”
Bryanna, who started in a Western saddle, neck-reining, but moved on to riding English-style in a dressage saddle two years ago, said the riding has hugely improved her physical health.
“I can’t really walk on my own,” she said. “If I do stand up on my own, I always need to hold on to something because I don’t have the strength without that.
“I need a lot of help with daily activities, like brushing my teeth and using the restroom, and my motor skills are impaired. One effect of cerebral palsy is that the connection between the brain and spinal cord is severed, so I have to think hard whenever I do something.
“I really have to focus on my body when I’m riding, and I don’t really have use of my legs so I have to figure out different ways to ask the horse to do certain things, but riding has so many benefits for me.”
Bryanna said she is much stronger thanks to her riding; her core strength and balance have improved, and she is also more flexible and relaxed as a result.
“I feel a different person because of riding,” she said. “I have much more confidence in myself because this is something I can actually do on my own – not only can my body do this, I have a bit of talent for it too.
“There are so many things I need help with, so it’s great to have something I can do independently, and the horses are great partners – they’re like my best friends.”
Bryanna has been riding FEI grade I para tests, and she recently scored 55% in her first virtually judged test.
She said her ultimate goal is to represent the US at the Paralympics, and in the meantime, she aims to be accepted on to the US Equestrian and US Dressage Federation “emerging athletes” para dressage programme, which offers training opportunities.
“You have to get two +60% scores for that, and I definitely think if I can smooth off the rough edges, I can do a lot better than I have so I’m really excited about that,” she said.
“It would give me the chance to compete in some bigger events — and I really want that chance.”
Bryanna said that if she could achieve her ultimate dream, it would “mean everything”.
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“It would be such a validation to me, and give me the opportunity to represent the disabled community; there’s still a lot of stigma around people with disabilities,” she said.
“A lot of people think we just sit around all day, but this is an opportunity to show we’re capable of doing more than people think, and I want to inspire other people.
“That’s how I got into para riding; I saw videos of other people and thought ‘If they can do it, so can I’. That’s what so much of my social media is about; inspiring people and raising awareness of our sport.
“Horses are my motivation, and they have completely changed my outlook on life.”
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