Rebel With a Cause: Training to Ride a Horse Across the Grand Canyon With Muscular Dystrophy


It’s been a while since I have been on a horse. Since I got hurt I’ve been too nervous but today I found the courage to get back in the saddle. Today I returned to therapeutic riding at Chastain Horse Park on a magnificent equine named Rebel. Quite the appropriate name considering I need to be somewhat of a rebel to reason to think I can successfully cross the Grand Canyon next spring.

I admit I yelped in fear during today’s session, more than once. And I’ll be honest, I was scared. But Kelcy Smith Rainer, my therapeutic riding instructor, was there to calm me down, keep me safe and keep Rebel in check.

Today was a big deal in my world. It’s no small feat to ride a 1200 pound animal, especially in my condition. 10 years ago I was diagnosed with a rare type of muscular dystrophy that has no approved treatment or cure. I have a muscle-wasting disease that affects my entire body from head to toe and leads to severe incapacity within 10-15 years of its onset. My body has deteriorated so much over the past decade that I now rely on a fancy gold chariot, and two leg braces to keep walking.

In my riding session we did the rounds in the large covered arena. Several times I had to fix my posture. We practiced “stop and starts” and wide turn circles. This is not exactly the most exciting session for an onlooker to watch. While I am by no means, and probably will never be, an accomplished rider, I felt an enormous sense of accomplishment today and that’s a game-changer for me.

I’m 40 years old, in the prime of my life, a time when I thought I would have had children. But while my friends shop for the latest and greatest strollers, the only wheels I am checking out are for scooters and the inevitable wheelchair to come. While they struggle to find childcare to go out on a Friday night, I struggle with the reality that I might eventually need my own caregiver, so not all the work falls on my husband.

For everything this cruel disease is taking away from me, riding at Chastain Horse Park, and training for our Grand Canyon expedition, is giving me back ten-fold hope, empowerment, adventure, a safe place to be scared and vulnerable and a special space to be equally brave and bold. I am reminded it’s not about being the most accomplished rider. Instead I strive to remain rebellious in the face of adversity, to feel that sense of accomplishment, as simple as it might be to be brave enough to be back in the saddle. Now that’s a rebel with a cause.

#princessrisingHIBM #rise4inclusion (HIBM: Her Inescapable Brave Mission)

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Thinkstock photo via tonda.

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