Lift Me Up! Riders take top honors at TRAV Horse Show 2014

Imagine listening to children in the classroom talk about their achievements in the sports arena and not having any of your own to speak of. Imagine the loss of self-confidence knowing that it might not be possible to have those accolades on the soccer field, basketball court, or even t-ball diamond. Achieving success in the sports arena can be a huge challenge for individuals with disabilities.

But recently, 19 riders from Lift Me Up! therapeutic riding program went to Lexington, Virginia to the Virginia Horse Center to compete against almost 100 riders in a state-wide horse show. The show, sponsored by Therapeutic Riding Association of Virginia (TRAV), is open to programs throughout the state of Virginia and northern North Carolina. In a stunning victory, the Lift Me Up! riders took all of the four Division Championships and two of the Reserve Championships.
These riders have earned the right to speak with pride about accomplishing in their sport what others have been able to achieve in theirs, excellence. While therapeutic riding does allow accommodations for specific disabilities and for safety reasons; riders competing in the show must still display riding skills that would be expected in any horseshow for any level of ability.

Riders competed at the Walk, Trot and Canter over the course of the two-day show. They competed in equitation, dressage, pole bending and a trail class. Posting trot could be substituted with a trot in two-point (also known as jumping position or half seat); but riders at the trot level and above were required to demonstrate that they could indeed manage to trot and steer their horse. Serpentine patterns were asked of the riders at the Advanced Trot level and while an accommodation could be made in type of reins or foot position; trotting on the correct diagonal was expected as was correct execution of the pattern. In the canter, riders had to add canter circles on the correct lead to their performance.

“The pure happiness that we got to see on her face when she received her first blue ribbon was the most amazing thing that we could have hoped for,” said Elena Deacu in referring to her daughter, Sophie, age 5. Sophie competed in the Walk with Leader section of the competition. And the winning continued as Sophie was the overall Walk Division Champion. Mother Elena continued, “We are grateful to all the wonderful people at Lift Me Up who put so much love, time and effort to make it possible for somebody like my daughter to become confident and successful in a competition like TRAV.”

Other Walk Division competitors included Corrine Rusnak, who was the Reserve Champion. She competed in the walk with leader and sidewalkers section of the Walk Division. Moving up this year to riding independently, was returning champion Dan Wolfe. Despite the increased difficulty, Dan managed to capture two blue ribbons. His mother, Judy Wolfe, echoed the sentiments of many parents when she asked, “What could be a better self-esteem boost? (Lift Me Up) is a life line for many of the riders and for us.”

The Minimal Trot Division had the largest number of competitors. Nine riders from Lift Me Up! competed for the top honors. Once again it was a Lift Me Up! rider, Sarah Wickman, who was the Division Champion. A beaming Sarah accepted her championship trophy and ribbon and for a moment all forgot that she faces the challenges of Arthrogryposis. Born with multiple joint and muscle contractures that limit her movements, and make others extremely difficult; told by doctors at birth that the best she could hope for was to be able sit comfortably; Sarah rode her way to the top with adaptive loop reins and great determination. Sarah’s mother, Lisa Wickman spoke of the pure joy on Sarah’s face when she realized that she had won. “She had so much pride that she did it. She wants to take the trophy to school.” And while the trophy is too heavy for Sarah to manage on her own, Lisa said they would find a way.

Kim Buseman, a long-time Lift Me Up! rider brings an adult face to the show team. Competing for many years in the Walk Division; Kim has moved up to independent Minimal Trot. Always willing to share the benefits of riding for individuals with Multiple Sclerosis; Kim received first place in the Trail Class and second place for a beautiful musical dressage number she dedicated to all of the instructors and volunteers.

Coming to his first ever horse show, was Lift Me Up’s Yogesh Kalotra. Riding at Lift Me Up! in the Back in the Saddle (BITS) Program for Veterans , Yogesh captured two third place ribbons for Pole Bending and Trail Class. Yogesh is already looking forward to next year’s show.

Other minimal trot riders did extremely well in their sections such as Camron Saba, with his second place showing in Equitation and a third in Dressage. Debi Saba echoed Camron’s excitement, “”WOW Camron is so excited to get his ribbons. His achievement is a testament to his improved riding skills and great work from his instructor!”

McKenna Loftus took second place in the Trail Class and Alicia Heller received second place in Pole Bending, with Marco Aleman bring home the yellow third place ribbon with his Dressage test. However, sometimes it was about the personal triumphs. Jordan Smith placed fourth in the trail class. Her delighted instructor, Christina Saunders explained, “Jordan winning fourth in the trail class in a huge division, was really special because she was able to have fun and successfully complete a course that she struggled with last year. To see her do all the obstacles so well and have the judge acknowledged it too was an amazing feeling.”

The following day was for the Advanced Trot and Canter riders. Mercer Thomas, riding Advanced Trot with a leader displayed the perseverance that was so much a part of the competitors. While trotting through the poles in Pole Bending Mercer bravely held on after losing a stirrup. Despite the need to stop and reposition, Mercer urged her horse on and was able to still finish in the ribbons receiving sixth place.

For the Advanced Trot Division Championship, Jake Luoma took that honor for the second year in a row. Jake said it meant a lot to him to win. Jake said he thought that the TRAV show was a good place to show off what he has learned. Jake, who is on his 8th year of competing at TRAV, looks forward to the show every year. “I have a countdown clock; I set the clock to the day of TRAV.”

Coming to the TRAV show for 10 years, Advanced Trot Reserve Champion, Shauna Bragg said, “I thought I was going to cry (when told she was reserve champion) and then I did. I felt that all the years of work and knee surgeries weren’t for nothing.” Pole Bending was Shauna’s best class. She received the blue ribbon and the admiring on-lookers appreciated the wonderful teamwork between Shauna and her horse, Jax.

Katie Gamble, riding Shimmy, in the Advanced Trot was challenged by a horse that was extremely wound up by the show and the new experiences. Receiving a fourth place in Equitation, fourth in Pole Bending and Fifth in Dressage, Katie knew that she had performed admirably with a very difficult horse to handle. A happy Katie smiled as she said, “all the hard work paid off.” Katie’ mother Sharon Gamble, said, “We look forward to it (TRAV show) all year and it goes by so fast. And every year the riders get better.”

Other Advanced Trot riders contributed to the ribbon totals with their performances as well. Emma Gamble received second place in Equitation and third place in Dressage. Matthew Yim, attending for his first time and riding a different horse than he rides in lessons, nevertheless, captured third place in Equitation.

In the final division, Canter, Lift Me Up! rider Katie Metro was the star of the show. Katie received first place in equitation, pole bending, and the TRAV Challenge Class. She won second place in the Trail Class. Her performance of a Dressage number to “Happy” on her horse, Vinny, took the blue ribbon. In winning the Canter Division Championship, Katie reflected, “Everyone wants to be successful in the sport that they participate in, but that can be very difficult for those of us who face a few more challenges in our daily life. I am so happy that I was able to properly represent the love and hard work that my Lift Me Up family has put into me. Lift Me Up has showed me that just because some of us have to work a little harder does not mean that we can’t be successful as everyone else.”

Riders and parents are not the only ones who are touched by the horse show and the results. Instructor Rosa Rishi summed it up, “As an instructor when you see your rider in the show ring lined up for the announcement of placing, your heart skips a beat in anticipation and hope for them. Then, when you see their face light up and break into a huge smile as the announcer calls their name over a loud speaker and they receive their ribbon, all the weeks of hard work and preparing for the show melt away and tears of happiness roll down your face! It’s a powerful moment!”

The Lift Me Up! TRAV show team for 2014 consisted of the trailer crew; Bob Best, Board Member and volunteer; Georgia Bay, Program Director and instructor; and Rosa Rishi, instructor. Providing support and care for the team were Volunteer Coordinators, Diana Ahlers and Margaret Havens; Instructors, Christina Saunders and Kristin Meaney and volunteers; Cassandra Moshfegh, Katie Metro, Tor Johnson, Atalanta Grant-Suttie, Allison Funkhouser, and Anne Barlow. The equine travel team included Vinny, Valentine, Shimmy, Radar, Olaf, and Jax.

The complete results for TRAV are as follows:
Class 4 a&b – Minimal Trot with aides: (12 riders total)

Class A:
Jack Rafferty:
Equitation = 4th Place
Trail = Purple Ribbon
Pole Bending = 4th Place
Dressage = 4th Place

Class B:

Jordan Smith
Equitation = 4th Place
Trail = 4th Place
Pole Bending = 6th Place

Sarah Wickman
Equitation = lst place
Trail = lst place
Pole Bending = 3rd Place
Dressage = 2nd Place
Costume = Rainbow Ribbon

Class 5 a,b,c&d – Minimal Trot with one aide: (26 riders total)

Class A:

Marco Aleman:
Equitation = 5th Place
Trail = Purple Ribbon
Pole Bending = Purple Ribbon
Dressage = 3rd Place

Class B:

Alicia Heller
Equitation = 4th Place
Trail = 4th Place
Pole Bending = 2nd Place
Dressage = Purple Ribbon

Class C:

Camron Saba
Equitation = 2nd Place
Trail = Purple Ribbon
Pole Bending = Purple Ribbon
Dressage = 3rd Place

McKenna Loftus
Equitation = 6th Place
Trail = 2nd Place
Pole Bending = 5th Place
Dressage = Purple Ribbon

Class 6 – Minimal Trot independent: (6 riders total)

Kim Buseman:
Equitation = 6th Place
Trail = 1st Place
Pole Bending = 4th Place
Dressage = 2nd Place ***

*** Note: Kim did musical dressage and she dedicated her ride to all of the instructors and volunteers she works with!!

Yogesh Kalatro:
Equitation = 6th Place
Trail = 3rd Place
Pole Bending = 3rd Place

Class 1 – Walk with aides: (5 riders total)

Corinne Rusnak:
Equitation = 4th Place
Trail = 2nd Place
Pole Bending = 1st Place
Dressage = 2nd Place

Class 2 – Walk with one aide: (6 riders total)

Sophie Deacu:
Equitation = 5th Place
Trail = 2nd Place
Pole Bending = 1st Place
Dressage = 1st Place

Class 3 – Walk independent: (3 riders total)

Dan Wolfe:
Equitation = 2nd Place
Trail = 1st Place
Pole Bending = 1st Place
Dressage = 2nd Place

Class 28 a&b – Advanced Trot with aide: (11 riders total)

Class A:

Mercer Thomas:
Equitation = 5th Place
Trail = 5th Place
Pole Bending = 6th Place
Dressage = Purple Ribbon

Class 29 a&b – Advanced Trot independent (9 riders total)

Class A:

Katie Gamble:
Equitation = 4th Place
Trail = 7th Place
Pole Bending = 4th Place
Dressage = 5th Place
UPHA Challenge Class = 5th Place

Matthew Yim:
Equitation = 3rd Place
Trail = 6th Place
Pole Bending = 5th Place
Dressage = 6th Place
UPHA Challenge Class = Purple Ribbon

Jake Luoma:
Equitation = 1st Place
Trail = 1st Place
Pole Bending = 2nd Place
Dressage = 1st Place
UPHA Challenge Class = 3rd Place

Class B:

Shauna Bragg:
Equitation = 4th Place
Trail = 2nd Place
Pole Bending = 1st Place
Dressage = 2nd Place
UPHA Challenge Class = 4th Place

Emma Gamble:
Equitation = 2nd Place
Trail = 5th Place
Pole Bending = 3rd Place
Dressage = 3rd Place
UPHA Challenge Class = Purple Ribbon

Class 30 – Intermediate Cantor independent (4 riders total)

Katie Metro:
Equitation = lst Place
Trail = 2nd Place
Pole Bending = 1st Place
Dressage = 1st Place ***
TRAV Challenge Class = 1st Place

Note: Katie did musical dressage and she dedicated her ride to Georgia Bay!