How Horseback Riding Changed My Life

My name is Bryanna Tanase and I am a 20-year-old woman living with cerebral palsy. For those of you who don't know, cerebral palsy (CP) is a neurological condition caused by brain damage that affects motor skills, coordination, and movement. My goal in writing this is to share how I started riding horses, what my journey has been like, and the benefits I receive from riding and being around horses.

Bryanna with a horse

It all started on a rather chilly December day in 2014. I was writing my Christmas wish list, hoping that my dreams would finally come true. After years of reading, learning, and watching movies about horses, I wanted to ride them regularly instead of just on family vacations and occasional rides with friends. Even interacting with horses was a rarity for me, but it was something I had been passionate about since I was little. I still remember my hesitation, and I almost didn't add it to my wish list because I sincerely believed it wouldn't happen.

To my greatest joy and delight, I was proven wrong! As I sat by a tree in my chair, I opened a rather inconspicuous envelope my parents gave me. Inside was a letter from Quantum Leap Farm, informing me that I had received a voucher for four lessons as a gift from my dad. The path of the journey I had wanted to go on for so long was finally being paved, and in the spring of 2015, we visited the farm for the first time. There, I met Sonic.

Bryanna riding a horse

When my family and I arrived at the farm, we walked to the covered outdoor arena just in front of us, and were warmly greeted by the owner, Mrs. Edie Dopking, and some of the other staff members. There were several horses tacked up, one for each member of my family, including Sonic. He was a beautiful bay Appaloosa horse, and the excitement coursing through me as they placed me on his back with a special lift was indescribable. Once I was safely aboard, we went on a horseback tour of the property. From the moment we left the mounting ramp, I was in charge of everything: where we went, where we didn't, and getting Sonic to stop, go, and turn. I felt special and it was so different from any other experience with horses that I had in the past, where I was simply led around. It was more than I could have ever dreamed of, and it ignited my passion for horses into an inextinguishable fire.

A year later, I was officially enrolled in the Therapeutic Riding Program. When Sonic and I were reunited and I patted his nose for the first time in a long while, it was electrifying. I smiled. A small spark connected our souls together, and the two of us were an inseparable team. We accomplished so much together, like taking my first independent ride, going on a trail ride, and even practicing dressage tests. I wouldn't be where I am today without Sonic's help and support. He has my heart and I will remember him forever.

Bryanna caring for a horse

So much has happened since Sonic retired in March of this year. I've started to take lessons weekly as opposed to twice per month, I've expressed interest in competition & begun taking steps to get there, and I've started riding a new horse named Dee. Dee is a bay Quarter Horse who is blind in his left eye and has limited vision in his right. Even though Dee is visually impaired, he is still willing and responsive, so it doesn't affect his performance; I just have to make sure to be his eyes for him. Having to ride a horse other than Sonic was really difficult at first, but Dee and I have already started to build a bond, and we get closer each time we are together.

Horseback riding has provided me with a host of physical and emotional benefits. I have been riding for three years now and it allows me freedom, independence, and a chance to focus on my abilities rather than my limitations. I feel as though the world is mine atop a horse. Since I started riding, my balance has greatly improved because of the need to actively use my core muscles to stay in the saddle. My coordination has also improved because I'm using my hands and eyes simultaneously to tell the horse where to go. Each lesson tests my ability to multitask, while simultaneously strengthening my body. Additionally, the movement of the horse's hips at a walk simulates normal human walking, and it also helps to break up the tone associated with my CP.

Some of the best times I have had at Quantum Leap are those when I am not in the saddle. Grooming the horses is incredibly calming and therapeutic, and the way they lick their lips and let out a low nicker as a 'thank you' never fails to make me smile. Horses are great listeners, incredibly intelligent, receptive to emotions, and are the friendliest creatures I've had the pleasure of interacting with. Their smell, the soft feel of their muzzle, the warmth of their breath against your hand when you offer them a treat, are all instantly healing. Horses have this special magic within them that is best felt in their presence, and I experience it every time I visit.

Bryanna with a horse

Participating in therapeutic horse riding has helped me become more sociable and has provided me with a community of people I can relate to and that share similar interests. Getting to know other people with disabilities has been important to me, and I am a lot more comfortable with opening conversations now that I have the horses to talk about. The staff is always willing to listen if you need to talk about something, and I consider everyone at the farm my second family. Through the support of the community, I have the honor of speaking about my experiences in the program, which not only helps the farm to continue their mission, but gives me a platform to advocate for the disability community.

The physical, emotional, and social benefits of horseback riding are plentiful for myself and others with disabilities. Horses are my motivation, and they have completely changes my outlook on life. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to be part of the program and to share my story with others. If you or a loved one with a disability has the resources and would like to try out therapeutic riding, I highly encourage you to do so. Learn more about Quantum Leap Farm in Odessa, Florida.

About The Author

Bryanna Tanase

I am a 20-year-old college student and avid paraequestrian living with cerebral palsy. Horses are my passion and motivation for everything that I do. I hope to make it to the Paralympics one day and plan to use my experience with horses to help and inspire others.

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Date: 6/25/2019 12:00:00 AM


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