am a 55-year-old stroke survivor and I recently competed in
the disabled rider division at a horseback riding competition in
Athens, Texas. I came in second place, and I must admit, I was
grinning from ear to ear!
The right side of my body, including my hand, leg and foot,
are paralyzed. I wanted to find something I could do in spite of
these limitations. I heard about therapeutic horseback riding and
decided to look into it. I found Stable Strides Farm in Flower Mound,
Texas. Fortunately, a stroke survivor was having a lesson the day I
visited. She sat on the horse very straight, walked and even trotted
the horse. I found out from her husband that she had been doing it
for three years and loved it, and that when she was not on a horse she
was in a wheelchair. That did it for me. I may be a slow walker, but I
was going to be a horseback rider!
At Stable Strides Farm, Mandy Cleveland instructs for a program
called Teaching Independence in Life through Independence in
Riding. During my first lesson I was a little bit scared. What if the
horse threw me? How do I get on the horse? Will there be enough
volunteers to help me? Am I too old for this? Mandy said: “Stop
worrying. I am not going to let anything happen to you.” The barn
had a ramp, and two volunteers helped me get my right leg over the
horse. Two other volunteers held me straight until everything was
right. I was sitting on a horse and the feeling was unbelievable!
During my 30-minute lessons over the next weeks, I learned to
walk the horse, trot, do circles and trail patterns. That’s when Mandy
suggested I enter the competition in Athens and I nervously said
OK. Mandy told me Athens did not have a ramp, so I would have to
get on the horse from her pickup truck.
The day of the competition, I wondered what I had gotten myself
into! I had only had eight lessons, but I was determined to go through
with it. When the time finally came to compete, I sat on my horse
with my heart pounding. I did all the patterns, but I couldn’t make
my horse trot. Nevertheless, I felt so excited because I had finished
my first competition. People from Stable Strides and people I had
never met came up to me saying things like: “Congratulations, you
did a great job! What a ride. You looked so good.” It was totally
That day I was entered in two classes, and I placed second in my
second competition. I still may walk slow, but now I can ride a horse
and compete as a disabled rider.
Tracy Virant, Survivor
R E A D E R S ROOM | Connecting You to Others
She May Walk Slow, But…
Tracy Virant rides Taco alongside sister Sue Wunderlick.
I was a little bit
scared at first.
What if the horse
threw me? How
do I get on the
horse? Will there be
to help me? Am I
too old for this?