We are proud to have Donna riding with Beth Sproule-Hansen at Raven Hill Farms.
“I was really stubborn because I thought the wheelchair would inhibit my mobility,” Donna said. “I didn’t realize how much better my life would be with it. I used braces and crutches and finally the continual falling and exhaustion convinced me to get a manual chair.”
At age 28, Donna had her first magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test which showed she actually has Devic’s disease, or neuromyelitis optica, a rare autoimmune disorder that attacks the spinal cord and optic nerves.
Having always been an athlete, Donna searched in the late 1980s for a new sport that she could play despite her disability. She took up wheelchair tennis since she did not think she could ride a horse. At one point, Donna was ranked the No. 2 wheelchair tennis player in the country.
After a few years of training in dressage, Donna decided she wanted to begin competing. She received a Grade 1a classification out of four grades that are used to classify riders according to their disability to keep competition fair. Donna’s classification is considered the most disabled.
Donna first competed in dressage in March 2011 in California but did not perform as well as she expected. In September of 2011, however, Donna competed in the Paralympic Nationals. She took the place of champion with Otto, a 16-year-old Dutch Warmblood, and reserve champion, or runner-up, with Western Rose, a 9-year-old Oldenburg.
Donna received invitations for Western Rose and Otto to selection trials for the Para-Equestrian Dressage Team. A third horse, PG Ganda, a 19-year-old Danish Warmblood, was grandfathered in as an alternate horse because of his experience. Donna borrows all of the horses she rides.
In June 2012, Donna competed in the United States Equestrian Foundation (USEF) National Para-Equestrian Championship in Gladstone, N.J. A few days later, Donna was notified that she earned the third of four slots on the 2012 U.S. Para-Equestrian Dressage Team.