Donna Ponessa – Paralympian

2012 USEF Dressage Festival of Champions Para-Equestrian Dressage Champion | Trains and Boards at Raven Hill Farms

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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.

Donna PonessaHaving 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.

Name: Donna PonessaUSEF
Sport: Para Equestrian
Event: Dressage
Height: 5’4”
Current Residence: New Windsor, NY
College: State University of New York Albany

Paralympic Experience:

  • 2012 Paralympic Games – 6th (individual championship, grade Ia), 8th (individual freestyle)

Career Highlights:

  • 2012 USEF Dressage Festival of Champions Para-Equestrian Dressage Champion
  • 2012 Saddleworld Dressage Festival CPEDI3* Australia Champion in Team, Individual and Freestyle
  • 2011 CPEDI3* Mexico Champion in Team, Individual and Freestyle
  • 2011 USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Champion
  • 2011 USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage Reserve National Champion

Facts: Daughter of John and Alberta Ponessa… Has one brother and one sister who are both married… Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in college… Graduated with an RN (registered nurse) degree, a BA in Human Services and a MA in Public Administration… While working as an RN, was diagnosed with a rare form of MS called Devic disease… Forced to stop working and sell her horse after diagnosis… Took up wheelchair tennis and became one of the world’s top players… In 2007, began riding and training in dressage again… Hobbies include learning all she can about classical dressage, perfecting her riding, staying physically fit and spending time with her dog, Milo… As a Registered Nurse, Donna is employed as a program manager at Westchester/Putnam Independent Living, Inc.

Learn more:
US Para Equestrian

Donna’s Destiny