Every year the EN team looks back on the last 12 months and tries to narrow down the many remarkable stories of hardworking, determined, passionate eventers to include in the annual list of eventers who inspired us. If it were possible to fit into one post, we’d put every single one of you on our list. You are an incredible bunch and we are so honored to follow along as you chase your dreams.
Here are the stories of four eventers who inspired the EN team this year. Go Eventing.
Jessica Thoma, AKA #TripleAmputeeEventer:
We were all deeply moved by the heart-wrenching yet inspirational story of Jessica Thoma, the 26-year-old Tennessee eventer whose legs and left arm were amputated in January 2018. For all her losses, Jessica’s determination to return to the saddle was unwavering, and horses have been her rock through both her illness and recovery.
“I have some really big dreams and plans and I have a HUGE support team cheering me on!,” she told EN. “I will do eventing again soon! Hopefully next year! #TripleAmputeeEventer isn’t just a tag I put on my photos — it is my dream.”
Jessica was back on the lunge line by late spring, and in August she returned to competition at a dressage show at USEA event venue River Glen Equestrian Park, scoring an incredible 8.5 on rider position in the collective marks of her Intro test. She continues to progress and we know she’ll seal the deal on her dream soon.
“It’s hard to believe that in just a few days it will be a year since my amputations,” Jessica wrote on Facebook over the weekend. “I’ve already ridden five different horses, shown Sugar in a dressage show, done three clinics, learned to walk on prosthetics, and got my job back at Tractor Supply Co. Thank you all for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”
Frankie Thieriot-Stutes and Chatwin, 2018 USEF National CCI3* Champions:
As an amateur upper-level eventer, mother of two toddlers and owner of two businesses, Frankie Thieriot-Stutes has a lot on her plate. But her hard work and focus paid off this year, when The Chatwin Group’s Chatwin became the only horse in the country to have won two CCI3* events during the 2018 season, taking top honors at both Rebecca Farm and Fair Hill.
“What an incredible year this was for me for sure,” Frankie told EN at Fair Hill. Ever humble, the Californian is always quick to credit her family and her support team for her and Chatwin’s success. “This week I was thinking how grateful I am for the people who get you where you’re going.”
If anything, having a well-rounded life has served to enrich Frankie’s involvement in horse sport — and inspire everything watching to keep the big picture in mind.
“I think when you become a mom, it puts things in perspective, good and bad,” she reflected at Rebecca Farm. “You can have the greatest day ever, but it’s even better to have your kids in the [vet] box, and they can see how excited you are and see you’re safe. It’s put a lot into perspective for me. If it goes great that’s awesome, and if it doesn’t, there are things that matter a lot more than one ride. I’ve been trying to take in the moments this week and have a great time.”
The Silence Breakers of the Equestrian #MeToo Movement:
Last year, with the Larry Nassar case underway and the #MeToo movement dominating the news cycle, we here at Nation Media wondered why nobody in the equestrian world was speaking up about our own sport’s secrets. On Dec. 15, 2017 we shared the silence-breaking “#MeToo: A Letter to Myself as a Young Rider,” a personal account of the grooming and sexual abuse of a minor, followed by a call to action.
The Chronicle of The Horse’s April 4, 2018 issue (see “#MeToo: The Story of a Trainer, a Trophy and an All-Too-Common Betrayal” and “From Survivor To Chef d’Equipe: My Story“) was a game changer — proof that our sport’s culture of silence was changing, and affirmation that no one is above the law. It spurred a lengthy article in today’s New York Times, “The Equestrian Coach Who Minted Olympians, and Left a Trail of Child Molestation, among revelations in other media outlets and the airing of The Tale, an HBO true-story biopic starring Laura Dern that depicted sexual abuse of a minor by a riding instructor.
This mainstream attention opened the floodgates for public discourse, and for other victims to come forward or at least feel less alone. It also spotlighted the need for systemic reform. The USEF responded with a rollout of SafeSport policy and programming reform, including a new mandate effective 2019 that all USEF members must complete SafeSport training to be eligible to compete.
Correspondingly, Senate Bill 534, Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017, was signed into law, imposing a duty on amateur sports organizations, including US Equestrian and its members, to report suspected sex-abuse to local or federal law enforcement or to a child-welfare agency within 24 hours. Failure to report is now subject to criminal penalties.
We applaud the USEF’s proactive approach and commitment to protecting our sports athletes, particularly those who are young and especially vulnerable to abuse. And even more so, we salute the brave silence breakers of the equestrian world, who raised their hands and said “me too.” We heard you, loud and clear. Time is up for abuse in our sport.
Jonty Evans, traumatic brain injury survivor:
The Irish eventer continues to make steady progress in his recovery from a traumatic brain injury sustained in a fall from Cooley Rorkes Drift at Tattersalls International Horse Trials on June 3, 2018. After spending six weeks in a coma, Jonty awoke to overwhelming support from the eventing family.
He spoke candidly about his recovery in this recent video interview: “The challenges you face when you are getting better are normal. As each hurdle is overcome, you doubt yourself, and it sounds odds. Physically you’re getting closer, but mentally you feel further away because you realize exactly how much there is to do, and that can be really tough.
“When I came out of the coma, some time later my mother and sister tried to express how much support there had been. I didn’t believe them. When you come out of the coma and into the real world, it’s very difficult to comprehend that level of exposure or support.”
The eventing world rallied behind Jonty after his fall, wearing green in his honor at events around the world.
Whether Jonty will return to riding and competing remains a question, but Jonty said he wants to be the one who ultimately makes that decision: “I would like above everything most of all for me to make the choice. That’s important to me — that I decide if I event again, I decide which tracks I do, I make the choice. At the moment, it’s one day at a time.”
We support you, Jonty.
Who inspired YOU in 2018? Let us know in the comments!