Optimum Youth Equestrian Scholarship: Bryanna Tanase is Pursuing Para-Equestrian Dreams

We recently featured the Optimum Youth Equestrian Scholarship, a new fund established to provide opportunity and mentorship to young riders from diverse backgrounds get a leg up with their riding. We are thrilled that the Optimum Youth team and the applicants for the first award have agreed to share some of the essays submitted here on EN. If you or someone you know are eligible for the next round of this scholarship, you can view more information and download an application for the next round (deadline: January 15, 2021) here. You can read the first winner, Milan Berry’s, essay here.

Photo courtesy of Bryanna Tanase.

My name is Bryanna Tanase and I am a 22-year-old paraequestrian and graduate student from Tarpon Springs, FL. I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 11 months of age and as a result rely on a wheelchair for all my daily mobility and require assistance with most daily tasks. However, I like to focus on my capabilities rather than my disability, and horses help me do just that.

My love of riding and horses started with a trip to a farm in preschool, where I became infatuated with a palomino pony, and has continued since then. Throughout my childhood, I only had small interactions with horses like pony rides at the zoo and piggybacking on vacation trail rides with my family because riding was inaccessible for me. So, I spent the majority of my younger years learning as much as I could about horses through books and movies and asking my parents for a pony every chance I had. It was during this time that my 10 or 11-year-old self discovered dressage and paradressage through YouTube videos of Charlotte Dujardin, Laura Graves, Roxanne Trunnel, Rebecca Hart, and other well-known paraequestrian and able-bodied riders.

I fell in love with the sport and knew it was something I had to pursue, and achieve the highest level of distinction in. It wasn’t until my parents enrolled me in the therapeutic riding program at Quantum Leap Farm in April of 2016 that I was finally able to learn to ride and be around horses on a regular basis. I was 17 years old, so I waited 14 years for this day. I progressed and gained so much skill and confidence in the program that I took my first independent ride in December 2016 and have been riding independently since then. In addition to riding, I have also had the opportunity to be actively involved in the care of horses and building a bond with the horse I ride. I am engaged in the equestrian community through my social media like Instagram and Facebook and am advocating for greater inclusion of paraequestrians in the media and equestrian sport at large through writing articles for outlets like US Equestrian and Kerrits Equestrian Apparel for their diversity and inclusivity projects respectively.

My future goals are to enter my first dressage show and begin proper dressage training with a dressage trainer, and my ultimate goal is to qualify for the US Paraequestrian Team and ride for the US in the Paralympics. I have made some progress toward these goals by working on 20 meter circles and other dressage movements with my trainers at Quantum. I have connected with dressage and paradressage riders and trainers across the country to gain a better understanding of the sport and build a connection with them so we can lean on each other, such as USDF Bronze and Silver Medalist and Silver Paradressage Coach Lisa Hellmer and paradressage riders Laurietta Oakleaf and Alyssa Cleland. Furthermore, in January 2020, I received my national Grade 1 paradressage classification at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival and had the opportunity to watch international riders compete.

I have also been working to find a dressage trainer locally because I feel like I am missing a lot in terms of technical skill that I do not get in a typical therapeutic riding session. I think having a combination of both therapeutic riding and dressage training lessons will be beneficial for me because they will both serve different purposes. The dressage training rides will be for building on the basics I am familiar with and for learning new skills in a stepwise fashion, and the therapeutic rides will be for continued strengthening and revision. I have also recently found another therapeutic riding center called Emerald M with a dressage trainer onsite, am filling out the paperwork to become a rider there, and I am super excited to see how everything goes.

I have overcome many challenges to become the equestrian I am today. The first is because of my physical health which also turns into a logistical problem. Many people in the equestrian industry are very wary of taking on students with a disability because of the liability involved. I cannot tell you how many times I have been turned away from facilities and told to go somewhere else despite my enthusiasm and want to learn because it is clear that the trainer and owner believe I would be too much of a headache to handle. If the attitude of the facility staff is not an issue, another roadblock comes in the form of the accessibility of the facility itself. The main issue is that many stables in my area do not have a safe way for me to mount and dismount, but sometimes the accessibility can be so poor that I cannot get to the barn aisles to see the horses. Even if I suggest a solution to these issues that would not be too much of a hassle to implement, I am met with unwillingness to accommodate.

Additionally, if we overcome the first two obstacles, there may not be a safe horse in the barn for me to ride. Sometimes, no matter how much the barn staff wants to help, there is no prudent way for me to ride and be engaged in the culture at a barn, so I have to give up on the opportunity and try to find something else.

I would like to branch out from therapeutic riding centers to experience an able-bodied dressage barn, but I cannot do that without support from the staff there. I firmly believe that the barn should be a safe place where everyone is welcome, and that there should not be separation between able bodied and paraequestrian riders. We should be able to share our love of horses together in harmony. Thankfully, because of the wonderful people at Quantum Leap Farm and Emerald M, I can ride despite this adversity.

I have also overcome the social challenge of convincing my parents to let me pursue my athletic ambitions, after many disagreements, I won a battle well fought and they now see that pursuing my equestrian dreams is something I am passionate about. My parents are a huge part of my support team and I am so glad we can work together towards my goals. I am so grateful for all they have done for me and I know I would not be able to achieve all that I have without their help. The encouragement and advice I receive from them is really motivating. I am the only equestrian in my family, and I am so proud to be one.