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My Para-equestrian Journey – Part 1

Julie astride Reyna.
Picture of Julie Hahnke
Julie Hahnke
Julie is the President of Cecropia Strong and is a stroke survivor, who was finally found after three days. She's a bagpiper, an author, a management consultant, and a nature enthusiast.

“Para” means in parallel. Just as Paralympics are in parallel with the Olympics (a few weeks later), my para-equestrian efforts are my attempt to master horseback riding with my disabled body.  I am on a journey, but I don’t know where I’m headed; I’m not sure who my companions will be; and I don’t know if it’ll be a long trip or if it will be over in a matter of months. But wait…you’ll need to first understand how I got here. 

The Back story

In November 2022, Cecropia Strong (CS) decided to offer grants for Therapeutic Horseback Riding at Windrush Farm in North Andover, MA in the Spring of 2023—and I was the first person to sign up! I had ridden when I was 30, and I knew that horseback riding was expensive. Now with the CS grant I could ride again!

My riding last Spring was wonderful, but in May 2023 I suffered a brain bleed. I was medevaced to Mass General Hospital in Boston where they performed emergency brain surgery, and my riding was put on hold.

Riding with Mandy Hogan

I got back in the saddle in August 2023 when I was asked to take part in a video honoring Mandy Hogan’s contributions to Windrush Farm (she was retiring this year). We were to videotape her giving me a lesson. She was the the former CEO and Senior Instructor at Windrush and I was thrilled with this chance, because Mandy was legendary and I hadn’t worked with her before.

Halfway through “the lesson” she asked me if I wanted to ride independently—without side walkers (the two folks who walk along beside you in case of balance problems) and without the horse handler, who leads the horse. For the first time since my stroke, I’d be in command of my horse!

Julie astride Opie
This photo was taken in late June 2023, when I was only 6 weeks recovered from my brain surgery (and not supposed to ride!) The folks from the farm handled me with kid gloves, and the blue line leading from the horse's bit off camera indicated that a horse handler was just out of the picture. (Note that in the photo at the beginning of the article there is no lead line—I was in control. That photo was taken in early December 2023.)

Talking To My Horse

After the August session with Mandy, I’ve been riding independently (from September through December). But that doesn’t mean the horse knows what I’m saying! I’m getting it down, but I need to better learn how one talks to a horse. Just as importantly, I need to understand how my disabilities effect that communication and what I can do to compensate. But this is the stuff of another chapter…

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