An interview with aspiring para rider, Bryanna Tanase, on what it’s like in the beginning.
—With Para Coach Lisa Hellmer
EQuine AMerica: Welcome! Please introduce yourself to us.
Bryanna Tanase: My name is Bryanna Tanase. I am
21 years old. I am therapeutic rider.
What was your
first encounter with horses? When did you know you had the “bug”?
My first encounter
was in preschool or kindergarten during a trip to a farm. I went along with my
sisters and there was a pony there whose name was Honey or Ginger or something.
It was this cute little palomino, and I remember thinking “what is this
creature?!” I was just fascinated by it. I knew I didn’t want to go anywhere
else or do anything else, and then that was kind of it for me. Then on my fifth
birthday, we had a petting zoo at my house and they had a pony! That was the first
time I was on a horse and from that point on I thought to myself ‘Wow this is
so cool! I really want to do this.’
Can you tell me
about your disability? What are some of your daily struggles? What are some of
the ways you are able to compensate for your disability?
My disability is
cerebral palsy, which is brain damage that occurred before or during birth. It
affects my movement, muscle tone, coordination, and all sorts of different
things like that. Daily activities such as going to the bathroom, getting
something from the fridge, and putting my clothes on are difficult. I can put
my shirts on by myself, but I need help with my shoes. Anything that you do on
a daily basis to get yourself ready is difficult for me. It’s my life. If there
is a way I can do something on my own, I try to do it!
currently in a therapeutic riding program. How did you get started there? What’s
I started my senior
year of high school when my parents gave me vouchers for four lessons. Right
away, from the first lesson, after meeting the horse and feeling how
interactive it was compared to the things I had done in the past, I knew this was
a place I wanted to be and something I wanted to do. To be able to ride the
horse on my own and be independent was huge for me! Then the following year, I
was enrolled in the program and I have been riding there ever since. It will be
four years in April!
Each lesson is a
little different. Sometimes I am lucky enough to have a private lesson, but
most of the time I am in a group. The lessons vary depending on the riders and
their disability, so the arena is set up a little different every time. With
three other riders in there, we have to work within a smaller space, so I work
on things like small circles or small obstacles. We aren’t all at the same
level and can’t all work on the same things together. Everyone has a different
level of mental and physical ability. The exercises are specific to our
Do you feel
like your lessons work more on your balance and physical strength versus
executing specific movements? Or does it vary?
I don’t feel like
it is very technical, which is why I am interested in dressage. Right now it is
more about building my foundation as a rider and developing my physical
strength. I am eager to begin to transition from therapy to para.
How did find
out about USEF para dressage?
I knew about it
before I started as a therapeutic rider. I found it the way I find out most
things about horses: through the internet. I spend a lot of time on my
computer. I think I was just Googling one day because I was curious if there
was anyone out there with a disability that was riding and doing anything in
sport. That’s when I found para equestrian sport. I watched small clips on YouTube
and then I watched a para rider do a test. I remember watching that test and
thinking, ‘WOW this is so cool, I really want to do this!’
What are your short-term
goals as an aspiring para dressage rider?
I need to learn how
to sit the trot independently; I feel like I am building up to that. I really
want to learn more about the technicalities of dressage. I want to learn more
so I can be able to do these things on my own without someone having to tell
me. I want to have that opportunity to take the horse and practice what I have
been learning to make sure I actually know it without someone telling me. I
also want to visit a show in the future. I haven’t had much exposure to that
and I want to see one! I would also like to audit a clinic and see what that is
like. My other big goal is to get classified as a para rider! That would really
help me focus, knowing which grade I am in, so I can learn which specific
movements I need to learn to ride a test. And I want to find out which kind of
compensating aids I could use in competition. It is definitely a big goal for
What are your long-term
My long-term goals
are to be on the show circuit and actually be doing dressage! I think I will
have more knowledge and eventually show nationally at a USDF show. And in the
future I would love to be able to ride for the USA as a para Olympic rider and
represent the USA there.
If someone is
interested in helping you accomplish your goals as a para dressage rider how
can they help?
The biggest way
that they can help is to be open. Let me try to do different things. Don’t look
at my chair and let it be this scary thing. Throughout my time at my
therapeutic riding center, I have been able to lead horses, groom, and help
out. I don’t even need to ride to get experience. Even just having the
opportunity to go to different barns is so valuable to me. I am actually
capable of doing things. Just be open. We are like every other rider; we want
to jump at every opportunity. They shouldn’t let the fact that we look
different or are in a chair scare them from letting us try. We are like every
other horse person and we just want to be in this environment.
What is your
next step towards transitioning from a therapeutic only rider, to a para
The next step is
definitely getting classified. I need to contact USEF to see if I am scheduled
for classification this winter. Then from there, hopefully I’ll be going out to
a dressage trainer and a more dressage-centered environment because that is
really the biggest thing I need right now—to learn more of the technical aspect
of the sport. There is so much I don’t know about showing. I can read about it,
but I need to see it and be there! It would also help me explain to my parents
what this transition is all about and why I want to begin focusing more on
dressage. I get a lot of my knowledge from the internet but I want that firsthand
experience by being part of this.