2009 Annual Awards
ARIA Student of the Year
I feel privileged to have Jane Bradley as a student, and to be able to nominate her for the ARIA student of the year award. Jane has brought joy to our farm for the past six years that she has been riding here. Jane appreciates every moment that she is mounted. The personal strength she brings to each lesson is incredible. In overcoming physical obstacles, Jane has become an example of courage and perseverance for all who know her. In her relationship with the horse she rides, Jane concentrates on what she can do rather then on what she cannot accomplish. For me, this work has illustrated that if we accept where we are right now, and do our best, then we may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome. Through calculated steps, Jane has made amazing progress. She has shown the meaning of true sportsmanship and enhanced the days of those around her, including the horse she rides.
Jane’s riding career began later in life after being diagnosed with a rare form of adult onset limb-girdle muscular dystrophy. The same condition caused the premature deaths of her father, grandmother, and great-grandfather. The disease gradually breaks down certain muscle groups, specifically, the hip flexors, quadriceps, shoulder girdle muscles and the intercostal (ribcage) muscles. The muscle groups that are not affected by Jane’s disease continue to function “normally” and it does not affect cognition or emotions. Exercise is important but not too much as fatigue will cause more pain. There is no cure for this disease and it worsens with age.
Jane was given a gift certificate for lessons by her horse- owning daughter and at first the idea terrified her. She had always been afraid of horses, even when she was younger and stronger. In spite of all this, she decided to give it a try and was hooked after one lesson. Now, when the school horse trots, the expression on Jane’s face mirrors the indescribable feeling that we all have when we experience a great riding moment. Every time she is here she reminds me of what a special gift horses are. Each day is an opportunity to be thankful for the ability to ride.
Jane is a perfect example of how knowing your weaknesses yet trusting your strengths can keep the progress coming. As Jane’s riding improved so did her confidence in her ability, and with that confidence, she has been able to do things she never thought possible. This renewed confidence, and Jane’s faith, gave her the determination not only to ride in the safety of our arena but also to venture out of that comfort zone and trail ride in Vermont, Texas and Wyoming. Last year she and her husband also participated in our farm’s musical celebration of spring. They stole the show dressed as Sonny & Cher and rode a beautiful pas de deux to tunes such as “I got you Babe.”
Jane’s attitude is infectious. She encourages fellow riders no matter what their age or ability. The beginner learning to post is valued as much as the rider demonstrating a first- rate flying change. There is no place for vanity.
The school horse that Jane rides is as excited to see her as she is to see him. He is an old veteran but steps up to Jane’s enthusiasm with gusto. We all delighted in his discovery of pears. One day after her lesson Jane offered him a taste of her pear. He took his initial bite hesitantly but after that first taste he was like a child tasting his first ice-cream. He was eating with such excitement that the fruit slobber was everywhere. Thanks to Jane, he is now most likely the only horse around who gets his own farm delivery of Harry & David Pears.
Jane is proof that riding can help us overcome both physical and mental limitations. Jane may not be able to walk in the woods on her own legs but she can still enjoy letting the horse take her there. She stated that sometimes she gets discouraged knowing that her strength and stamina are decreasing, but rather then let that take over, she works to focus on something she can do and she tries to do it the very best that she can. She told me once, “I believe that if I show up and put myself in the saddle, I’ll be blessed. And, I have been. I always feel better after I ride.” If she is chosen as the ARIA Student of the Year, I feel that Jane’s example will touch even more people in a very positive way.