Roxanne Trunnell – U.S. Paralympic Equestrian Team Member

roxanne-trunnell

My primary responsibility as a para-athlete is to continuously demonstrate that positive attitude, strong work ethic, personal drive, and compassion can provide hope to those most in need of it. In order to heal and to begin living again, one must seek a new path, accept change, make the most of the situation, and strive to define their own new ‘normal’.

Before Roxanne Trunnell, Roxie to her friends, headed of the Paralympic Games in Rio we managed to get a few moments.

Roxie began riding at the age of 10 and started out as a jumper and eventer.  However, she changed disciplines after discovering dressage.

 

Excerpt from her website:

Ever since I could remember, horses have been a part of my life. I dreamt in horses, rode horses and believed that my future would always contain horses. With the help of my Mom, I created the company Candlelight by Roxanne. By making and selling candles at craft shows, I was able to earn enough money to buy Touché, my first competitive dressage horse. I rode, trained and competed in Dressage earning my Bronze medal and was just short of my Silver medal when life took a sudden turn.

In 2009, my life was changed forever. One moment I was riding and enjoying life, the next I was in the ICU on a ventilator fighting for my very existence. Seems a virus, that doctors have never been able to identify, caused my brain to swell. Then, a tiny blood clot rearranged my “computer and navigation system”.

When I woke up, my first thought was that I would never be able to ride my horse again. With dedication, I endured endless hours of therapy, rehab, and more therapy. Eventually, my Mom contacted Lindy Cogswell and asked if she could help me get back on a horse. At that time, I could barely sit upright on my own, but I was determined. Over the course of two years, I rode vaulting ponies and was never let off the lunge line. I dreamed to ride all by myself again. In December 2011, with the aid of several friends and my family, I was able to sit on top of my big girl and walk around on a lunge line.

That moment gave me hope that I could ride a Dressage test again!

 

Jason:  Roxie, you and Touché have a special bond, you started riding her in 2003 and you continued to ride her until she retired after you two performed in the 2014 World Equestrian Games.  Can you tell us about Touché and her personality?

Roxie:  Touché is an incredibly special mare to me. I was showing 4th level & schooling Prix St George able-bodied when I got sick. I was going out to ride her every day, so it must of been odd for her that all of a sudden I just disappeared for 4 months, and then when I returned I wasn’t the same rider I used to be. Touché lives up to being a red-headed mare perfectly. She is very high spirited and I can’t count how many times she put me in the dirt when I was an able-bodied rider but once she saw me in the wheelchair, she became a wonderful Para horse. It was like our bond was so strong she was determined to take care of me just like I was her foal. Now that I am a much more stable rider she sometimes tries her naughty tricks but they feel only half-hearted.  She is without question, my once in a lifetime horse and I’m so grateful that I was able to do my first international show with her. The 2014 WEG will always be a special memory for me because I got to experience it with my best friend.

 

Jason:  Do you still get to ride her?

Roxie:  I ride Touché as much as I can now. Even though she is retired from showing I still run through all my Para tests on her to make sure I get the accuracy of the tests down.   The ring I wear on my left thumb is made of her actual tail hair so that although she won’t physically be in Rio she’ll be there in spirit! It’s a fun thing I did so that a small part of her will always be with me.

 

Jason:  Touché has earned herself a cushy retirement, but you have a new partner for the Paralympics named Royal Dancer.  Can you tell us how you and he met?

Roxie:  Yes, Royal Dancer is a 2005 Westphalian gelding that belongs to Julia Handt.  Royal Dancer was at Kai Handt’s stable, owner of North Texas Equestrian Center and the Chef D’Equipe of the U.S. Paralympic Equestrian Team.  His daughter Julia Handt was working with Royal as a dressage horse as Kai had purchased Royal from Germany as an abused horse. When Royal first came to NTEC he was terrified of people and wouldn’t even let them near him. With a lot of patience and kindness Julia taught Royal to trust again. No one knew what Royal would do when I sat on him but with Touché being on the older side I needed a backup horse. Royal had never had a Para on his back so it was a little experiment that turned out very good!

 

Jason:  That took a lot of trust from you as well as Royal.  What is his personality like?

Roxie:  Because he was an abused horse, Royal is not the easiest horse to ride at horse shows. He is terrified other horses in the warm-up arena are going to run into him so they are not always the easiest to navigate through. He’s incredibly sensitive and you have be careful not to make sudden movements with him. Other than those things he is probably one of the sweetest horses you will ever meet! He loves his food so treats after your done riding is always a requirement of his.

 

Jason:  Now that you’ve met your goals of competing in WEG and are here at the Paralympics, what’s next?

Roxie:  After the Paralympics I’m going to set my sights on the 2018 WEG. My personal horse, an NTEC named Daytona Beach just had a foal right before the 2014 WEG and I’ve been working getting her competition ready but unfortunately she wasn’t quite ready for Rio.  Next year I have every intention of letting her prance her stuff. Daytona is a beautiful 14-year-old Westphalian.

 

Jason:  What are your plans after Rio? Taking a break or do you have another competition that you will be training for?

Roxie:  Taking a break is just not in my nature. I keep both of my horses, Touché & Daytona at NTEC and I ride them 6 days a week. Touché gets a 45-minute workout and Daytona gets an hour. Along with my riding I also keep up with therapy. I can walk a mile and a half with a walker so at least once a week, sometimes more, I walk the halls of the local Home Depot with my father and my dog Enzo.  On the days I’m not walking with the walker, I’ve started working with fore-arm crutches with my father. I am up to a half a mile! Once a week my father and I also attend a gym where we use the weight lifting machines and walk, while holding on, on a treadmill for 30 minutes. Because of the stroke my speech is not the best, so I read books out loud to my dogs for an hour.  I have 3 and they are a Chinese Crested hairy hairless, a teacup poodle, and a German Shepherd. They love their Stephen King!
Jason: Roxie, you are a very strong spirit with amazing inner strength.  So what do you see as your greatest strength as a rider?

Roxie:  I think what gives me a little boost during my riding is that I am incredibly kind to my horses. I spend time with them and just enjoy being with them. These horses really have big hearts and they do so much for they’re riders. I see no reason why they shouldn’t be loved on as much as possible.

 

Jason:  As the time to compete in the Paralympic Games comes closer, do you feel any pressure or expectations from others to do well in Rio?

Roxie:  I don’t really feel pressured since success is measured in so many ways. Growing up I had a trainer who would say “when you enter a dressage arena on your horse at a show and then leave the arena after the test is complete on that horse than it was a good test.”  I always think about that statement right before I go in the show ring.
I always try to find something positive about my rides, and not just the negatives. So much can happen in the show ring that it really boils down to how you as a rider felt about the performance.

 

Jason:  You started training with trainer Kai Handt., tell us about how that came about, why you made the move to train with him?

Roxie:  When I became rated as a Para rider Hope Hand, the president of USPEA, extended an invitation to a Para symposium that was being held in Maine in 2013. My parents and I accepted the invitation and flew there to find out more about Para Dressage. Kai Handt was there with a former Para Equestrian rider Derrick Perkins.  Kai was able to see my rides and expressed interest in working with me.  It had become clear that if I was going to do Para well, I would need to have a trainer who understood Para. All my trainers were my previous able-bodied dressage trainers and they had never encountered Para, my family and I packed up and moved. I’ve only been with Kai for around 3.5 years now, but I’ve already done the 2014 WEG and now the Paralympics! I think he’s doing a great job!

 

Jason:  Do you feel more comfortable going into the games knowing he is the Chef D’Equipe?  And do you credit him with helping you achieve this goal of competing in the Paralympics?

Roxie:  I haven’t given much thought to Kai being the Chef D’Equipe since to me he is just my trainer. He doesn’t give me special attention at shows.
I do credit Kai for helping me achieve this goal but I also believe it was a combination of all my trainers put together. Before I was a Para Equestrian I was becoming successful at able-bodied dressage with the help of Diane Royce, Heather O’Keefe, & Kari McClain. When I came to work with Kai I had a pretty solid grasp on the dressage the able-bodied way. Kai helped me focus my riding more towards Para and he has done an excellent job of pairing me up with the right horses for my grade.
Jason:  Who do you feel will be your toughest competition in Rio from other countries?

Roxie:  My biggest competition would be the Grade 1a rider Sophie Christiansen from Great Britain. She is a fantastic rider with equally fantastic horses. She has already won several gold medals.

 

Jason:  Roxie, do you have any advice for young riders coming up?

Roxie:  My advice for riders trying to break into the Para Equestrian Dressage world is that I think it’s a big misconception that just because you have a handicap or a disability the judges will take that into account with their judging. They don’t. You are a Para Equestrian with a dispensation certificate, but they expect you to make your tests look just as good as the FEI able-bodied tests. Becoming a Para Equestrian is easy but excelling at it does require work & dedication

Thank you very much Roxie for taking the time to share with us.  We wish you the best of luck in Rio and hope to see you win the Gold!  To learn more about Roxie please visit http://www.roxannetrunnell.com/MyStory.html

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