By Diane Toeniskoetter
I am the typical USDF member and the foundation of the dressage population here in the US- an Adult Amateur. I work full time, am married, have a family, and try to find the time to keep my horses fit to ride and compete. I manage to massage the budget to eek out extra for instruction and competitions, but it is a struggle to always measure the need versus the want. Unfortunately, it is getting harder and harder with the costs often exceeding my family’s expendable income. It has never been easy to make the decision to spend hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of dollars on my passion until recently, where I decided to judge that expenditure a bit differently.
Why? In the spring of 2016, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Ovarian cancer. It changed my world significantly. It solidifies the old saying about life being way, way, WAY too short. Looking from a different perspective, I decided to find the funds, the time, and the effort to experience this sport to the fullest.
I have owned and loved horses all my life. I got the “horse gene” from my father. Out of five children in my family, I am the only one that stuck through the work, heat, cold, dirt, and expense. I persevered to continue to ride and love horses. I currently have two, Fresco and Showtime, and I ride and train both, with the help of some very talented instructors. As with most dressage riders I have found, I am my worst critic. In fact, I usually communicate to all my instructors that I work with that correcting and critiquing my seat is paramount to me being satisfied with my lesson. Nothing is ever good enough, or I should say, there is always something on which to improve. Even when a ride just “feels right”, I always want more. I think that is why, after a lifetime of riding all kinds of horses, in all kinds of tack and environments, I settled on dressage. The relationship that evolves from such a close and intricate dance between horse and rider is intoxicating. It’s my drug, and I’m addicted.
I have had my older horse, Fresco, for 16 years, since he was three years old. He is still going strong, and I continue to train and teach him new things, like piaffe, passage, and perfecting our canter pirouettes. However, I’m concerned that his age might soon limit my choices to continue maintaining his fitness level and our experiences. I’m thankful that just before my diagnosis, I had one of those rides that will be forever remembered with him; a feeling of a true partnership. It was blissful, and came at just the right time to place 4th in the Adult Amateur Prix St. Georges at the Region 4 Great American Insurance Group/ USDF Regional Dressage Championships. It definitely allowed me to check that goal off my list, to successfully compete as an FEI Level rider. My next goal will be to compete Showtime towards achieving the same outcome.
This past year and a half, since my illness, I have slowly but surely come back from the abyss. With the help of my loving family, friends, and most assuredly my two horses, I have regained my strength and revel in the decision to experience more without added worry. Don’t get me wrong, I am not risking my livelihood or my family’s financial stability. I’m adopting the attitude of branching out and having fun with each new opportunity and experience, and not sweating the small stuff! I am excited to continue to participate in 2018, and hope to be a solid competitor for next year’s championships.