By Ross Creech
A tale as old as time… ‘it all started with a Facebook post.’ Only, this isn’t one of those social media horror stories. This is, what some may call, a social media fairy tale… Cinderellas’ Gloves.
In August 2010, Courtney Anderson lost her left hand in a ranching accident, when she was only 18 years old. While she was ponying a mare to another pasture on the ranch where she was working, the mare spooked and Courtney found her hand caught in the rope, unable to free herself. Much of her hand was damaged far too extensively to consider other options. However, six week post-op, they couldn’t keep her away, and Courtney was horseback gathering and working bulls. Needless to say, since the accident Courtney has become quite adept at thinking outside of the box to accomplish her goals.
Courtney had ridden horses for most of her life, but only began riding dressage in November 2019. After helping her friend at an eventing show, and despite the fact that she had no desire to clear fantastic heights, she thought that it looked like good fun and began learning dressage and how to jump. She was fully training by April 2020 and was beginning to really enjoy the versatility of the discipline.
Courtney purchased her current horse, a cutting-bred Quarter Horse named BC Cats Royal, better known as simply “Blue,” in October 2014 as a project. Over the years, Blue has served as Courtney’s main ranch horse, and really her “everything” horse. There is nothing Blue isn’t willing to do, making him that once-in-a-lifetime horse that most people dream of finding.
Courtney had planned to hit the ground running with Blue when she bought him, but life had other plans. Between being a full-time student, starting a small restaurant and catering company, maintaining a full-time job, and managing two rental property businesses, she lacked the time she had planned to devote to him. Shortly after, toward the end of 2019, they were back in training and making plans for their debut in 2020. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, causing many competition cancellations. Courtney and her husband also suffered personally from the pandemic, being forced to close their restaurant after a successful four-year run. The one silver lining was that this newfound time allowed Courtney to focus on training, lessons, and clinics. While she was able to attend a few schooling shows in 2020, and placed well, she and Blue are hoping to attend enough shows in 2021 to qualify for the CPEDI 3* in Wellington, FL, next January. Courtney has set a goal of making a run for the US Paralympic Team and is excited to begin this new journey.
When asked, Courtney didn’t feel her training as a para-equestrian was much different than you would expect. In her own words, she said, “I have some adaptations I have developed over the past few years that have allowed me to better start colts and finish horses, but to me, it has become second nature. There are a few things that take a bit to figure out, but given enough time and trial and error, there’s always a way.”
So… what about that Facebook post?
In February 2021, Courtney posted the following and that is where our fairy tale begins.
Sarah Hepler was in a tragic car accident at the age of 10, in which her arm was severed and she nearly died. While she lay in a coma from the accident, her dad whispered in her ear, “If you wake up, I’ll buy you your first horse.” She woke up shortly thereafter and, to this day, her dad credits the idea of getting her first horse with saving her life. Prior to losing her arm, Sarah had only ridden for two years, but it was still a huge adjustment. She finds that, even to this day, she makes compensations and finds herself neck reining more than she feels she should.
Sarah currently owns three horses, all off-the-track Thoroughbreds, including her heart horse, Jacapo. He is the gorgeous bay gelding with chrome that every little girl dreams of. He also loves dressage like no other horse she has ever met.
Sarah has recently been classified as “para-equestrian”, and is making her recognized Para debut soon. She enjoys showing open, and doesn’t know if her show schedule will change much now that she is classified. However, she does plan to approach some of her local GMOs about offering more, in the way of para classes.
One day, when perusing tack sale groups on Facebook, she came across a post from someone (Courtney) needing right-handed dressage gloves and offering up left-handed ones. She reached out and the rest, as they say, is history. Just as Prince Charming found the Cinderella for his glass slipper, Courtney and Sarah found the Cinderellas for their gloves.
Now, lifelong friends, Courtney says her ‘glove-pal’ Sarah is AMAZING, and Sarah says she will ALWAYS send her ‘right hands’ to Courtney. They have both enjoyed getting to know each other and being able to share their successes, frustrations, and life experiences.
Courtney summed it up perfectly when she said, “I never imagined the effect that post would have, nor the connection it would help make. I gained a lifelong friend and really hope one day we can do a pas de deux. It would be incredible! It really is like she’s my other half. I can’t wait to watch her out competing this year, and I’ll be cheering her on loudly from Montana!”
Since the writing of this article and the lifting of some COVID restrictions, the ‘glove-pals’ have had an opportunity to meet in person and continue their fairy tale story.
Courtney and Sarah’s story and connection is just another example of the love, support, and friendship present throughout the dressage community. And on behalf of the community, we wish both Courtney and Sarah many more fairy tale endings to come!
Courtney and Blue were featured on YourDressage during our celebration of Quarter Horses as the YourDressage April Breed of the Month. Read her story about her versatile and hardworking ambassador for the breed here.