By Madison Young
My name is Madison Young and I am a 24-year-old Grade ll Para Dressage rider, living in Temecula, CA. I was born with a condition called Chiari Malformation, and a few years later I developed a condition called Syringomyelia. Chiari Malformation is a condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal, caused by a small and/or a misshapen base of the skull. Syringomyelia is the development of a fluid-filled cyst within the spinal cord. I have three cysts. Both conditions became progressively worse as l grew up.
From ages 13 to 18, I endured six brain surgeries, followed by two spinal surgeries, each necessary to save my life. I woke up from surgery fully paralyzed on my left side, as a result of a few spinal cords that were severed during that surgery. With extensive physical therapy at a rehabilitation center, I started the road to recovery and continued to improve myself through emotional therapy with my personal horses, and physical therapy riding with RideOn, a Therapeutic Riding Center in Chatsworth, CA. I have regained minimal function, but I will never be fully functional. The motivation to get back on my personal horses, honestly, is what saved my life and kept me going.
I was four years old when I saw my first pony ride at the fair. I remember how excited I was to even be near a pony, and that feeling of excitement has never gone away. After my pony ride, I was officially hooked on riding and fell in love with horses. I began working with my trainer and coach Kathleen Elliott when I was 15 as, technically, an able-bodied rider. Kathleen has always been a wonderful coach, adapting our training sessions together, and she is currently working on becoming a Certified Para Dressage Coach.
In 2011, I entered my first dressage show as an abled-bodied rider, on my horse Cody’s Grey Goose (aka “Sugar”), at the California Dressage Society (CDS) – Temecula Valley (TEV) Black Dog Farms Schooling Show. From that moment, I was hooked on competing in dressage. I was the 2012 CDS-TEV High Point Training/First Level Jr/YR Champion and went on to be the 2015 California Western Dressage Association (CAWDA) High Point Introductory Level Champion, and High Point Top 5 for Youth 14-17 Division. (For the record, I was the only disabled rider, and competed in able-bodied classes.) In 2017, I was a demonstration rider for a Michel Assouline Train the Trainers clinic at RideOn in Chatsworth, CA, and in another, in 2018,in Lyman, ME. After being named 2020 CAWDA High Point Exceptional Rider Champion, on May 16, 2021, I competed in my first ever Para Dressage recognized competition, put on by CDS San Diego, where I won my class. Later in 2021, I received my CAWDA Therapeutic Rider Silver Rider Medal and was named 2021 CAWDA High Point Therapeutic Rider Champion.
In addition to wanting to expand my knowledge as a para dressage athlete, a goal of mine is to get para dressage recognized at all levels, at every competition. Since 2019, I have been proactive in getting local CDS chapters and smaller local shows to include both para dressage tests and the Western Dressage Association of America (WWDA) Therapeutic Riders tests. I want every disabled rider to have just as many opportunities as able-bodied riders. My ultimate dream, since I was 10, is to compete on the US Olympic Equestrian Team (now slightly adjusted to the USA Paralympic Equestrian Team), and open my own training facility, where I will be able to serve as business owner and coach. My future training facility will have a large focus on giving riders with disabilities the chance to show the equestrian community that they can do just about anything able-bodied riders can do, while also catering to able-bodied riders and their needs.
My disability has been a huge obstacle, but I believe it has made me stronger. I learned how strong I am mentally, emotionally, and physically. I will not stop until I accomplish my dreams and set myself up for my next goal. I have a feeling my future will be bright, and I am ready to tackle any obstacle life throws my way.
Read these other Para Dressage stories: