The mighty Irish Draught Horse! We are celebrating them as our January Breed of the Month on YourDressage!
Dressage riders who choose Irish Draughts as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the Irish Draught Horse Society of North America is a participating organization.
Here, a Region 2 competitor shares about forging ahead with her 2022 show season while battling breast cancer, and the special horse that gave her wings along the way.
By Ashley Anderson
I was just getting back into the groove with my lovely Global Jedi (fondly known as Obi-Wan) following surgery and rehab to repair a fractured splint bone, when I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. Obi is more than just my dream horse—he’s a vessel for all of my equestrian hopes, dreams, and goals. He’s the horse I plan to finish earning my USDF Bronze Medal with, the horse I plan to run my first 2* event with, and the horse with whom the sky is the limit.
The first few weeks of living with my diagnosis was a blur. Suddenly, my schedule was filled with appointments, and my first chemotherapy session was scheduled for just three weeks after my diagnosis. I remember sitting with the pharmacist listening to her describe the many side-effects that I might or might not experience. But all I could really think about was how this would affect my plans for the 2022 show season. I had plans to complete a Novice Classic 3-Day, move up from Novice to Training level, qualify for and compete at the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 2 Championships (and maybe the US Dressage Finals) at First Level, and to run two half-marathons.
I did not meet all of those goals. But I didn’t lose the season like I thought I would, because Obi was truly the perfect horse. We took it one week at a time, and I often had to fight through nausea, aches, and exhaustion. Obi never faltered. We completed six USEA events, finishing in the top 10 each time, and finishing in the top 5 four times. We finished 7th at the Novice Classic 3-Day at IEA Horse Trials. We finished 9th out of 40+ horses at the Area VIII Championships. We successfully moved up to Training. We scored a 70% at First Level (from Linda Zang, no less) at Majestic Farm.
But that’s only what’s on paper. Obi was perfect. He minded his manners, he stepped up, he made everything feel easy despite how weak and exhausted I felt. He was bold, brave, and honest. At 7 years old, he felt as confident and wise as a seasoned competitor. I couldn’t have done what I did last year with any other horse. He came into my life at the right time. Because of him, I didn’t lose so much to cancer. But Obi is only part of the story.
We couldn’t have had the success we did without the unwavering support of my Lucky Dog Eventing barn family. They showed up to nearly every show, offering to bathe, braid, tack, untack, cold hose, and anything else that might help me care for Obi the way he deserved. They made sure I ate, stayed hydrated, rested, and took care of myself. They showed up decked out in Pink Badass gear from Mare Modern Goods to support me and Obi at Area Championships. And, at our last event of 2022, two days before my bilateral mastectomy on October 3, 2022, I rode out on cross country in pink, while Obi sported a pink ribbon on his flank. We crossed the finish line to cheers from our barn family.
Without Obi, without our barn family, I think I would have lost so much to cancer, the grief, the depression, and the anxiety. I think I would have given in to the nausea, pain, and exhaustion. Instead, I gained so much more. I learned how to emulate my horse; I learned how to be brave, unwavering, and strong. I never knew I had so much strength in me, but Obi and our barn family inspired it.
As of October 3, 2022, I am cancer free. I am still receiving immunotherapy treatments. I still have one more reconstruction surgery on January 9, 2023. But I am cancer free. I don’t have to fight it anymore. I can focus on healing, and I know Obi will show me how to do that too.