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Hello fellow Zebras!
My name is Alyssa Cleland and I’m a young para-dressage rider who is working her way towards the LA 2024 Paralympics! I just recently got sponsored by HofZ and Forest asked me to sit down and writ a blog post, so that’s what I’m doing! So, buckle up and enjoy the ride that is my life story (the short version).
I was born in Mariupol; a small town in Ukraine and have a rare condition called Paraxial Tibial Hemimelia. This happens to 1 in a million people and left me without a tibia on my right leg. I ended up in an orphanage, but at the age of 4 I was adopted by an amazing family and brought to the US where I had surgery to remove the excess limb on my right side so that I could start using prosthetics to walk. Shortly after my surgery, I was given my first leg, and flourished with it; despite what the doctors had told my parents. From then on, it has been leg after leg, after leg! I either grew out of them or completely destroyed them due to my insane activity level. I tried every sport there was! I did triathlons, running, soccer, baseball, volleyball, and horseback riding. I started riding when I was ten, but it proved to be quite difficult as many facilities wouldn’t allow me to ride since they saw my leg as a liability. Because of this, I turned to volleyball instead. After playing volleyball throughout middle school and high school, I moved to OK in 2015 to join the Paralympic Sitting Volleyball Team. While training in OK, I also got back into horseback riding and rode whenever I could, whether that was taking lessons, riding friends’ horses, or exercising other peoples’ horses for them. As I began to lose my love for volleyball and noticed that I was not needed on the team, I decided it was time to move onto bigger and better things.
Para-dressage, like dressage, is for the disabled part of the equestrian community. Dressage is defined as the highest form of training and way to express the horses’ natural athletic abilities. And I don’t think it could be described any better! The elongated gaits, and the various movements that are asked from the horse, is like watching a dance. On the para side of it, the rider is classified based on the disability and competes against others in their classification as to make things fair. You wouldn’t put someone that’s missing three limbs against someone who’s only missing one, would you? The higher the grade, the more movements, gaits (or speeds) and harder tests you have to ride. With this, I have been classified a Grade III, which makes me highly competitive and gives me a better advantage than if I were to be ranked a Grade IV. With para-dressage, many aids are used to help the rider depending on what their needs are. For me, I use a strap to keep my nub in place in the saddle since I’m not allowed to wear my prosthetic, and I use a whip to act as my right leg and use it for cues on the horses’ right side when I need to do a leg yield, increase speed, or go deep into a corner.
I got involved in Para-dressage after attending a clinic in TX at a facility that I’d soon call my own. After that, I took off like a rocket. I began driving from OK to TX every weekend and would have 3-4 lessons a day! I have made quick improvements, and if you saw me the first day vs now, you wouldn’t know I was the same rider. My coach is amazing and really pushes me to be a better rider and also keeps up with my crazy training schedule. I have since then moved to TX to train full time and started leasing a horse named NTEC Daytona Beach and we are getting better and better with every ride. During my 2018 show season, we made it to Regional Championships with our Intro B test and placed 5th. Going into 2019, we will be focusing on the Grade IV Para Test as well as looking for a new mount that can do higher level movements.
I found out about Herd of Zebras quite a while ago and kind of Insta stalked them here and there until Forest reached out to me and asked if I wanted to be apart of the herd (I was star struck!) I immediately said yes and since then things have just been taking off. I’m so honored to be able to share my story and have such a wonderful company supporting me and this crazy journey I’m on!
Thank you so much for reading and if you want to follow my journey you can do so through Instagram @alcequine