Paralympian Dale Dedrick. Against the odds she’s driving on!

Dale Dedrick is an extraordinary woman. She was on a career path to being an orthopedic surgeon when fate threw a spanner in the works. Her health history is a series of calamities that would have had most people retiring to their Lazy Boy recliners. But not Dale. I interviewed her back in 2017. Click on the link below to find out her history and how she triumphed over health adversity to compete in the Paralympics in London 2012.

https://horseaddict.net/2017/03/21/paralympian-equestrian-warrior-this-is-dale-dedrich/

When I interviewed Dale in 2017 she was riding a horse called Suede. He is also mentioned in the previous post.

Dale and Suede

In 2018 I met up with Dale again. She was dealing with more serious health problems and had been given the medical advice that she must stop riding . Did she give up on horses entirely ? No she did not. Recently I had a chance to communicate with Dale. What was the heart condition that brought an end to her riding?

“I have chronic diastolic heart failure. The heart muscle does not relax quickly after squeezing blood out so the new blood does not come in.  This means that my heart functions pretty well if it beats slowly and regularly, but very poorly if it tries to beat quickly.  If everything works perfectly, I can regulate the horses speed and thus my heart rate.   However, should the horse go faster than my heart can keep up with, then I pass out quite abruptly, falling bonelessly off the horse.    Not just dangerous for me, but it terrifies the horse.  So not only did my physicians say no more riding but as a horsewoman I knew that it was unkind to inflict these possibilities on my horse.   So my horse found a new home where he is loved and I was left with a hole in my life.  While in Wellington FL. I met with Mary Phelps and watched her drive her “Gangsters” in an exhibition.  I know Mary and explained why I was no longer riding.   She said, “try driving – it’s much easier on your heart”.   She then pointed out that Sara Schmitt, whom I knew as a para dressage coach, was also the para driving coach.   I asked Sara if she could teach me to drive, which she did with her Morgan pony Navu.  Off I went in a new direction on a new adventure.  

How did you continue with the driving while at home in Michigan over the summer?

At home in  Michigan I needed more instruction and experience.   Internet, yellow pages and word of mouth led me to contact Anita Alden who owns a pleasure driving and training stable (Odyssey Training Stable) in Whitmore Lake, MI, close to my home.    I could not have found more welcoming, helpful and caring people anywhere.   Although Anita explained that she trained horses and people to drive, her expertise was pleasure driving and not the combined driving which has a para division I was interested in.  Undaunted, I started off with basic driving lessons using a 4 y/o Morgan named Chip with a 2 wheeled training cart.   I really, really, liked Chip, and ended up buying him from owner/Breeders Larry and Jane Olney in MI.    Then I got a harness and Chip switched to pulling a 4 wheel marathon cart easily and I practiced basics at home.    The big step forward in our learning came though when Chip and I made the trek to Wellington FL for 3 months of driving boot camp with Sara Schmitt at her barn.   Chip competed under Sara at Spring Fling in February 2020 and won his training outing.   The plan was for me to take over driving duties in April 2020 at the next combined driving event, but Covid changed everything.    Back in Michigan I worked on homework from Sara with local guidance as available and in December again came to FL. Chip was stronger and Sara taught us both new tricks and improved old skills.  I took Chip to my first CDE (combined driving event) in February 2021 and we had so much fun.  Lots to learn that only competing can teach you, and after winning dressage and marathon phases, I had trouble with cones and finished in 3rd place.   A fantastic outcome for my first and Chip’s second lifetime driving events!    And I am a grade 1 para driver!    In driving I compete in open divisions until I am eligible to move up to the FEI para division.

Tell me about Chip.

He is full Morgan, bred for pleasure driving, and  I met him as a 4 year old.   Normally, such a young horse is not suitable for a beginner or a handicapped athlete, but there was just something about him that I liked.    I arranged to lease him with option to buy and spent 5 months doing ground work with him, really forging a bond between us under the watchful eye of Anita and her assistant.   This work  convinced me that he was perfect.  . He grew up and finished as a handsome dark bay of 15 hands with classic Morgan conformation.  Chip faces life and work cheerfully and very little surprises or scares him.    He’s happy to work but sees no need to do more than required which can be a huge safety factor for a handicapped novice driver.   So, if I lose focus or drop a rein etc when driving, Chip just stops.  He is always happy to stop and stand still patiently until asked to go back to work which is great for teaching or adjusting equipment.   He has lots of motor and the athleticism and agility to turn on a dime and accelerate which is necessary for obstacle driving.   Due to his shorter stature, he must move right along to keep up speed with bigger horses, but that has been easy for him at his first two competitions.   

How does Sara Schmitt help you now?

Sara grew up in the Pony Club traditions, as did I, where basics of horsemanship and management mattered as much as riding skills.   Sara learned to ride and drive and has been successful in both disciplines, having competed against the best in the world as a driver representing the USA.  Because of her superb troubleshooting skills, great horse and people management, working with disabled drivers was a logical progression.  When we met, she was coaching Alanna Flax-Clark, a fellow para dressage competitor and taking on a para driver was easy.   Sara competes regularly in combined driving as well as dressage and understands the unique management needed for para-athletes and their mounts.  

As a driver, there are only 2 categories.    Grades 1 and 2, or as I think of it, disabled =2 and more disabled =1.  Due to a variety of misadventures in life, I have severe deformity and malformation of my hands and my spine, with serious muscle and balance issues which affect walking, seated balance, and stability.   This classifies me as a grade 1.     Curiously, my heart and lung issues are not considered for para sport, but do certainly contribute to my strength issues on a daily basis.  Due to her past and current work with para athletes, Sara understands the need for careful energy conservation while learning and competing.  I am allowed some adaptations to assist me in driving. During my cross country drive Sara was managing the whip to assist me with tight turns.  Sara knows what I must do (drive) and what others can do (harness and hitch horse, animal care and basic warm up).   I am allowed to drive a golf cart or scooter at walking speed as a substitute for walking the courses to choose routes and help memorize the turns, which is not allowed for others.  Sara’s breadth of competition driving experience helps her to navigate me to efficient turns on course, which are not always apparent to my beginner’s eyes. 

Dale always has a smile!

Tomorrow I am going to continue with this post. I will be telling you about Combined Driving and what is involved and how Dale as a para driver can compensate for her physical challenges. And… I have a video that will amaze you. It is of Dale driving Chip through the water obstacle course in their combined driving competition. So please come back tomorrow!

  • Featured photo of Dale competing in a CPEDI at Global In Wellington Florida riding Suede is by Lindsay Y. McCall.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. dprastka says:

    Amazing and inspiring!! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Donna Ponessa says:

    I was Dale’s teammate at the London Paralympics. I have never met a more committed, motivated, never say can’t, gracious athlete in all my years of competing. She is the consummate role model for para-eqestrian sport. I am so proud to call her a
    teammate and friend!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you so much for this comment.

      Like

  3. An example of strength for sure.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. anne leueen says:

      Indeed, primarily mental but also physical in the face of physical adversity.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Camryn says:

    What an inspiring woman! Can’t wait for tomorrows post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. anne leueen says:

      She is astonishing really! You will be amazed by the video in tomorrow’s post. I was when I first saw it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Camryn says:

        I was amazed by this post, I’ll probably be blown away with the video!

        Liked by 2 people

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