Recently I was introduced, via email, to Holly Lovejoy a para equestrian, who has some wonderful dreams, and is riding a horse called Suede that I had met previously when he was being ridden by Paralympian Dale Dedrick. I contacted Holly and sent her some questions. Here are her answers.
I believe your disability is congenital. Can you tell me how this affected you as a child and a teenager?
I was born at 29 weeks premature, as one of a set of triplets. I was the largest, at 2lb 13oz. Around age 2, I was diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy affects my motor processing, movement, balance, strength, and coordination. My biggest difficulty growing up was honestly accepting myself, and feeling comfortable in the world. I did physical therapy first as a young child, and I disliked it even then. I was frustrated with not being able to do the same activities as my peers, or with not being able to accomplish things with the same independence. I was a very competitive child, but could not easily or fully participate in other things I wanted to try. Riding has become a way for me to challenge and overcome those thoughts and feelings. In some ways, my mental health diagnoses have been much more challenging, as I’ve had to contend with both when learning to accept my life, my body, and myself as a whole. I was diagnosed with ADHD at age 9, and bipolar disorder at age 20. Riding has been incredibly balancing for
me emotionally, and it gives me a focus and sense of self that I would be lost without. At both my highest and my lowest, I find my motivation to live through horses, and through my goals of being a Paralympian.”
● When did you start riding and what drew you to horses?
“I started riding in hippotherapy, physical therapy facilitated on the back of a horse, when I was only 2 years old. By the time I was 8 or 9, I was already enthralled with the idea of winning gold in the Olympics. From day one, I think I’ve just been addicted to the freedom and power that comes with riding. I am in love with the way a horse can somehow bring out the best in anyone. Horses don’t judge a book by its cover, and that is healing and eye opening in a life changing way.”
How did you decide to compete as a para equestrian?
I have never competed able-bodied tests, but I have worked with able-bodied trainers since the beginning of my sport riding career. My original idea was to be a show jumper, and that was unrealistic and amusing at best. I found out about the 2010 WEG Para Team, and the 2012 Paralympic team from a Breyer horse magazine, and that sent me down an internet rabbit hole. It’s funny how fate comes full circle; Suede was previously owned by London 2012 Paralympian Dale Dedrick. Where I am now truly feels meant to be. I have had integrated success while competing the Para tests at the National Pony Dressage Cup – West Coast in October 2021.”
● Tell me about your horse Suede. How long have you had him? How old is he? Does he have any particular breeding? Does he have any things in his personality that make you laugh? What does it mean to you to have Suede in your life?
“I purchased Suede from Dale in June of 2018. He will be 15 this year, and is a Connemara cross (Connemara/TB/Percheron). He has always been a character, and we joke about him sometimes being more akin to a service dog than a dressage horse. He does his job (mostly) perfectly, and with the utmost care. Still, he is a pony and he knows how to keep me on my toes with the occasional trick up his sleeve. He loves dogs, and his curiosity with them always makes me laugh.
If I am being completely honest, Suede saved my life. This is not an exaggeration. I have always struggled with accepting myself, living, and knowing my purpose in the world. I grew up not wanting to acknowledge the differences in my body, and often actively resenting myself and my existence because of it. Horses have always been my way of making all those feelings fade away for a while. Suede has allowed me to rise above myself and grow into myself in
ways I never would’ve anticipated when he first arrived in my life. I will never be able to thank Dale enough for the gift she has given me, in him. He is my physical strength, he is my partner in so many hopes and dreams, and he was the only thing that could keep me grounded, safe, and alive during the chaos that was 2020. He is my gold, and in a way, I have already won.”
Suede and I have already had some success at the National level in 2021 This year, we were hoping to finally make an International debut in May at the Galway Downs CPEDI 3* in Temecula, California. It has been a goal and a dream of mine to start the CPEDI journey for almost a decade now. Unfortunately, I was told only 8 days before the competition that my International classification was invalid due to mixups with paperwork, timing, and COVID. This
was a huge disappointment to me in so many ways, and it’s something I’m still dusting myself off from. Months of work on fundraising had been done to get Suede and I ready to roll at that
point, as well as the growth, time, and effort put into physical and mental conditioning to get us where we needed to be. Despite this being one of the biggest setbacks I have experienced, I refuse to give up just yet.
What are your future plans for you and Suede? Competition at CPEDIs? The Paris Paralympics in 2024?
“All of that, and hopefully more! I’ve always dared to dream big, and the limit is higher than the sky, in my mind. The Paralympics has always been a dream, and it’s surreal to think that there’s even a chance it could be happening so soon for me. No matter what horse I’m on or what trainer I’m with, I’ve never let that dream die. I remember how over the moon I was to learn that the dressage events in Paris would take place in the courtyard of Versailles. When the going gets tough, the work gets harder, or I feel like giving up on life, I let the fantasy of riding in a palace push me forward. I have always aimed to be a part of Team USA, hopefully for many Paralympics to come.
Para opportunities are few and far between on the West Coast due to a lack of awareness about the discipline, as well as a very slim number of sponsors, trainers, and even horses up for the task. This sport truly does take a village, and the success of every Para rider is highly dependent on having the right dream team at the right moment. I have some truly incredible people who help and support me day to day, but we will need to go further and work harder than
ever before to take us all the way. Training and competing in Florida is like striking gold for any dressage rider, able bodied or not. Traveling to and competing at a CPEDI in Florida will take the place of the original plans to compete here in California at Galway Downs. In order to remedy my classification, gain the best training advantages, and to have the chance to compete internationally again, this is where we need to be. We’re setting our sights higher and farther than ever, and we hope to add to our dream team along the way. I believe that we can make it happen with the right support, resourceful ideas, and the love of our friends and team. We are
continuing to train, plan, fundraise, and open ourselves to any incredible opportunities that may set us on a golden path.”
Thank you Holly for taking the time to answer my questions and for being so honest about your dreams. I wish you all the best, as you go forward, to make those dreams come true!