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I Am US Equestrian: Lauren Reischer

Reischer, a 24-year-old resident of upstate New York, started riding as therapy. Now she’s an equestrian coach and an advocate for growing para-equestrian sport.

by Emily Girard | Aug 7, 2023, 10:45 AM

I was born with cerebral palsy. It was recommended that I start therapeutic riding because at the time, my brain didn’t recognize my legs as being two separate limbs. Essentially, my brain thought I had a “mermaid tail,” as I like to call it. My doctors felt that sitting on top of a horse and rocking in the saddle with the motion of the horse would help my brain learn to use my legs separately from one another. The first time I sat on a horse was the first time my legs ever separated, and I had the feeling of two independent legs. It was also the first time, thanks to the support of the saddle, that I was able to sit upright on my own.

Reischer shows Reade at the 2019 Hampton Classic Horse Show. Photo: Sol Reischer

The feelings and movements occurring in my body as I rode around the ring at a walk became muscle memory, and I capitalized on those muscle memories to eventually learn how to take reciprocal steps using a walker. The more I rode, the sounder my body became. I transitioned from being in a wheelchair to, fast forward ten years, zooming around the halls of my school with forearm crutches!

I spent most of my childhood in the hospital. I had many serious surgeries that required me to be an inpatient for months at a time, and even afterwards, I was still attending physical, occupational, and speech therapy for 20 hours a week. This was, of course, on top of going to school. This meant that I had very little time to develop close friendships with my classmates outside of school, and I was often isolated from my peers due to not being able to participate in recess, sports, or other activities.

As a child, it’s hard to understand why others treat you differently when you feel so “the same.” Riding was an outlet for me to experience this freedom and independence that I could never experience on the ground due to my disability. The other girls at the barn, even once I “graduated” from therapeutic riding, became my truest friends and were always the quickest to set my disability aside and accept me as a fellow horse lover!

I was accepted to Brown University, where I double-majored in education and public policy and rode as a walk-on on the NCAA D1 Equestrian Team. Talk about a start to my amateur career … I was riding on a team in the most traditional sense and competing alongside able-bodied people. This was a tremendous milestone for me, as I had grown up being excluded from all of the traditional team sports/team activities and isolated from my peers. Never in a million years did I think that one day I would captain the Brown Equestrian Team.

The girls were so welcoming, so supportive, and we all contributed very successfully to creating a team environment out of a mostly individual sport. While I always felt like each barn I rode at was my team, in a sense, it was nice to have the feeling of being part of a team in a traditional way.

Now two years post-grad, I recently became an equestrian head coach. This summer, I spearheaded an effort to create the Special Olympics NY Inaugural Summer Show Series. Horses and equestrian sports have been integral to my life, and this Summer Show Series reflects my life’s passion for creating opportunities and pathways to equestrian sports for people with disabilities.

I really relate to the riders I coach because one thing that they know they can expect from me is how uniquely I understand the need for an individualized training program. Each body works differently, and I have a keen eye for the ways in which someone’s disability might affect their riding. I’ve had their nerves and their concerns, and most of all, I share their dreams because I am them, so they can count on me to help them achieve.

Now I'm doing PR for the American Thoracic Society. I’m still coaching with Special Olympics NY on the side and have expanded the area I’ll be coaching to the Capital Region in NY. I moved upstate this month, so now I'm riding at Meadow Wood Farm in Schenectady and looking forward to bringing the show program there as well.

Steven Snyder aboard Fargo, Reischer, Ella Hoffman aboard Celebrate, and Sophie Baghdassarian aboard Santos show at HITS Saugerties 2022 with Special Olympics NY. Photo: Sol Reischer

Having equestrian programs in urban spaces is essential for creating new pathways to our unique sport. Not everyone has the time or resources to take hours out of their week to travel to rural areas where farms and horse show venues may be, and it is the responsibility of the leaders of equestrian sport to ensure that we don’t limit participation to only those with certain resources.

It is equally the responsibility of those who wish to create equestrian programs in urban spaces not to compromise on the conditions for the horses. This means access to sufficient turnout, the ability to trailer off to a clinic in an emergency, sound fencing from traffic or reckless drivers, safe arena spaces, and good stabling with appropriate bedding and feed. Since humankind no longer relies on horses for transportation, urban spaces are no longer designed to be suitable for horses.

I think probably the biggest gatekeeper of access to equestrian sports, and one of the hardest/ugliest ones to tackle, is the finances. Riding horses is expensive, and owning horses is astronomically more. It is certainly no secret that owning a horse, or several, and boarding them in a program with a top trainer and shipping off to shows all the time is probably the fastest way to excel in this sport. But that kind of a budget for equestrian sports is not realistic for all. Of course, there are schooling shows and local shows which are wonderful and essential for building up talent in our sport from a grassroots level. However, I’d still like to see more opportunities for non-white, non-wealthy, and non-able-bodied people to experience equestrian sport and competition.

My dream is to see shows everywhere offering classes where local equestrians with disabilities in every area with a major horse show will have the opportunity to share the schooling ring with the mainstream equestrian sport.

I’d love for the equestrian community to know that I’m here to be an ally to anyone who needs one. I’m always looking for people to get involved with the different initiatives I’m working on, so if you’d like to be a part of something, you’re more than welcome. I believe that the future of equestrian sports is bright, and now more than ever, I am amazed and warmed by the equestrian community’s hunger for positive change.