Wheelchair-bound rider is set free on her OTTB

Anna Collette, who has muscular dystrophy, has found courage riding her OTTB Dewey.

Anna Collette, who has muscular dystrophy, has found courage riding her OTTB Dewey.

A young Virginia woman confined to a wheelchair by muscular dystrophy, has broken free of her bonds, and with her heart alight with joy, rides a 17-hand Thoroughbred.

“I’ve been in a wheelchair most of my life, but when I rode Dewey, I wasn’t the ‘girl in the wheelchair’ anymore, I was ‘the girl on the horse,’ ” said Anna Collette, 22, a western Virginia horsewoman who has found a way to ride horses throughout her life, despite a diagnosis she has had since infancy.

Growing up in a horse family, Collette said she always felt self-conscious about the way she rode. Because of muscle weakness in her legs and back, she was forced to hold her legs in a position reminiscent of jockey style riding, she said.

So, in 2011, the young girl who had adapted her riding style to resemble more that of a jockey’s rather than the preferred hunter/jumper style of her family and friends, met a retired racehorse who didn’t care how she rode, or what her specially equipped saddle looked like. And from their very first meeting he made her feel special.

Do It In Three
New name: Edge of Glory
Barn name: Dewey
Sire: Sovereign Dancer
Dam: Chieftan’s Command
Foal date: June 12, 1994
“I was always insecure about the way I rode. I always noticed I couldn’t ride like everyone else, and it made me feel sad. I wasn’t a normal rider,” Collette said. “Somehow Dewey put confidence in me. It’s like he somehow said to me that I may not be riding like everybody else, but I am riding, I’m just doing it in my own way. He’s made me proud to be who I am. If I weren’t who I am, I wouldn’t have found him. This horse has changed my life.”

Collette first met Dewey in 2011, after the executive director of Healing Strides of Virginia, a therapeutic riding academy, arranged for her to meet the dark bay gelding. Prior to coming up for sale, Dewey had excelled at dressage, attaining 4th level, according to published reports.

But he found his true gift when he started working with Collette.

For a year before she rode him—she waited to ride him until a specially built saddle with a chair-type back could be constructed—Dewey spent his time following Collette’s wheelchair, his nose near her shoulder, his feet carefully stepping so they wouldn’t accidentally bump her.

Dewey is a 17-hand OTTB who excelled up to 4th level dressage before becoming Anna's pleasure horse.

Dewey is a 17-hand OTTB who excelled up to 4th level dressage before becoming Anna’s pleasure horse.

“That whole year we did natural horsemanship together and we developed a good bond,” she said.

Finally, with the adaptive saddle in hand sometime in 2012, the moment had arrived for Collette to take her first ride on her OTTB.

“We put the saddle on him first and walked him around to let him get the feel of it. He put his ears back like he was trying to listen and figure it out, but he didn’t seem bothered by it. Then my friend Gloria, who’s able-bodied, rode him in it, and he was perfect; he acted like he’d been riding in this saddle his whole life.”

Then it was Collete’s turn. And he was even better than he’d been for her friend.

“He was so attuned to me. I immediately trusted him with my life. I knew he would never let anything happen to me,” she said. “He was so careful that when I asked him to walk on, he was so scared that he tip-toed. My coach Carol said that she’d never seen a horse do what he did, because it’s very hard for a horse to move that slowly … he’d stop every few feet and look back at me to see if I was OK. It took us about 15 minute to go around the arena.”

Riding Dewey has been a life-altering experience of the best kind for Anna.

Riding Dewey has been a life-altering experience of the best kind for Anna.

From those tentative first steps, the pair has gone on to pursue English pleasure riding and is working toward the goal of western riding. A new, specially equipped western saddle will be constructed for them.

But already, their story captured the hearts of Virginia OTTB fans when they competed in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred show on March 28.

Asked to join three other ex-racehorses who have excelled in post-racing careers, Dewey performed dressage with another rider, and capped off his performance with Collette.

“We were invited by Steuart Pittman to help show off the versatility of the Thoroughbred,” she said. “My friend Morgan rode him in dressage, and then we put the adaptive saddle on him. Although we didn’t win, it was an incredible experience, and I’m thankful I just got to be there.”

That moment in the limelight did wonders to help dispel the myths about Thoroughbreds, she added.

“So many people have told me that Thoroughbreds are too crazy and too hot to be therapeutic horses,” Collette said. “I even had a past instructor who told me that I shouldn’t own or ride a Thoroughbred. Dewey is the most careful horse with me, and our bond grows stronger everyday. He truly is my horse of a lifetime.”

17 responses to “Wheelchair-bound rider is set free on her OTTB”

  1. Nuala

    Wonderful story and truly confirms what so many of us know: that the Thoroughbred has the highest intuition and the largest heart, and that he’s capable of anything, given love and good care. Blessings and a long life together to Dewey and Collette from an OTTB owner.

  2. Deanie Humphrys-Dunne

    Congratulations on all of your accomplishments, Anna. So pleased to hear you’re benefiting from riding, as i did. I spoke with Carol this afternoon. She suggested I contact you.She mentioned you’re writing a book. As an author of 5 children’s books, let me know if I can help. My email is deanie@dhdunne.tk.
    Best wishes

  3. Lynn Robinson

    I am also in a wheelchair. I have a horrible time mounting and dismounting. My weakness is mainly in my legs. I also feel insecure of my balance , like I will tip to one side or the other. I have recently had to have a side walker to help secure my balance. I am an older woman and just want to pleasure ride to be with my horse. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
    Lynn Robinson

  4. Christine Egidio

    What a beautiful and amazing story. Thoroughbreds have the biggest hearts. And for an OTTB to be so careful and tiptoe with someone riding in the “jockey” position – well, that says it all. Collette and Dewey obviously have an amazing connection.

  5. Eden Jones

    This story is so inspiring . Thank you for sharing. Someday, everyone will know what true TB lovers know…..that the Thoroughbred is a very special horse unlike any other.

  6. sally

    Love this story! Go Dewey, Go Collette, a great team.

  7. Lisa Cochran

    Awesome story. I’ve seen Anna and Dewey and they are an incredible duo. I’ve had the pleasure of volunteering with HSVA and it’s truly a piece of Heaven on earth!

  8. Carolyn "Bounds" Parsons

    What a remarkable pair! Greater things are ahead for both Collette and Dewey.

  9. Darlene

    Anything an ordinary horse can do, a Thoroughbred can do better. Especially when paired with a rider they love. Bravo. Ride on.

  10. cheri

    Long live Anna & Dewey…. Each story I read, I think “This is the best one yet”… this one truly is. Wow, a beautiful pair. Just wonderful.

  11. Linda Lambert

    What a beautiful story from such a wonderful young lady, who I have had the pleasure of knowing and loving since her birth!! I have watched this process with nothing but adoration and I see a great future for Anna with all that she does with any horse!

  12. colmel

    What a terrific story! Once again, the myth that thoroughbreds (including OTTBs) are “too hot” has been dispelled! Thoroughbreds are only too intelligent, adaptable, beautiful, and intuitive. (I’m sure I’m forgetting several other “toos,” but these lept to mind

  13. Leslie Wilder

    Great story!!!

  14. Susan

    This is so awesome and amazing. I have no doubt these two were meant to be together…God bless them both!

  15. lexi63

    thoroughbreds are so intuitive and sensitive , best horses on the planet

  16. Debra Cornelius

    Clearly not “wheelchair bound” or “confined to a wheelchair”! Wheelchair users are riders! Bravo to Collette and Dewey. It’s great to spread the understanding that wheelchairs are modes of transportation, not devices that define people.

  17. R.A.C.E. Fund, Inc.

    This is truly one of the most inspiring and heartfelt stories depicting the bond and trust that develops between a human and a thoroughbred. So happy for Collette and Dewey that they found each other. Bravo!

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