Name: Amanda Braun
Leaving the emergency room in April of 2018, Amanda Braun knew something had to change. It was the third time she’d fallen off cross-country in 12 months, the third time she’d been rushed to the hospital, and the third time her husband, Eric Braun, and their two kids had watched a health worker wheel her away on a stretcher.
“I turned to my husband, who was holding my 2-year-old daughter, and told him I couldn’t do this to my family anymore,” Amanda said. “I couldn’t risk my health for a hobby. Enough was enough.”
But there was one change Amanda wouldn’t consider.
“When the doctor came out, he told me point blank that if I had another fall, I probably wouldn’t walk. And I said, ‘OK, well when can I start riding again?’ ” Amanda said. “He looked at me like I was crazy. He was like, ‘I don’t think I understand you. Do you understand me?’ ”
A Shoestring Budget
Amanda, who lives in Frederick, Maryland, got her introduction to horses through her two older siblings, both of whom have disabilities. When they started riding at a therapeutic riding center in Loveland, Colorado, Amanda tagged along.
She rode whatever was available, starting with western trail patterns and switching to hunter/jumpers when the family moved to central Illinois. She catch rode throughout high school and college and was on the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association team.
Amanda earned an associate’s degree in equine business management at Parkland College (Illinois). She wanted to become a trainer but realized without financial backing or connections, it would be tough.
“So, I came home, got married, took a job in finance, had my son, Phoenix, and stepped away from horses for a couple of years,” Amanda said. “I ended up getting back into it with a 4-year-old unbroken Quarter Horse who I kept until I started eventing.”
“A Quarter Horse In A Warmblood Package”
Amanda and her family moved to Frederick, and in 2014, she sold her Quarter Horse to buy a horse better suited to eventing.
“I basically wanted a Quarter Horse in a warmblood package,” Amanda confessed.
She found Commando online. The 4-year-old Holsteiner (Concerto Grasso—Isis du Desert, Voltaire) was bred by Merle-Smith Sporthorses, and Amanda fell in love with “Harry” on the spot. She passed him to her trainer, Rose Agard, to campaign in the U.S. Eventing Association’s Young Event Horse classes during her pregnancy with her second child, Coralyn.
Fall After Fall
Harry could get spooky on cross-country, jumping small fences with unexpected gusto and often leaving Amanda in the dirt. A few months after she took the reins, she started her hat trick of hospital runs.
In 2017, she fell off schooling cross-country in Aiken, South Carolina, and tore her rotator cuff. After she recovered, she entered her first beginner novice event with Harry and came off on cross-country, this time injuring her neck.
Left with permanent tinnitus, Amanda adjusted her long-term goals. She practiced flatwork and worked on her jumping seat.
“One beautiful April day, I packed my horse in the trailer and headed to a local trail and schooling park,” Amanda said. “I was just there to trail ride, but my horse felt so fantastic, and I was wearing my vest, so I decided to jump a log we’d literally jumped a hundred times. Well, he jumped it! I didn’t stick with his huge effort, and we parted ways.”
The doctors diagnosed a labral tear in Amanda’s right hip, which required surgery. The scar tissue following the surgery left Amanda with iliopsoas bursitis and iliopsoas tendonitis—painful, untreatable conditions that limit mobility in the joint.
After each fall, Amanda considered selling Harry. While waiting for her hip surgery, she even put him on the market.
“I felt a major obligation to develop him to his full potential,” Amanda said. “When I bought him, I told the breeders all my big plans to bring him up the levels, and I felt like I’d be letting the breeder down by not doing what I said. I think a lot of people feel that way when they buy a horse from the breeder. I reached out to them, and they were very supportive. They were like, ‘Don’t worry about us!’ I talked it over with my aunt, Jeanne Silaski, who is the only other horse person in my family and has always supported my riding dreams. She said, ‘You know, your horse has no agenda other than to eat, sleep and make you happy, right?’ Of course, she was right. He was my dream horse. Why would I let him go?”
The Solution In The Sandbox
Resolved to keep Harry but also stay out of the emergency room, Amanda found the answer right in front of her.
“My trainer pointed out that Harry had always had a talent for dressage, so I thought, ‘Why not give it a go?’ ” Amanda said. “I read up on the rules and realized that to make up for my hip immobility, I could wear a larger spur on my right foot and use a whip on the right side all the way up to championships. I bought a new saddle to accommodate my new hips, and we went out our first year and killed it. We completely found our forte.”
Amanda and Harry qualified for 2020 Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 1 Championships (Virginia) and won their class at the Region 1 Dressage Seat Equitation Finals (Virginia).
“Harry loves dressage: he loves centerline; he loves showing; he loves doing freestyles,” Amanda said. “I always thought dressage was boring until you get into it and realize all that goes into it. I was surprised; it takes a lot of guts! Once you develop your horse, you have so much power underneath you that it can give you the same kind of thrill that eventing does.”
Still A Balancing Act
Amanda lost her job during coronavirus cutbacks. She’s now completing her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at the University of Maryland Global Campus and plans to attend law school for criminal defense.
“It’s been a year of transitions for sure,” Amanda said. “It’s been nice to have extra time for horses, but the downside is there’s less money for horses. But my daughter has fallen in love with riding, too, and we’ve just been enjoying every day as much as we can together.”
Amanda still suffers from pain from her injuries, but she’s happy with where she is today.
“I needed to find what my horse enjoyed, let go of what my dreams and my expectations used to be, and just figure out what was workable in my life,” Amanda said. “I am an amateur—I don’t have to live up to anybody else’s expectations, including the ones I had about my own riding and eventing 15 years ago. That’s not who I am anymore. It took forever to let that go, but I’m really glad I did.”
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