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This fundraiser ended on 10/31/12

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Help Robin Brueckmann pay medical bills for her horse, Sasha. Robin, a paraplegic dressage rider, competed in the 2008 Paralympic Games.

Robin Brueckmann and her horse, Sasha, are a team, in every sense of the word. After purchasing Sasha, sight unseen, Robin discovered … well, let Robin tell the story: “… Sasha is very timid and insecure. This meant that he shied at little things, even familiar things. He proved to be very sound-sensitive as well as sensitive to things moving. It took a long time to teach him to look to me for security. Every day, I set up something scary for him to deal with: a tarp, umbrella, piles of sewer pipe, a maze of poles, a big ball, hula hoops, whatever I could think of to teach him that if I asked him to do something, even if it looked scary, he was going to be safe with me. It was not an easy task, and along the way he hurt me quite badly, several times, from shying away from things and unceremoniously dumping me. He has never been malicious; he just thinks things are scary and he has to run away. Now he’s much better, and he just startles at things but doesn’t run away. I started showing Sasha at Training Level, the lowest level of dressage, when he was six. At six, most horses are doing First or Second Level, or maybe Third. Sasha had a very late start, though, and he was not ready to do anything harder. That first year, I mostly just taught him what a dressage show horse has to do: learn to go to strange venues and do the tasks he’s trained for, stay in a strange stall, trailer easily, and generally stay focused on the task at hand. He did very well at Training Level, winning NCDCTA Horse of the Year at Training Level in the professional division. Meanwhile, I was training him for harder work at home. By his second year of showing, he skipped over First and Second Levels and went directly to Third. He was still behind his age-peers because of his late start. Sasha showed particular talent for the flying changes, which is when the horse appears to skip in the canter. He loved the challenge of Third Level, and again did very well. He won NCDCTA Horse of the Year at Third Level that year, 2008. That year, I took both Richmond and Sasha to Selection Trials for the 2008 Paralympic Games. These Trials were held outside Chicago, a two-day drive from my home in North Carolina. Both Richmond and Sasha did well at Trials, with Richmond’s experience giving him a slightly higher score than Sasha. To my surprise, the Selectors chose to nominate me to the Paralympic Team for Beijing, on Sasha. I had expected Richmond to make the trip, but it was Sasha’s flashiness that got him onto the Team. Going to the Beijing Games was a two-month journey. First, we had a month of training at Missy Ransehousen’s farm in Pennsylvania; she’s our team coach. Next, we shipped the horses to Aachen, Germany, for a mandatory two-week quarantine. We were allowed to ride the horses while they were in quarantine. Twenty-four countries were also quarantined in Aachen, so we got to see our competition! We shipped the horses to Hong Kong. Because of equine diseases in China, the equestrian events were held in a specially-constructed facility on the Hong Kong racetrack. We had air-conditioned stables and strict quarantine and sanitation regulations; we had to wash our hands and feet each time we moved from one part of the venue to another. Sasha performed above expectations in Hong Kong. He was one of the youngest horses there, at seven years old, and he marched right in and performed to his best ability. Although we did not medal, it was still an amazing trip and a positive experience. On New Year’s Day, 2009, Sasha shied at a deer, and I fell off and broke both my tibia and fibula of my right leg, shattering it into many pieces. It was almost a year before I rode Sasha again. Meanwhile, he stayed in work with another professional trainer. I brought Sasha back once my leg was healed. In 2010, I showed him at Fourth Level, getting him ready for FEI competition, and also aiming him toward the World Equestrian Games, the competition for which I had bought and trained him. I was also riding another horse, Elly Schobel’s Raison dÉtre, a seasoned Grand Prix horse. I rode both horses at Selection Trials, again held outside Chicago. This time, the Selectors chose me for the team, riding Raison dÉtre. Sasha was my reserve horse this time. The World Equestrian Games were held in Lexington, Kentucky that year. I had a fabulous competition there; I was riding a wonderful horse under a great trainer. We placed sixth in both the Team and Individual competitions, with good scores. When I got home, I continued to train Sasha. Now he was ready for his FEI debut. We started 2011 at Prix St. George and Intermediare I, and qualified for Regional Finals. We had a very successful cmopetiton year, and won NCDCTA Horse of the Year awards at Prix St. George, Intermediare I, and musical freestyle. Our relationship was stronger and stronger with each passing month. I made the decision to amputate my right leg, as it was not really functional. After consulting with four different doctors and a like number of prosthetists, I thought that I would be better off with a prosthetic leg than wearing a leg brace and using crutches as I had done since 1994. There was a huge risk to this surgery, though, which was why it had not been done before. Reflex sympathetic dystrophy is typically caused by trauma, and surgery is trauma, so the very real risk was that I could have the amputation and develop RSD farther up my leg. I weighed the risks and decided to go ahead with the amputation. I scheduled the surgery right after the Regional Finals, where Sasha and I placed in all our Finals classes. This is the biggest open show all year, and I was competing against professional riders, not riders with disabilities. After the Finals, I took Sasha to Diane Ritz, so that he would stay in work while I healed. The surgery was successful, and my doctors managed my pain as I healed. Within seven weeks, I was fitted with a prosthesis, and a week later I was riding my young horse - Whoopee. Eleven weeks after my surgery, I was ready to bring Sasha home. I had ridden him a few times at Diane’s, just to make sure I could cope with his gaits, which are much bigger than Whoopee’s. Twelve weeks after surgery, I drove Sasha to Florida to compete in an international competition, a CPEDI*** in Wellington. I had to complete a CPEDI between December 1 and June 1 in order to be eligible to enter the Selection Trials for the London Paralympic Games, and this one was my best opportunity. It was sub-optimal to be showing so soon after my surgery, but I did it. It was a success. I finished second and third in our classes, a huge victory in itself. Back home, I eased off the competitive pressure for a few more months, while I settled into life as an amputee. I had been active in the Greensboro amputee support group, Helping Amputees Help Amputees (HA-HA), since July of 2011, and I continued to attend meetings and learn more about everyday life. I had grueling physical therapy, which I attacked, and soon I was walking, not only without crutches but without a limp. I started showing again in March, in open shows. Sasha was showing at Intermediare I level again, and doing even better than he had last year. Now I can ride with stirrups again, and that helps my balance and security. Selection Trials for the US Team for the London Paralympics were held in mid-June in Gladstone, New Jersey. Sasha was very good at Trials, confident and accurate in all his tests. We placed third in our Grade, and that was good enough to move us onto the Nominated Entry List. The top twelve horse/rider combinations, at any Grade, were on the Nominated Entry List. The Team itself would be chosen from this list; no other horse/rider combinations could be added once the Nominated List was submitted to the IOC. Sasha hurt his left eye in his stall just a few hours after our last ride. I had the Team vet examine him immediately, but she was not able to find any injury. She gave me antibiotic ointment and prescribed Banamine. I treated his eye at home for several weeks, but it did not seem to get better. He still wanted to keep his eye half-closed most of the time. I called my local vet, who did a thorough exam and was also not able to find any definitive injury. He prescribed a different treatment regimen. After a week of this new regimen and no improvement, I took Sasha to NC State Vet Hospital in Raleigh, one of the premier ophthalmology departments in the US. Vets there diagnosed Sasha with corneal ulcers with a possible fungal infection. He stayed at State for ten days. He had part of his cornea removed to get rid of the infection, but then he had a much larger ulcer as a result of the surgery. Meanwhile, I was sick with worry over Sasha’s eye. I had physical symptoms and lost weight worrying over whether Sasha would lose his eye, and what potential for loss of sight even if he kept the eye. I brought Sasha home, to be treated three times a day. I took him back to State for a recheck five days later, but he was unimproved. I left him there, and they did another surgery to remove more of his cornea. I continued to bring Sasha back and forth to State. By August third, I finally got some promising news; the ulcer was 70% healed and I could begin to get Sasha back to work. That was a big relief to both of us. Sasha could go back out to his field at nights, and be with his buddies again.” Terrific and inspiring story! But what Robin doesn’t include in her story is the struggle she’s having paying Sasha’s medical bills. Our goal is to raise $4,900 to help Robin take care of this special horse. Your donation, in any amount, is deeply appreciated.

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