I’m thrilled to introduce Tanya, one of our four Cowgirls vs. Cancer scholarship recipients for this summer (two more left to introduce in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!). I hope you will be as inspired as I am by the grace and strength of these cowgirl yoginis. Yeehaw and Namaste.
In February of 2007, I brought a new horse into my life: Winter Spirit, aka “Fidget”. I was looking forward to moving up the dressage levels with my new partner. That June, just as we were starting to get to know each other, I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer. As my doctors laid out my treatment plan, all I wanted to know was if I would be able to continue my riding. Each dr. encouraged me to ride whenever I felt up to it, seeming to know it was as much a part of my life as breathing and sleeping. I am also blessed with family and friends who pitched in to care for the horses, and made sure that there was always time for a ride when I felt up to it.
Two weeks after my first round of chemo as my hair was falling out, I was tired of feeling like a sick person and just wanted to ride. Still a little weak in my upper body because of the mastectomies and the beginning stages of reconstruction, I needed my husband to assist me while tacking up and also to help me into the saddle. I also had to dismount “backwards”, raising my right leg over Fidget’s mane and sliding off with my back facing him. And although Fidget isn’t exactly the type of horse one would consider for therapy riding, he quickly caught onto his sudden career change and took great care of me throughout chemotherapy.
After treatment ended, I had lingering aches and pains from the toll that chemo took on my body and the residual stiffness in my upper body from the surgeries. Lymphedema in my left arm and neuropathy in both hands also caused discomfort which made riding a challenge. While discussing these issues with my surgeon, he recommended yoga to me. A friend encouraged me to meet her at a yoga class one morning, and soon I found a new passion. Yoga provides a way for me to increase physical strength, and spend time focusing on me. The mat gives me a place of safety, where I don’t have to think about what I’ve been through; I can just be in the moment working towards improved mental and physical strength. The bonus is that yoga improved my riding, and balance in the saddle. For me, dressage is like yoga for the horse, and connecting the two together has helped me pick up where I left off prior to my cancer diagnosis. Namaste.
Photo of Tanya courtesy of WNC Photography.