The United States Equestrian Federation recently named Erin Alberda ’01 as an alternate to the Kentucky Equine Research U.S. Para-Equestrian Dressage Team in the 2010 FEI Alltech World Equestrian Games. Alberda also is riding as an individual competitor in the games. She and her horse Delectari, a 12-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding, took first place in the final class at the National Para-Equestrian Dressage Championships this past May.
The 2010 competition marks the first time that para-dressage will be included in the games, which began Sept. 25 and run through Oct. 10 at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky. The World Equestrian Games cover eight equestrian sports recognized by the Federation Equestre Internationale and are held every four years, two years before the Olympics.
Alberda will compete for the individual championship on the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 6.
“Being here at WEG is incredibly exciting for a variety of reasons,” Alberda said during the competition yesterday. “It truly is moving to see the disabled athletes competing alongside their able-bodied peers. All of the athletes have been so welcoming and curious about para, and I am so excited to see how the exposure helps grow our sport in the years ahead. It is also the culmination of six years of training, planning, fundraising and dreams come true for me.”
Alberda, who lives and rides in Woodinbridge, Wash., has a neuromuscular disorder that progressed after a viral illness she contracted during her last year at Sweet Briar. The relationship between her disorder and the illness is still not fully known, nor are many details about her disability. Her symptoms are similar to muscular dystrophy, including impaired balance and weakened legs.
In an interview with Dappled Grey, an online equestrian newsletter, Alberda said she didn’t get back in the saddle until three years after the illness and struggled with her new physical limitations. Alberda was able to overcome her fears and regain her self-confidence with determined training and the trusted help of equine and human friends.
“Riding,” said Alberda in the interview, “and specifically dressage, has given me back a sense of grace and elegance in a body that, removed from my equine partner, often leaves me feeling clumsy and awkward. When I ride, I no longer feel disabled — and that is a pretty huge gift indeed.”