She’s new to the area, but she’s not new to hard work and determination.  As a matter of fact, if you talk to Laurietta (pronounced Laur-EET-a), you’ll get the feeling that these qualities are second nature to her.

Laurietta is plagued by a rare neurological disorder called Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIPD). Small stuff.  Laurietta is all about dreaming big.  Limitations are just items on a list to be mastered and checked off.

Take Laurietta’s first horse.  Like most everyone reading this, Laurietta was a horse crazy kid.  In central Ohio where she grew up, 4-H was popular.  There was a project for horseless riders, and Laurietta pursued that niche.

 Meanwhile, after begging for a horse, her parents eventually relented by saying that she could have a horse if she earned the money for one, so she began babysitting… and babysitting… and babysitting…until she finally reached her goal.  She had enough money to buy her horse! 

Typically, babysitting is not lucrative enough to purchase a grand prix horse, so Laurietta brought home the next best thing- an unbroken two-year old stallion. 

She was able to work for board, but what about training?

Laurietta set about working with the horse herself in spite of naysayers.  Initially, her training program resulted in being thrown off numerous times, but she finally got the hang of sitting through his antics after a month or so.  The next three months brought real progress.  Laurietta was so encouraged that she entered him in a walk-trot class in his first 4-H show. They earned a blue ribbon for their efforts, and Laurietta earned a reputation for being able to sit crazy horses!

While recollections like those are often more treasured than gold medals, Laurietta is not content to rest on her laurels.  She’s aiming for gold now with a laser like focus on attending the 2020 Para Olympic games in Japan.  

In pursuit of that goal, she’ll be heading to Tryon, North Carolina in September to compete at the Tyron Fall Dressage 2 CDI3*/CPEDI3* presented by Adequan.  This is one of the qualifiers on the road to participation in Tokyo. Knowing that she’ll need a score of at least 72% to make the team, Laurietta is focused on medaling and is shooting for a higher score. Somehow, this is not surprising.

Laurietta is currently training full time with her coach, Lisa Hellmer of LCH Equestrian in Dunnellon, FL. In addition to a USDF Silver Para Dressage coach, Lisa is a USDF Bronze and Silver Medalist and has worked with top FEI trainers throughout the United States and Europe, including the Hannoverian verbrand.

Although Laurietta began investigating para dressage in 2007, a bout with cancer sidelined her until 2012, when she headed to Wellington to begin training. She was delayed again in 2013 and 2014 by an onset of symptoms from her disease, but in 2015, she began training on her own and started showing without a trainer at a CDI competition in Wellington. Soon after in 2016, she made a move to train with Missy Ransehousen, daughter of Jessica Ransehousen, whom Laurietta credits with bringing her a long way. So far, in fact, that in 2017, Laurietta expected to participate in the 2018 World Equestrian Games, but a bad CIPD episode landed her on a ventilator.  While the episode nixed that opportunity, there were others ahead, and Laurietta was competing again two weeks after getting off the ventilator in order to advance toward her goals.

Seasonal traveling from Pennsylvania and Ocala ensued until Laurietta decided to put down roots in Ocala this year.

Is it hard to find shows with para classes?  “No,” says Laurietta. “Most organizers are very accommodating if you give them a call. The most difficult thing is riding in a large arena if the show committee is unable to have a small arena available.  Grade I-III riders show in small arenas.  Grades IV-V show in large arenas.” As we can all attest, it’s all about the geometry.

According to Team USA, “Para-equestrian dressage athletes are categorized into five sport classes, known as grades, based on how their impairment affects their athletic performance. A lower grade indicates the athlete has an impairment that more severely disrupts activity.” Laurietta competes at Grade II on a lovely Zweibrucker mare named Windsome.  Although Windsome hadn’t been ridden in three years when she came to Laurietta, she is now an integral part of the team. Deemed to be a little hot by others who have ridden her, she is putty in Laurietta’s hands. Prior to Windsome, she rode a striking Fresian.

Showing horses ain’t cheap.  Add to that the extra costs associated with being a para rider, and funding the operation requires a whole other level of determination…and work…and creativity. For example, Laurietta is offering embryo transfers from some exceptionally well-bred warmblood mares as a gift for sponsorships of a certain level.

Fortunately, a number of people and organizations have stepped up to sponsor Laurietta.  Links to professional sponsorships are featured prominently on her webpage, and Laurietta is quick to mention the generosity of Pat Myers, whom she credits with making it possible to ride with Missy Ransehousen. Pat is  currently Laurietta’s housing sponsor in Ocala, making it possible for her to live and train here.

To view Laurietta in action or contribute to her mission (it’s tax deductible), take a look at her webpage ljoakleaf.wixsite.com.