Rusty Brown Shines On Alyssa Cleland
Rusty Brown Shines on Alyssa Cleland!
When did you start your journey as an equestrian, tell us about it and your inspiration to ride?
I started riding when I was six years old. I had always been fascinated with horses, my cousins owned them & showed hunter & my grandma's sister used to race horses in her prime so it’s kind of in my family. I rode off and on as we couldn’t really afford it & no place would really take me as I was seen as too much of a liability. I wasn’t really until I moved to OK (I grew up in CA) for college that I really got into them. I was playing college volleyball & realized I wasn’t enjoying it as much & decided one day to quit. I ended up moving to KS to work at a barn running their summer camp program & someone had mentioned para dressage to me. I ended up getting in touch with someone at USEF & they told me how to get involved. I ended up moving to TX & training with a para dressage trainer & have bounced around to a few different barns & am now leasing a horse. But, I got a great opportunity in UT to ride horses full time & I’m actually moving there at the end of July should corona or anything else not postpone it further (but shhh, I haven’t announced it yet!). Being around horses is my passion & I didn’t know that until I got serious about dressage. I don’t really have an inspiration for riding, it just makes me happy & why wouldn’t you want to do something that makes you happy?
What is your favorite inspirational quote or saying?
My favorite quote is “Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” It’s from a poem by Erin Hanson & I actually have it tattooed on my left arm. As an amputee everything is trial & error. You literally have no idea if what you're about to do will be possible because of your disability & that’s why I love this quote so much. We’re all afraid of failure & amputees even more so because we are more likely to fail. But, if we don’t at least try, then we’ll never know, right? You can’t be afraid of falling if you aren’t willing to fly. That’s how I tried to live my life. I try everything & I’m not scared of anything not working out, because at least I can tell myself that I gave it my all & tried it which is a lot more than I can say for some people.
Tell us a bit about the key people and horses in your life in and out of the barn. How have they helped you get to where you are today?
Starting with the barn I guess the two people that have influenced me would be my trainers that I’ve had. The first was Kai Handt & he ran like a huge para dressage program. I really enjoyed working & showing with him. He knew a lot & really helped me get my feet wet in terms of getting into the dressage world. He was really passionate & intense but always had the best intentions. I ended up leaving his barn after a year because he didn’t feel the need to teach me higher level movements since I wouldn’t be using them in para dressage tests, but I wanted to learn all of it. After that, I went to Jessica Blackmon & I really liked working with her. I learned some 4th level movements that I had never done before & I also got my riding leg while I was training with her. I never really showed with her as training at her barn was really expensive. I stayed with her for about a year, but we didn’t end on great terms. They had moved my tack trunk from the tack room where all my stuff was to storage so they could make way for someone who was giving them more money than I was & that really hurt my feelings & it told me that I wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t dishing out thousand of dollars. It sucked, but these things happen & when they do you find out quickly who is in your corner & who isn’t. Some other people that have been influential would be my bf, Rick who has been my rock when it came to support. He was always there for me & encouraged me so many times to keep going. As well, my prosthetist, Don, who made my riding leg for me! Definitely would not be where I am today without him! That leg has given me so much more freedom & has definitely helped in more ways than I could’ve ever thought.
As far as horses go, there’s three! Daytona was a 16yr old, 16.2hh, bay Westphalian mare. She was the love of my life. She was the horse I went to regional championships with when I was riding with Kai & she was the best. Mind you, she had some problems, but we worked through them. She really made me work hard but once we got something figured out I was beaming with pride. I kind of unofficially leased her, but once I left Kai’s barn she got sold to a friend of mine & moved to a different barn. I still got to ride her periodically from time to time & tried to soak up as much time with her as I could. She eventually ended up getting sold again to some people in either San Antonio or Austin (I can’t remember). I hope she’s living her best life. The second one would be Tjitte & he was a 21yr 15.2hh(ish) black Friesian gelding. He was such a character! He was so fun to ride & was the perfect confidence boost I needed. I learned so many fun things on him & he really taught me what it’s like to ride a higher level horse. I enjoyed every ride I had on him & he really made me fall in love with the Friesian breed. He was the kind of horse that was just on 24/7 & ready to go the second you sat on him. I can not say enough good things about him. The third horse is Raleigh & he is a 16yr old, 16hh, buckskin Morgan Sporthorse gelding. I’m currently leasing him, although my lease will be ending soon since I’m leaving, but he has been amazing. He doesn’t spook, doesn’t have like outbursts or anything like that. I can go on walks with him, I can gallop in a field with him, I can work with him outside when it is windy & he won’t bat an eye to it. He’s a low level dressage horse & did some cross country & show jumping with his owner & he’s just been such a blast to lease. I’ve loved being able to just go out to the barn & hang with him. He hasn’t minded my riding leg at all & doesn’t care if it hits him from time to time which has been awesome for me. He is sending me off to Utah on a good note & that’s exactly what I needed.
What are you most proud of as an equestrian?
I don’t think I’ve done what I’m most proud of as an equestrian yet. I am proud that I’m able to do what I can do despite my circumstances. I think too often we think of people with disabilities as not being able to do normal people things & that’s not the case at all. Yes, there are some that don’t & that’s just because they don’t try. They’ve gotten it in their head that they can’t do things & that way of thinking couldn’t be more wrong.
What are the best and hardest parts of being an amputee in the horse world?
I think the best part of being an amputee is being able to show others that it’s possible. It feels weird sometimes that people think I’m inspiring, but I’ve come to appreciate it somewhat. I didn’t wake up one day & be like “I’m going to inspire someone today” It just kind of happens when you live your life. & being able to show people that I can live an extraordinarily ordinary life is the best thing about being an amputee. The hardest thing about being an amputee is dealing with people who want to see you fail. But, the best way to combat that is to just live your life to the fullest. Also, trying to figure out how to ride a horse with one leg is pretty hard too. But, I think I got that part figured out pretty well.