by Carly Weilminster (September 2013)

The color pink has traditionally represented femininity and gentleness, but now there is a deeper meaning beyond its girlish stereotype. Pink has come to represent nationwide efforts to support education and research that will provide hope and strength for thousands of men and women diagnosed with breast cancer each year. In 2013 alone, more than 232,000 new cases of breast cancer were detected, forever altering lives and dreams. Potomac Valley Dressage Association’s Ride for Life, which was held on June 22-23 at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, is an annual event that invokes the color pink to raise funds for the cancer-fighting effort, as well as to celebrate the survivors.

Many members of PVDA and the Ride for Life committee are survivors, as are a number of the competitors and volunteers who work tirelessly to ride cancer-free. Pat Artimovich, a longtime PVDA member and breast cancer survivor, reflected on her experience and described her appreciation so eloquently: “There is gratitude through the treatment they’ve been through and they want to help others going through the same thing. It makes you feel like you’ve had an impact in the most beautiful way. It has become a touchstone, a sense that there is a community out there, a sisterhood, and the experience culminates in an attitude that wants to beat this dreaded disease and to also become stronger people while doing it.”

Cancer disregards level or experience, but forces individuals to focus on something terrifying and life-altering. Yet riding seems to ease that burden. “Horses, because they’re animals, only live in the moment, and they don’t look far ahead, they aren’t fearful of impending mortality, they do things in the moment, they live in and for that moment and it is pure joy. When people ride, especially those touched by cancer, the horse provides an unconditional sense of acceptance and affection, a shoulder to cry on, and something to center yourself on. They give you a positive focus. It’s a mental exercise and a spiritual one, too. You live in the moment and you make whatever you’re doing perfect and that is what it’s about,” said Pat.

 ©Tracy McKenna

Ride for Life performance show volunteer coordinator Mary Sue McCarthy ©Tracy McKenna

Paying It Forward
Pat founded the two-day event in 2003. After her diagnosis and long-fought battle, she became adamant about finding a way to pair both her love of horses and dressage with a way to help fight, support and find a cure for the disease that drastically impacted her life and the lives of so many others. “I often describe this as my personal Field of Dreams. I really wanted something to give back to the community and to Johns Hopkins. They’ve done so much to ensure my survival and allowed me continue my riding, giving me the ability to continue pursuing my dreams. It’s a heartfelt thank-you and a way to pay it forward,” she said.

The Ride for Life’s Dancing Horse Challenge and U.S. Dressage Federation-recognized competition has sparked interest and awareness in the equestrian community concerning breast cancer and the countless ways that individuals can contribute. “We want people to see the value in this and we hope that answer is in the affirmative. We hope that the charitable value will help continue to bring awareness and attention to this event. That is the face of equestrianism in this area and this is what dressage is about,” said Pat. Funds raised throughout the show are donated to Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation for Breast Cancer. Generally, all riders and numerous volunteers, whether competing in the Dancing Horse Challenge or the recognized event, are encouraged to raise money.

Mary Sue McCarthy, who serves as the chairman of volunteers for the performance show, told us that the event creates a unique opportunity. “It gives everyone a chance to do their part, whether it’s riding in the event or managing or supporting the event, there’s a wide range of ways participants can support breast cancer research, which is what makes our event so special,” added Mary Sue.

Volumes of Volunteers
Planning the event, which needs hundreds of volunteers and takes thousands of hours, begins almost a year prior to the event, normally resuming after a short reflection period, giving dedicated workers and volunteers a well-deserved rest. Vendors, merchandise, sponsorship, and entries are all pieces of the gigantic Ride for Life puzzle as Pat described it. When completed, they form this incredible event, but if one is missing, the puzzle is unfinished and the competition could not be as successful.

Many of the hardworking and dedicated individuals have full-time jobs and their own personal obligations to tend to. The willingness of volunteers to contribute their time is obvious in the overall success of the show. “There is a huge requirement for volunteers, but most volunteers are happy to help. Finding the quantity of volunteers we need is usually challenging, but we’re very lucky and have a special cadre of volunteers who believe in the cause,” said Mary Sue.

National Attention
Each year, when the committee comes together to try to improve the event from the previous year, they work towards bringing more mainstream and national attention to their cause, including bringing nonequestrian viewers to the event. Over the past three years, many major media outlets have become involved, from radio coverage to live streaming via television. “Another focus we have, that we share with the USDF, is to interest members of the general public to become enthusiastic about the sport. We want kids to say, ‘I want to take up riding.’ Many times, people return to this sport later in life, like myself, and this is a chance to reach out to them as well. We want to inspire people so they hopefully have a better understanding of dressage,” Pat said.

Dancing for Dollars

 ©Gary Cline/Studio Equishots

Dancing Horse Challenge winner Jeff Dwyer and Coca ©Gary Cline/Studio Equishots

As for the competition itself, the Dancing Horse Challenge always attracts a bevy of riders, sponsors, and spectators who want to catch a glimpse of many elite horse and rider partnerships in the equine community. Jeff Dwyer, a Maryland native from Gambrills, won the People’s Choice Award the night of the Dancing Horse Challenge aboard the chestnut Morgan gelding Coca. Their extraordinary performance captivated the audience as they danced bridleless and saddleless around the large indoor in full pink attire. Coca’s striking white markings were all painted pink in honor of the cause.

Jeff refers to himself as a “horse repairman,” using nontraditional methods to better understand and improve the lives of misunderstood and unpredictable horses. Jeff is also no stranger to the impact of breast cancer as his mother and aunt were both diagnosed with the disease and sadly his aunt succumbed to it when Jeff was just a teen. Coca’s owner was also diagnosed with breast cancer in early 2013 and is continuing to undergo treatment and therapy. It is yet unclear about what the outcome will be for Coca’s owner, however, it won’t hurt anyone in this situation to take a look at funeral insurance and how this could help those, like Jeff’s aunt, who unfortunately lose their lives from cancer. Though it may not happen, this is something that should be looked into by anyone. As such, Jeff and Coca’s performance was dedicated to those who have lost their lives and those who have survived the trials of breast cancer, hoping that one day a cure will be found.

Fund Raising Awards
More than 130 riders competed in 62 divisions throughout the weekend. A major portion of the competition included entries from Intro to Intermediate II. (See sidebar for full list of the high scoring pairs of the weekend.) A variety of breeds were also showcased over the two days, adding to the diversity and enjoyment experienced by riders of all ages competing in various divisions. The Stall Decorating Award, which is given to the individual or group who best embellishes their stalls with anything and everything pink, is always considered a highlight of the weekend. This year the overall winner was Danielle Fleegle of Morgan Run Stables.

Each year the Ride for Life Committee also honors individuals from the four separate competition levels-Adult Amateur, Junior/Young Rider, Professional, or Phantom-for their efforts to raise money and contribute it to Hopkins through Ride for Life. Victoria Ridgway raised the most money for JR/YR competitors for the second year in a row. Jeannette Bair was also a second-time fund-raising champion for the Adult Amateur division of the event; she raised the most money in this category for 2012 as well. Joining Victoria and Jeannette, Cherie Chauvin also bested the rest of her Professional competitors, raising the most funds for the second year in a row. Last but certainly not least, Shari Glickman elevated her fundraising effort for the Phantom category, raising the most money. The Phantom category allows volunteers and spectators not competing throughout the weekend to raise funds.

Dollars Raised
The 2013 show proved to be a fantastic 10-year anniversary for Ride for Life, with competitors from up and down the East Coast coming to strut their stuff down the centerline, sporting pink for all to see. The event raised a total amount of $70,000 this year, with the hope that donation amounts will continue to increase as the event gains more fame and attention from the general public as well as continued support from the equestrian community. Ride for Life has raised more than $500,000 dollars over the past 10 years and Pat hopes to see that number increase in coming years. More than anything, though, she remains appreciative for the help, support, and love she has encountered through the entire process. “If people didn’t buy into this dream, none of this would have been possible. I’m incredibly thankful to the PVDA and the equestrian community for seeing its potential and helping to build it. I will forever be humbled by this experience and grateful to all of those who have made my dreams a reality,” she said.

High Score Riders
With divisions running from Intro to Intermediate II, Ride for Life showcased a wide array of talented horse and rider combinations. Here are the high scorers of the weekend.

Intro: Karen Colbert & Steel Reserve 77.188%
Training: Ashley Kennedy & Shedaisy 74.167%
First Level: Silva Martin & Di Solitaire 77.742%
Second Level: Silva Martin & Benefactor Rrs 72.763%
Third Level: Jaralyn Finn & Sanford 71.026%
Fourth Level: Erin Sylvester & No Boundaries 72.00%
Prix St. Georges: Kathy Priest & Cayman V 70.526%
Intermediate I: Kathy Priest & Cayman V 72.105%
Intermediate II: Kathy Priest & Wild Dancer 66.974%