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Gengis Khan Partners Paralympic Rider

gengiskha2Gengis Khan, (pictured above), far removed in character from his namesake, is a gentle, sensitive horse. No one knows this more than Deb Lewin. Paralyzed in a car accident three years ago, Deb, a former professional hockey player from South Africa, is an active horsewoman. In conjunction with Equest – a therapeutic riding organization – she competes regularly in dressage and recently needed a new horse to partner her. Cristina Boggio her instructor, knew of such a horse, a Lusitano stallion belonging to a friend.

“He’s wonderful and I trust him completely,” she told Deb. “Do you want to give it a try?” Deb agreed and went to Fort Worth, TX, where Peter Van Borst trains Gengis Khan at the Interagro Lusitanos’ headquarters.

“Deb cannot use her left side but she balances herself even though she’s one-sided. It’s amazing what she does. A lot of horses are bothered by an unbalanced rider,” said Cristina, explaining that they may be confused by the unequal weight and pressure distribution. “The horse has to be honest and be able to figure out that she cannot use her leg one side. The horse is a big ally – they have to pay attention and to concentrate. I had seen Gengis Khan’s character and knew he was a gentleman.”

Deb watched Cristina ride the horse before gamely climbing on board herself. “Just to think she was on a stallion made her nervous,” said Cristina. “Gengis Khan was a little big for her and she could have lost her balance. I rode him first – but he was a different horse with Deb. He understood totally the situation. It was amazing.”

Though Deb has only been riding three years she was due to compete in the Sydney Paralympic Games but was prevented from doing so after a riding accident with another horse gave her a concussion. Now, fully recovered, Cristina hopes that Gengis Khan will help Deb to go to the next Paralympics in Athens, Greece, 2004. In order to get there she needs to compete in USDF competitions against able-bodied riders. Deb and Cristina are already working on a dressage routine to music. “We had planned to use country music,” said Cristina, “But we soon realized this horse is never going to be country.” A lot of Paralympic riders use quarter horses and even Thoroughbreds but Cristina is confident that the Lusitano is particularly suitable for the sport. “Lusitanos are wonderful,” she said. “They have a quality of movement – the collection is natural which makes it easier for the rider. But I think most of all it is the seriousness of the breed and the fact that they are very willing to please.”

Archive: October 2002