Chronic disease or pain is wearing on the mind, body and spirit. Anyone who has experienced it understands just how damaging it can be; your entire life has to change including things you do every day. In 2009, Amanda Ableidinger was struck with a sudden, terrible illness. “It started with a lot of swelling and pain in the hands and joints,” she shares. “At first we thought that I was just over working myself at the salon and by the spring we realized that something was terribly wrong.”
At the time, she and her husband Scott were owners/operators of a salon in Vancouver. Amanda has a degree in Makeup, Hair, Lighting and Costume Design from Central Washington University, as well as her cosmetology license. The salon had been a dream that came true in 2006 – just three years later it was crashing down around her. “All of my symptoms pointed to Lyme Disease, but because I did not have the bullseye rash (only 10 percent ever do), they refused to test me for Lyme,” she continues.
For a year her husband fought to have her tested, after every other test came up negative.
Finally, the doctors gave in and the test came back positive. But, after being left untreated for more than a year, damage was done. “By that point, my Lyme Disease had become chronic,” Amanda shares. “We tried lots of different treatments, but my body did not respond to a single one. The pain in my joints and muscles was so excruciating that I lost the ability to move my body. I couldn’t walk, feed myself, or even do something as simple as tie my shoes.”
What do you do when your life feels over? When suddenly you can no longer do anything? Amanda grew up the daughter of a Navy officer, and had moved around a lot. Her mother was horse-crazy and had instilled that love in Amanda. When she was 14-years-old, her family moved to 5 acres on Whidbey Island and she and her mother finally were able to get what they had always dreamed of: horses. “Although we finally had the horses, we could not afford the trailer, specialized tack, lessons, show fees, etc. that came with being a part of a 4-H Horse Club, so my 4-H years were spent showing dogs and poultry,” she explains. After college, her horses were retired and Amanda had not had a chance to ride since then.
By 2010, she was facing life without her career and the fear of never riding again.
“When you are suddenly faced with the realization of how short and precious life is, you decide what is most important,” Amanda shares. “I spent every waking hour thinking about what I would do with my life if I could somehow get it back.”
Rebuilding a Life
They finally found a treatment that seemed to help and two years later Amanda was able to move with less pain; she was on her way to remission. Her sights were on one thing: riding again, though it had been almost a decade since her last ride. “I may have never got back into horses at all were it not for two events: my first glimpse of a fairytale-like Gypsy Cob over in Ireland and watching a performance in which Jessica Wisdom rode Cardi with the Black Pearl Friesian Dance Troupe,” she shares. “I decided then and there that one day I’d ride again. I’d love to be half as graceful as Jessica is on horseback one day. I made it my goal to learn dressage and ride on a dressage-based performance drill team. And my heart knew that my horse would have to be a Gypsy.”
The Lyme disease had left her body very weak, especially her left side. Riding was not going to be easy. She had to work more than the average person to keep her body strong and able to handle the demands of riding. And, there are days when she still can’t do it. “I still have pretty rough days from time to time—mostly when the weather changes or it gets really cold,” she says. “Last month I had a flare up that got so bad while I was riding that I had to be carried off of the horse as I lost the ability to use my legs or stand. Luckily, that’s the worst one I’ve had in quite some time.”
There is no doubt that Amanda is strong. Meeting her, she is all smiles and positivity. Like many chronic diseases or pain, there is not outward sign, you would never know the battle she wages each day to keep going, especially since she doesn’t let it beat her. she is not alone, she has a very strong support system of friends and family, especially her husband. “My husband is my champion and my voice of encouragement,” she shares. “Every time I think about giving up on an element of riding, he promises me, ‘one day you’ll be able to do _____. It will take longer and you are just going to have to work ten times harder than anyone else, but I know you’ll get there.’ And he’s right.”
Giving Back Through 4-H
Instead of returning to a job, Amanda decide to dedicate herself 27/7 to youth who can not afford horses or horse showing on their own, just like she could not when she was young. “My struggle with Lyme also made me realize just how short life is and how important it was to make a difference in the lives of others while I have the chance,” she explains.
A local 4-H Leader had approached her about taking over their club, as they were retiring. It was set up exactly how Amanda would have done it – it gave those who could not afford to have horses or livestock, the ability to work and show them. While they could not take on the livestock part, Amanda jumped into the horse side. “I always wanted to be involved in 4-H again as I strongly believe that it is an amazing program and had a huge impact on my life when I was younger,” she says. “It taught me responsibility, leadership, public speaking and so much more. It shaped the person I am today.”
Ravenna Riders 4-H was started in August 2017 with 6 members and currently has 11 members as of 2019. As much as Amanda is giving back to them, she feels honored to get to watch them grow. “In my few short years of working with the amazing members of Ravenna Riders, I have had the honor of watching them grow as leaders, support each other as a team, become compassionate and caring towards their animals, and take on a higher level of responsibility,” she says. “There needs to be more programs like this in the world.”
There needs to be more Amanda Ableidinger’s in this world too.
To contact the Ravenna Riders for information on how you can help including donations and volunteering, or for more information about their program, email firstname.lastname@example.org.