Beatrice De Lavalette, 22
DRESSAGE EQUESTRIAN → LOXAHATCHEE, FLORIDA
“WHEN THE BOMBINGS AT BRUS-sels Airport happened on March 22, 2016, I was on my way to Florida during my spring break from high school. [Coordinated attacks in Brussels killed 35 people and injured 340; ISIS claimed responsibility.] My dad had gotten a job in Belgium a couple of years earlier. I never made it past the check-in. I don’t remember the explosion itself, but I remember the feeling of being lifted off the ground.
When I woke up from a medically induced coma a month later, both my legs had been amputated below the knees, and I had suffered a spinal cord injury. I stayed in the ICU for four months, then was in an in-patient rehab. I was mentally a total wreck. My mom came to my room and said, ‘I have a surprise for you downstairs.’ I said, ‘I’m not getting up. There’s no chance I’m moving.’ She finally said, ‘Okay, fine. It’s your horse.’ I transferred over to my wheelchair and we went downstairs in the drizzle. Deedee came out of the trailer with her ears perked up like, ‘I’m very proud of myself. I’m here to compete.’ Then she turned her head toward me and recognized me instantly. I was still red from the burns. I had no hair, and I was in a wheelchair and had no legs. She slowly walked toward me and put her head against my chest, her way of giving me a hug.
I had gotten into dressage when I was 12, years before the bombings. And a year after, I rode in my first para-equestrian competition. Deedee is semi-retired now and enjoying life in Florida. The horse I have in Tokyo is named Clarc.
I wear my two prosthetics for balance and a custom-built saddle with blocks of hard foam with Velcro that I can adjust to keep my legs in place. We had a hand-hold added to the saddle so if I lose my balance I have something to hold on to. I maneuver the horse around with two dressage whips which do basically what my legs would do. I have the reins in my hands and I also use voice commands, clucks for walk, little pops for trot and kisses for canter.
With Deedee prior to the bombings, some days I had bad days and some days I had good days and my dressage coach said, ‘You have to learn to manage your emotions because that horse is an emotion sponge. She will feel anything that is going through your mind and body.’ That’s when I learned to center myself before getting on the horse.”
→ Lavalette competed in the women’s dressage individual test grade II event on August 26, finishing fifth. She also competed in the freestyle grade II test on August 30, finishing sixth.