Back on her horse

Eagle Point woman, who lost her right arm in a horse riding accident, takes up the most challenging of equestrian disciplines

By Emily Oller / The Bulletin / @eoller


Published Jun 7, 2014 at 12:01AM / Updated Jun 7, 2014 at 05:56AM

Central Oregon Dressage Classic I & II

Where: Rim Rock Rivers Event Center at Brasada Ranch, Powell Butte

When: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. today and Sunday

Admission: Free

Events: USEF training level, first level, second level, third level fourth level, a FEI class, USDF musical freestyle, FEI musical freestyle class, USDF pas de deux, USDF qudrille and USEF rider test of choice.

Gloria Bloomberg has a tendency to attract gazes during her dressage performances. Not just because she is skilled in the equestrian discipline, but because she is doing it all with just one arm.

The 62-year-old is set to compete in the Central Oregon Dressage Classic, being staged today and Sunday at the Rim Rock Riders Event Center at Brasada Ranch. But the road here for this Eagle Point resident was far longer than the drive to Powell Butte from Southern Oregon.

At age 10, Gloria Rossi was riding on her family’s property in Eagle Point when the horse spooked. Young Gloria fell, resulting in a compound fracture of her right arm.

“I was just a kid and we were riding out onto the road, and I never rode with a saddle,” Bloomberg recalls. “We had just immunized the horses and the horse I was riding was notorious for spooking. We went through a gate and he bolted.”

Bloomberg says that she was rushed to a hospital, where doctors reset her arm, then enclosed it in a plaster cast. The story would have ended there, but she said the wound had not been properly cleaned, and the combination of bacteria and a closed cast had a horrific effect — she developed gangrene.

“I was in the hospital for six weeks,” she remembers. “They tried to save the arm at first, but they ended up amputating. It was an incredibly tough time in many ways. Obviously emotionally for myself and my family. But even more was the financial part of it. It was really hard for my parents.”

By the time Gloria came home from the hospital — her right arm amputated at about the elbow — the family horse was long gone.

“I did get back on a horse afterwards,” she says. “To be honest, for my parents, I think the thought of riding was paralyzing for them. They got rid of the horse and I went on to other things.”

As a 10-year-old, she was resilient and transitioned quickly to her new life — a transition aided by her parents.

“When you’re a kid, you just kind of go through it,” Bloomberg says. “My parents just made me figure out how to do things on my own. I’m not sure I would do the same thing with my own kids, but it worked.”

She has gone on to live what most would consider a normal life. She became an avid runner, got married and spent her days raising two children. But equestrian sport was certainly not something Gloria considered for a pastime.

At least not until seven years ago, when her 12-year-old granddaughter Brittni wanted to start riding. The grandmother and granddaughter duo got into Western pleasure riding. Western made the most sense, because the discipline does not require the use of two hands.

“I had really been wanting to have something that I loved to do, and something that I could do at home,” Bloomberg says. “I had really been praying about it, so when my granddaughter wanted to take lessons, and my husband was telling me that I should do it, I looked at it as an answer to my prayers. Then somehow when I was on the computer, I saw dressage for the first time. And right then I knew that was for me.”

The only problem with dressage — a discipline described by the International Equestrian Federation as “the highest expression of horse training” — is that it requires the use of two hands. But Bloomberg is not the type of person to be told she cannot do something.

She sought out trainer Vicki Bauer, head trainer of Cedarwoods Equestrian Center near Medford, who introduced her to dressage. Bauer even sold Bloomberg the first horse she ever bought, a Dutch Warmblood gelding named Indigo who was seasoned in the sport of dressage.

Bloomberg’s primary concern when she started in dressage was the horse.

“My first biggest fear was that I was riding a huge dressage Warmblood,” Bloomberg says. “And he was a great baby sitter for me, very patient and loving, but I was terrified. It took me six months just to work up to a canter. Most times now, I don’t get fearful. It’s only when I know my horse is scared, that’s when I get nervous.”

After a few years of traveling from Eagle Point to Cedarwoods in the small Josephine County town of Williams — 86 miles round trip — up to six times per week, Bloomberg began looking for a dressage trainer located nearer to her home. That is when she found her current trainer in Eagle Point, Stephanie Snyder.

“I spent six years doing therapeutic horse training,” Snyder says. “When I met Gloria and saw the challenge she was up against, I was just amazed by her.”

The biggest challenges that Bloomberg has faced with dressage are balance and using one hand to hold the reins.

“Things like symmetry of her body are really difficult for her because her left side is so much stronger than her right,” Snyder says. “In dressage we use a bridle that needs two hands as well, so it’s difficult to use one hand. For a long time she had been using a two-reining system, but recently, we found a rein that was developed for the Paralympics that is a one-rein system. That has helped a lot.”

Bloomberg has been competing in dressage around the Northwest for five years and has awed the region’s dressage community.

“I remember riding at DevonWood Equestrian Center (billed as an internationally recognized show facility located in Sherwood),” Bloomberg remembers, “and the owner, Ginny, came up to me and said she saw me ride and that she was impressed.”

Snyder and Bloomberg now have a new challenge on their hands. Bloomberg recently retired 24-year-old Indigo, and she is now riding a Gypsy Vanner horse named Hamlet. The breed is unconventional for dressage, as it is a draught horse that is bred for pulling heavy objects.

But, true to character, Bloomberg was up for the challenge of training the 8-year-old horse.

“He is a younger horse, and the breed is new to dressage,” Snyder says. “That makes things tough. He’s also a big draught-type horse, so he’s really strong and tends to pull her around sometimes. But he’s smart and willing, so he’s coming along.”

“For me, the most difficult thing is to try to teach him with one hand,” Bloomberg adds. “It’s been a lot of work training him.”

Bloomberg will compete this weekend at Brasada atop Hamlet in the training level — the beginning level of dressage.

“I love competing,” Bloomberg says. “Even though I get scared going into the ring, I just love it. It’s a validation of all the hard work that I do. I try to ride four or five days a week, and I feel like I work really hard.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0375, eoller@bendbulletin.com