Motivation Monday: An Interview with Paralympian Roxanne Trunnell

By | Featured, Media | 7 Comments

Horses have always been a part of Roxanne “Roxie” Trunnell’s life. As a competitor in able-bodied dressage, Roxie aspired to be an Olympian. When she was a teenager, she created her own business to help purchase her first dressage horse, Nice Touch or, Touché.  She earned a United States Dressage Federation (USDF) Bronze medal and was close to obtaining her Silver medal until contracting a virus in 2009 that caused swelling in her brain that changed her life forever….The virus put her in a coma and resulted in her requiring a wheelchair. However, she refused to let this stifle her dreams. Determined to ride Touché, again, Roxie elicited the help of her family and friends to get her back in the saddle. After a long recovery, Roxie slowly began to ride again and completed her Masters in Psychology with a focus in Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy.  Roxie now competes as a US Para Equestrian aboard Dolton, a 2012 Hanoverian gelding owned by Flintwood Farm LLC.


Roxie rode to the top of the most recent, 2019 USEF Para Dressage National Championship, where she secured the high score of the weekend (a 79.333%)!

Roxie’s career highlights also include:

  • 2016 USA Para Equestrian Dressage Individual Paralympic Games Rider
  • 2016 Grade Ia Reserve National at the 2016 USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Championships
  • Team Gold medalist at the 2016 Wellington CPEDI3*; winning the Grade Ia Team and Individual Tests
  • Won the Grade Ia Team Test and Grade Ia Freestyle Test at the 2015 USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Championship CPEDI3*

See her most recent Freestyle here:

Join us this #MotivationMonday as we hear her perspective on all things life, horses, competing and everything in between!

How did you get into riding?
When I was 2 years old I had roughly the same kind of illness that I got when I was 23 years old that affected my balance. It was suggested that I do vaulting as a way to manage it so when I was around 9-10 years old I started doing vaulting with Lindy Cogswell at Happy Horse Riding School in Burbank, Washington. When just vaulting wasn’t enough for the horse crazy girl I was becoming, I started taking regular riding lessons I’ve never stopped riding since then.

What is your favorite thing about horses?
Hmmm I would have to say there are so many things I like about horses but my absolute favorite thing about them is how you can just be “you” with them. I got my mare Touché when I was 13 years old and she had been through so much with me and then when I got sick I just disappeared on her. She could have been angry with me when I came back but she noticed I was different but that was okay. I was still her person and it didn’t matter if I was different just as long as I supplied her with plenty of carrots and cookies.

What qualities do you look for in a good dressage partner?
For me I prefer a horse with “spunk” to them but that also knows that when they step in the show ring their job is to behave and pay full attention to their rider and to not pay attention to whatever is going on outside that ring no matter how scary it might seem to them.

What makes your horse, Dolton special?
His personality is very goofy. You can tell that he is a young horse with the way he acts on the ground but when you get in the saddle with him he is very much all business and acts way older than his years. He’ll see something or something will happen during our ride that would totally upset another horse but with him it’s like he’s sees it, thinks about it, and then decides it’s not going to eat him so he might as well go back to work. This is a surprising reaction coming from a 7-year-old. Dolton really has a great mind and a totally kissable nose

What is your favorite thing about competing? 
I don’t compete for myself but why I keep doing it, is that Dolton really seems to love all the attention he gets at a show. And when I’m at a show I’m usually parked in front of his stall so he has “his girl” around much more than he does when I come for a lesson. I think he likes that.

What would you say are your biggest physical challenges? And how do you overcome them?
My challenge I really had to overcome was a mental one. Before I got sick I was riding Prix St. George on my girl Touchè so going from doing all that walk-trot-canter & lateral work to just being able to walk was a hard pill to swallow, but I have come to realize that just doing a walk test is more difficult than what I was doing. You can’t hide any little bobble from the judges (they see EVERYTHING!!) If you fuss with your horse’s mouth too much you risk them going into a lateral or short walk. In the PSG tests if something isn’t feeling right in the trot for example you can move into the canter work and sometimes just pushing the horse forward more would fix the issue, not being able to do this during my tests adds to the degree of difficulty required in the grade 1 tests.

What has been your greatest victory?
I think my biggest victory was that I didn’t let this illness break me. My first thought when I woke up from the coma was that I wasn’t going to ride again, and that scared me. I may not ride like I use too but I’m still riding and spending time with my furballs so that is a victory in itself.

What has been your greatest challenge in riding?
It’s a mystery why I can ride the way I do but at the beginning of all of this a lady involved with therapeutic riding tried to explain it to me. It’s like the “file folder” in my brain where I store all my riding knowledge wasn’t damaged when I got sick and so I still have all the knowledge and remember how things are supposed to feel while riding. That’s the most challenging aspect of all of this, I know/feel how it is supposed to be/look but my body just won’t cooperate with me.

How do you mount at competitions?
I get this question a lot probably because Dolton is on the large side. I can walk, although my balance is completely messed up so I have to use a walker, forearm crutches, or a cane to compensate for that. When I’m around the horses though I’m always in a wheelchair or scooter so that if I was to fall it wouldn’t scare them. So to mount I just get to the side of the mounting block, have someone balance me on one side and I grab ahold of the bottom so I’m balanced on the other side and then I just walk up the mounting block. I put my foot in the stirrup and swing my other leg over Dolton’s butt and there I am on my black beast!

How does your trainer push you to be the best you can be?
Well as you probably already know dressage is all about perfection so what makes perfection happen? Practice, practice, and more practice!! I have 4-5 lessons a week on Dolton where me and my trainer Andrea Woodard work on nothing but accuracy and other dressagey stuff. Exceling in the Para Dressage ring takes just as much work and dedication needed in any sport.

Do you use specialized tack? If so, what adaptations do you have?
I have a custom saddle designed to fit me & Dolton perfectly. The leg blocks are placed just in the right position for my legs to keep them in the appropriate position. And I have the bad habit of pressing my heels down so rubber bands strap my feet into the stirrups, this enables me to still keep my stirrups even though my heels aren’t down all the time and yes they don’t hold my feet to tight in the stirrup that when I fall off I’m “stuck” to the horse, Touché has thoroughly checked out that they will break!

Have you ever fallen off? How did you regain your trust in your horse and yourself?
Haha yes I have fallen off more times than I can count, I think Touché currently holds the record of putting me in the dirt the most but I’ve yet to fall off Dolton. Way back when I was first learning to ride, my trainer told me that if I fall off, and I’m not hurt, I better get back on that horse. That has stuck with me over the years, if you ride horses you are going to fall. I’ve just learned to shrug it off and it doesn’t matter how many times you fall off it only matters that you get back on the horse and keep trying.

What is your favorite quote or motto?
My favorite motto to use is “it is, what it is”. It was never part of my plan to have my life turn out like this Being able to show people that even though my life was completely turned upside down I figured out how to compensate for my handicap in order to continue doing what I love is complete awesomeness.

How do you deal with nerves and find focus at competitions?
I don’t really feel pressured since success is measured in so many ways. Growing up I had a trainer who would say “when you enter a dressage arena on your horse at a show and then leave the arena after the test is complete on that horse than it was a good test.” I always think about that statement right before I go in the show ring. I always try to find something positive about my rides, and not just the negatives. So much can happen in the show ring that it really boils down to how you as a rider felt about the performance.

Do you listen to a “pump up” song/music? What is it?
I like loud music, so anything from Five Finger Death Punch, Distrubed, etc. are my “pump up” music bands.

What are your goals for the future?
For the future I am hoping to obtain a Paralympic gold medal but really what keeps me doing this is not how I do in shows really but it’s more about spending time with my ponies.
What do you want people to remember you for?
I’m not sure I would want to be remembered but I do hope that Dolton gets remembered for being the best Grade 1 horse that Team USA could have ever hoped for. He is one special guy.

How can we support you?
You can be a huge support by showing up to Para classes at shows to show support and even by coming out to compete yourself. I’d love to see more Para riders coming out and doing their thing. Win or lose it doesn’t matter, showing is supposed to be fun!