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HEBER CITY — After being partially paralyzed in 2006, a Utah woman began competing as an equestrian and won the first national para-reining competition Saturday.
A Heber City resident, Lara Oles worked as a volunteer ski patrol member in Wyoming until she was involved in a terrible skiing accident in Colorado in 2006. The accident left her with a spinal cord injury that paralyzed her left arm and gave her stroke symptoms in her right leg.
Oles spent a full year recovering from the accident and doing physical therapy. She began taking horse riding lessons at the National Ability Center in Park City as part of her therapy, then began training in dressage after watching the 2010 World Equestrian Games.
Oles won several dressage competitions before deciding to try competing in reining during the National Reining Horse Association Futurity in Oklahoma City. It was the first time a class had been added for para-riders to compete in the event, Oles said.
“It was pretty cool,” Oles said. “They were really nice to add this class for us and they treated us like royalty. It was really fun.”
Each of the nine para-riders were loaned trained reining horses and equipment to use during the competition, Oles said. Although she had previously only trained and competed in dressage, Oles said she really loved reining, with its fast-paced patterns and Western riding. She was thrilled to win first place.
“I fell in love with this sport,” she said. “I got to embrace my inner cowgirl. It is fun. You can’t even do it without smiling the whole time.”
Dressage is currently the only equestrian sport in the Paralympics and Oles has hopes of competing in the 2016 Summer Paralympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She said she also hopes that reining is added as a Paralympic event in the near future.
“These reining horses are so well trained,” she said. “They are a perfect vehicle for people with disabilities. And, this sport is fun and a perfect sport for people with disabilities.”