Four years ago, in 2010, history was made when the Fédération Equestre Internationale World Equestrian Games (WEG) were held for the first time outside of Europe. The venue? The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. And I was fortunate enough to secure a job covering the event from start to finish. Spending those 16 days in Lexington watching some of the best horses and riders from around the world compete at the highest levels of the sport and experiencing everything that went along with it was really a dream come true.

The 2010 games were also a dream come true for another group of riders: the para-equestrians. You see, 2010 marked the first time the para-dressage event was part of a WEG event. At that event, 60 horse and rider combinations from 16 countries competed for the honors. This year, 100 horse and rider combinations from 33 countries will descend upon Normandy to ride for the gold.

As I perused the entries for this year's para-dressage competition, my eyes settled on a Dutch Warmblood mare named Nice Touch, who'll compete for the United States with her owner and rider Roxie Trunnell in this year's WEG. At 19, "Touché" is the oldest horse on the U.S. para-dressage team (and, if my research is correct, the oldest horse on Team USA) and, in doing a little digging to find out more, I learned that she and her rider have an incredibly inspiring story that started long before Roxie lost her ability to walk after an illness.

Roxie Trunnell and 19-year-old Touché will represent the United States in the para-dressage events at the 2014 WEG.

Photo: Courtesy Lindsay Y. McCall

Roxie, 29 and currently of Rowlett, Texas, began riding when she was 10, starting in 4-H and eventually moving on to Pony Club. But she says that when she discovered dressage when she was 13, the sport became her main focus.

"I was training at Miari Stables in Olympia, Washington, with Kari McClain, and she introduced us to Touché as an 8-year-old she had schooling Prix St. George," Roxie says. "I fell in love with Touché and purchased her in 2003.

"Touché is incredibly sweet, but she is a red-head and a mare to boot, so she does have a naughty streak about her," she continues. "But mainly she is a dream to ride and is laid-back for the most part. She's not really quirky, but she does have quite the opinions on things. If she doesn't want to do something, look out because she can throw quite a fit!"

Roxie and Touché's partnership flourished, and the pair was soon showing at 4th Level and schooling Prix St. George. The pair earned Roxie's United States Dressage Federation (USDF) Bronze Medal and had nearly secured Roxie's Silver Medal when their journey took an unplanned turn.

"In 2009, my life was changed forever," Roxie says on her website. "One moment I was riding and enjoying life, the next I was in the ICU on a ventilator fighting for my very existence. Seems a virus, that doctors have never been able to identify, caused my brain to swell. Then, a tiny blood clot rearranged my 'computer and navigation system.'

"When I woke up, my first thought was that I would never be able to ride my horse again. With dedication, I endured endless hours of therapy, rehab, and more therapy. … At that time, I could barely sit upright on my own, but I was determined."

Eventually, Roxie was able to start riding vaulting ponies on a longe line. But she says she was always determined to ride Touché again.

"It was very important to me to get to ride Touché again, mainly because for me to feel like I was making improvements and getting closer to being 'normal' again I felt like I had to get back in the dressage ring," she explains.

Roxie and Touché compete in Grade 1a para-dressage events.

Photo: Courtesy Lindsay Y. McCall

And finally, in December 2011, Roxie sat on Touché for the first time since her illness.

"Touché and I have such an incredible bond that I never thought she wouldn't find a way to take care of me when I was riding," she says.

And thanks to her determination, Roxie returned to the dressage arena with Touché, this time as a para-equestrian. The pair compete in Grade 1a events, in which horses and riders only walk in the arena, she says.

"I try to do a competition every month," Roxie explains. "I only do CPEDIs (international competitions) once or twice a year and do local shows in Texas the rest of the time. I think it is important to stay relaxed at shows and to have an endless supply of horse treats."

Roxie says she has several tricks for keeping her aging equine partner healthy and happy while competing at the international level.

"I'm very laid back by nature, so going to a show as big as the World Equestrian Games, I still just act like it's another show," she says. "I think not getting worked up and keeping my riding the same as it is at home helps keep her happy. And to keep her healthy we give her GastroGard to keep her from forming ulcers in her stomach."

Roxie says that she and Touché have an incredible bond.

Photo: Courtesy Lindsay Y. McCall

Roxie and Touché are currently preparing for the WEG in Aachen, Germany, and are looking forward to representing their country on the world's stage.

"I've only been working with a para trainer since January, so just being a nominated rider at WEG is such an honor and a testament to how hard I've been working," she says. "Being able to do WEG on Touché is simply amazing. We have such a great partnership that just riding her will calm me down."

Roxie adds, "To all the riders out there: Be good to your horses and they'll do their best to take care of you."

I'll certainly be rooting for Roxie, Touché, and Team USA when the para-dressage competition begins on Aug. 25! What horses, riders, and disciplines are you most excited to see at this year's WEG?


Roxie and Touché competing at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy.

Photo: Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

WEG Update

Roxie and Touché completed their first test at WEG on Aug. 26, when they received a 68.087% from the judges. This puts them in 8th place after the team test.

On Aug. 28, Roxie and Touché finished in 8th place in the individual championship with a score of 69.435%.

And, finally, on Aug. 29, Roxie and Touché completed their WEG experience by performing their freestyle test. The pair scored 62.400% to finish in sixth place!

Complete para-dressage results are available at Normandy2014.com.