GOING through her paces with her favourite dressage steed, Wilson, Mary Ipkendanz looks like any other rider enjoying the freedom and thrill of the sport. But when she dismounts and returns to her wheelchair, it’s clear that Ms Ipkendanz has overcome enormous challenges to continue her passion. A paraplegic for more than a decade, Ms Ipkendanz has an impressive list of achievements behind her, including working as a riding coach and dressage judge for high-level, able-bodied riders, volunteering as a coach for non-profit group Riding for Disabled WA, and running a coffee-roasting business with her husband. Ms Ipkendanz has been riding horses since the age of seven but faced tragedy in 1990, aged 34, when she fell from a horse and broke her back. While lying in hospital she resolved to ride again and began training shortly after to compete in mainstream dressage competitions. Dressage takes the form of a series of rigorous, gymnastic routines designed to show the suppleness, obedience and strength of a horse and the control of its rider. Ms Ipkendanz felt her experience in the discipline would greatly benefit other disabled riders and so volunteered her coaching skills with RDA. As part of the ‘Hill’s Group’, she now holds riding clinics for moderately disabled people and teaches them how to ride independently and with confidence. “I encourage my students not to feel limited by their options but to find solutions and make adaptations in order to ride independently,” Ms Ipkendanz said. She aims to give her students the same opportunities she has had and to help them realise that riding competitively is possible. “My ambition is to change the public perception of disabled riders and the way they ride. If I can ride, anyone can.” Some of the challenges her students face, apart from finding suitable equipment, include the expenses involved in owning a horse and the physical challenges of looking after one. “Many of the kids are quite capable of riding at a pony club but can’t because most of them can’t afford to own their own horse or to physically look after the one,” Ms Ipkendanz told WA Business News. Aside from her important work with RDA, Ms Ipkendanz is currently competing in England and Canada, and is in training for the Paralympic Games in 2008, the equestrian events for which will be held in Hong Kong. The dedication involved in competing to such a high level is not new to Ms Ipkendanz, who trained with the national dressage team for the Sydney Paralympics in 2000. As a result of this experience, she felt compelled to change the way dressage riders were trained for Olympic competition and became a National Coaching Accreditation Scheme (NCAS) level one, general coach. She now trains high-level able-bodied riders in the art of dressage as well as volunteering to speak at two seminars each year to demonstrate the possibilities for disabled riders to compete. “So many disabled people get wrapped up in cotton wool, but everyone is entitled to experience something that is exciting and challenging,” she said.