USA international para-dressage rider Roxanne Trunnell has represented her country on numerous occasions winning medals at the FEI World Equestrian Games, the Rio Paralympics 2016 and the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020 where she won both the Grade 1 test individual gold medal and also the Grade 1 freestyle gold medal as well as being part of the Bronze medal winning USA team. During the period between 2018 and 2020, she ranked No.1 in the world in the FEI Para Dressage World Indiviudal Ranking, and has broken numerous records, including receiving many scores over the 80% mark. Read on to learn more about the exceptional Roxanne, her ambitions and top tips for success
Tell us about you and your horses
Hi, I’m Roxie Trunnell a Grade I Para Dressage Rider for the USA and most recently I triple medalled at the 2020 (2021) Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan aboard Karin Flint’s Dolton. I have Cerebellum Ataxia which was caused by an unknown illness that turned into Encephalitis and then I ended up having a blood clot travel up to my brain and I ended up having a stroke in the Cerebellum part of the brain in 2009. So, it’s like I don’t know where to place my legs in space and if I’m not holding on when I’m walking I have a tendency to fall backwards. The way I am able to ride like I do is a complete mystery, but I was once told that the “file folder” in my brain when I had my stroke was not damaged and that is why I have all my muscle memory. Before all this happened, I was already a dressage rider and was riding Prix St George on my mare Touchè, who I am still riding to this day.
My mare Touché is a 1995 Dutch Warmblood and rather temperamental, she embodies the whole chestnut mare personality wholeheartedly. I started riding her again about a year after I first got sick. She is very high spirited and I can’t count how many times she put me in the dirt when I was an able-bodied rider, but once she saw me in a wheelchair she became a wonderful Para horse. It’s like our bond is so strong she is determined to take care of me just like I was her foal. Now that I am a much more stable rider, she sometimes tries her naughty tricks but they only feel half-hearted. She is the horse I rode in the 2014 Word Equestrian Games for USA in Normandy, France back in 2014. I semi-retired her from shows now she does this painfully slow shuffle walk but I don’t mind since I’m just riding her more to keep her moving and her blood flowing.
Dolton is a 2012 Hannoverian gelding owned by Karin Flint, Dolton is the horse that I rode the Tokyo Paralympics on, and I also rode him in the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon, NC where we took an individual bronze medal for his freestyle that we went on to claim gold in the Paralympics. In the beginning of 2021 Dolton ended up having a minor injury while he was being stabled at the Global Dressage show grounds. It was nothing to do with the stall itself, it was just a big horse being stupid and he ended up hurting himself. So, we have been rehabbing him and he has been doing fantastic.
Shortly after Dolton was injured, I was given the opportunity to ride Lehua Custser’s young stallion Fortunato H2O or Tuna as he is known around the barn. Tuna is a 2016 Oldenburg breeding stallion and is also currently showing 4th level and being trained to become a Grand Prix horse. I competed on Tuna at the 2022 World Championships in Herning, Denmark after only riding him for a short period and we were able to help USA secure the bronze medal and qualify for the 2024 Paralympics. Tuna is a completely different ride than Dolton is for me so my trainer (Andrea Woodard) and myself have had an adjusting period but it’s very exciting to see things coming together in our schooling.
How did horses come into your life?
Where my dad (Sid Trunnell) worked there was another co-worker he was friends with, and he invited him to bring his kids over to ride (I’m the youngest of four). From the minute I sat on that horse I was hooked! And so began the start of this journey…
When and where do you ride?
I ride out in Loxahatchee; Florida I try to ride around 5 or 6 days out of the week. Two days out of the week I am coming from my personal trainer gym session and hop on Tuna, and then I turn around and ride Touché. Along with riding I love working out so twice a week I work out with a personal trainer, once a week I plod along on a treadmill doing hill work for 45 minutes, and then two times a week I also bike on a stationary bike for 45 minutes. Most days I ride Tuna and Touché as well, I keep busy.
How did you start riding?
I had a similar illness when I was two years old and again when I around seven or nine years old. It was suggested to my mother (Josette Trunnell) to have me take horse vaulting lessons to help with my balance. So, I did that for a few months and it did seem to help, but I wanted to ride so the vaulting instructor (Lindy Cogswell) also gave regular riding lessons and so I started taking lessons and I was hooked. I did try it all through 4H and then pony club, and I originally decided on being an eventer. Unfortunately, I ended up being over-horsed and had a big scare while jumping and from there on out I focused on dressage.
What you and your horses currently working on?
Right now we are entering the start of the qualification period for the team going to Paris, the nation is qualified and now it is a question of which four riders will be allotted to go. I am hoping to qualify both Dolton and Tuna for the team, and from there it will be the selection committee’s decision which horse I would take if I got on the team.
What do you love about riding?
I’m not sure what exactly it was that sparked the passion. I was a little horse crazy girl that played with plastic horse figurines and when I was actually riding a real-life horse. I fell hook, line, and sinker for everything to do with riding right then and there.
What you would you like to be doing in the future and do you have any goals?
Oh, the future question. Well, what this whole disability thing has taught me is that life is very uncertain, I never dreamed I would be typing this interview out from a wheelchair but yet here we are. I do know that riding is always going to be in my future, but in what capacity it will be on that I cannot say. I’m very much for living in the present and come whatever.
Have you ever had to deal with nerves in riding?
I don’t get nervous in showing and I fully attribute this to my wonderful able-bodied dressage trainers (Heather O’keefe, Kari McClain, & Diane Royce) growing up. I learned so much from these women but there are two comments that have really stuck with me. The first is: “When you go into a test on a horse, and you come out on the same horse at the completion of the test. Then it was a good ride, there is always something positive to say about the ride”. The second is: “If you mess up on one movement, take a deep breath and move on. Just because you mess up on one movement doesn’t mean the whole test has to go to hell.”. I’ve had to say/remind myself about these comments more than once over the course of my riding career and they are very good points to keep in mind when you are showing.
How do you deal with them?
Like I said above I don’t get nerves, but I do have a very strict pre-ride ritual I do. I record my tests being read and then I download to my phone so that I always have them. An hour before my horse is warmed up I go into this “bubble” where I don’t really talk to anyone. I put in my earbuds and put the test I’m about to ride on repeat, put my boots/do my hair up in a bun/put my helmet and jacket on all while I am listening to nothing but the test being read to me. Oh, and I absolutely refuse to go down to the ring and watch anyone ride before I have to go into the ring. I like to keep myself in the headspace of this is nothing different than a ride at home. Those are my two big tips for success.
Your Top Tip
Oh, I have quite a rant about this, and I inked it on my arm, so you know I’m serious. When I first started riding, all of my past able-bodied trainers drilled into my head that the horse doesn’t have to let you ride them, and to always be kind to them because they are doing you a favour. Well fast-forward to when I was doing able-bodied dressage I would go and watch these Grand Prix riders and it never failed that someone would have a bad ride and at the end of the test they wouldn’t pat their horse and I was always left thinking “WTF?!?” Did the rider not consider why they got a bad score was because of their riding and it wasn’t the horses fault? Horses don’t go into a test thinking about letting their riders down, they don’t think like that. There’s always something positive about a ride and to not reward your horse with a simple pat is just plain mean and wrong. The sad thing about this is that I continue to see this behaviour with able-bodied and Para Equestrian Dressage riders, so I got the phrase “pat your horse” tattooed and placed where it is visible to kind of remind other riders to do this. Okay rant over!
Down The Centre Line
Who would be your dream horse to ride?
I might be biased but my dream horse to ride would have to be my girl Touché. She has done so much for me and who would have thought that a sassy, hot tempered mare would make the transition from able-bodied dressage to Para Dressage so seamlessly? She is without a doubt my one in a million horse.
Who is your equestrian hero?
I’m not sure you would call her my hero, but I have always been in awe of Anky van Grunsven
If you could have 5 people to dinner, who would they be?
I thought hard about this, and I only could come up with two people. I’m a huge fan of Stephen King so I think it would be cool to chat with him and the other person is Ted Bundy, I have my Bachelor’s and master’s degree in Psychology and before I got sick I wanted to work in a mental asylum for the criminally insane. I think the way people like Ted Bundy think is fascinating. I would love to pick his brain and try to figure out why he did what he did. I’m weird.
Favourite colour horse?
Liver Chestnut, and if it’s a mare all the better! I love my sassy redheads.
Favourite horse event?
Para Equestrian Dressage Grade I, I think the bond between the horse and rider is something you don’t see alot in able bodied and it truly is special to see how these big creatures take care of even the most disabled individual.
CHICKEN POT PIE! I’m like obsessed with them.
Favourite way to relax?
I love rock/metal music, so I usually have one of my ears plugged into music.
Stephen King’s It, the original not that horrible remake. I think they made a mess of a good thing.
If you enjoyed meeting Roxanne you might like to view more dressage rider “chatting with” interviews here . You can keep up with Roxanne’s progress and check out her instagram page here