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Earning Top Ten at the Arabian Horse Association Youth Nationals is a sterling achievement, but when Tabitha Bell rode QR Irish Kouream in Hunter Pleasure Junior to Ride this summer, it meant more than usual.

Twelve-year-old Bell, a passionate young horsewoman, was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, a disorder of muscle weakness that can make a challenge of routine activities, let alone horseback competition.

Riding three days a week, she gets help tacking up with heavy saddles and unwieldy buckles, but she otherwise brushes ‘Irish’ and gets him ready to ride. Magnetic stirrups help keep her feet in place because she cannot feel her lower extremities, and she uses a specially adapted Arabian Horse Saddle Company saddle to tightly hold her since her balance is extremely compromised.

Her trainer, Jonathan Ramsay, says she never never uses the “C-word.”

“Tabby is the kind of person that has never told me that she can’t do something I have asked of her,” said Ramsay. “She comes to every ride wanting to do more and try new things. Tabby has never let her disabilities get in her way, playing on an equal field with her peers.”

Since Nationals, Tabitha and Irish have been working on canter transitions and making him listen to her more — Irish has been trained to repond almost entirely to vocal commands. But there will be a break while she recovers from a Sept. 13 spinal surgery to remedy painful curvature that can accompany MD.

“Tabitha has been so brave and so strong through the whole ordeal of muscular dystrophy,” said her mother, Jennifer. “Ever since her diagnosis, she has clung to Irish and he has been there for her when many haven’t. Irish is a constant friend and loyal companion — something Tabby needs during this difficult time.”

Bell, who loves feeding Irish carrots and cookies, says when she is riding him, she feels like she is flying and forgets everything she is going through.

“I admire her passion and drive,” said Ramsay. “I am looking foward to helping Tabby achieve her goals after surgery.”

Bell, who would like to sing the National Anthem at next summer’s Youth Nationals, keeps positive with her faith, quoting scripture: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life… will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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