Para-equestrian rider Roxanne Trunnell never has been one to shy away from a challenge.
After retiring her longtime therapy horse, Touché, from para-equestrian competitions this summer, the former Tri-City resident is in search of a new steed ahead of her European Spring Tour training and qualifying, which is set to take place in Florida early next month. Roxie, 29, hopes to qualify for the Fédération Equestre Internationale Barcelona Tour in April.
Trunnell developed encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, in 2009. She fell into a coma and might have suffered a stroke. The illness affects Roxie’s speech and mobility, and while her medical expenses stabilized, the combination of travel and competition costs landed the family “in a pickle financially,” said Josette Trunnell, Roxie’s mother.
The family’s financial tight-rope walk has made finding a new horse difficult. Roxie has ridden two horses in preparation for the European Spring Tour, one of which is Touché, but Josette said it’ll cost the family between $12,000 and $15,000 to take a horse to Florida. Buying one costs significantly more.
“It’s a constant battle with these athletes — trying to keep them on a horse,” Josette said.
Roxie is a Kennewick native and moved with her father, Sid, to Texas in January 2013 for better training opportunities. Josette, a nurse practitioner in Washington and Texas, followed in June. In just the past few months, Josette has watched a number of potential horses slip through her daughter’s fingers.
“We’ve lost three horses now because I can’t come up with the money,” she said.
Touché, a 19-year-old Dutch Warmblood that Roxie had ridden for years, traveled to France with her in August for the World Equestrian Games. The pair finished eighth among 23 competitors in the para-dressage category before Roxie retired the horse from competition.
“She held her own,” Josette said of her daughter’s performance in France. “As a result, she has gained this huge following on Facebook that tracks her.”
The family has applied for grants, sought corporate sponsors and tried its hand at crowdfunding to finance the purchase of a new horse and travel expenses.
“It’s like the major push,” Josette said of the constant search for money.
If Roxie is unable to find a horse by early January, at the latest, she runs the risk of not qualifying for the FEI Barcelona Tour in April and hurting her chances of securing a spot at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Roxie must qualify herself and her horse to compete in the Paralympic Games. She’s a member of the eight-person U.S. para-equestrian team, but Josette said only the top four will compete in Rio.
Before Touché retired, Roxie and the horse made a final lasting impression on the FEI — Roxie is short-listed for the organization’s Hero Among Us award, and the winner should be announced Dec. 14.
“It’s like the Oscars for equestrian sports,” Josette said of the award.
Josette called her daughter’s disability “fairly static,” but said Roxie still makes little improvements each day. Roxie completed her master’s degree in psychology in December 2013.
When asked what she most wanted to accomplish in life, Roxie said, “Just get back to being normal.”
Getting back on her own horse could be the next step.
Anyone interested in helping to ease Roxie’s travel and competition expenses can send donations to 3109 Bluewood Dr., Rowlett, Texas, 75089. Checks should be made out to the U.S. Para-Equestrian Association with a notation they’re for Roxanne Trunnell. Donations can also be made through USPEA by visiting its website, www.uspea.org, and writing Trunnell’s name in the special instructions field. If Trunnell’s name isn‘t entered in the special instructions, the donation will go to a separate fund and she won’t receive it directly.