When David Botana and his family moved to Indiana, the then 11-year-old was looking for things to do. Within just a couple of days, they bought him a pony named Rocky. They kept the pony at a nearby stable and Botana was able to take regular riding lessons there, mainly in the Western style.

Two years ago when the family moved to Portland, Maine, Botana was looking for ways to continue riding. It was here he tried dressage for the first time. “It is a different style of riding,” Botana said. “I am still riding a horse, but it is a whole new sport.”

Botana was born with Vater Syndrome, a set of birth defects that can affect the vertebrae, esophagus, kidneys, and other parts of the body. He particularly has been dealing with scoliosis and as his body grows, it has caused other issues. “Western allowed me to get comfortable riding horses. But as my body has declined, dressage actually allowed me to have a connection to the horse. It is more secure,” he said.

For dressage, Rocky (the pony) wasn’t going to necessarily work. So his trainer suggested he try Lord Locksley, a Trakehener and Grand Prix breeding stallion owned by Meg Stevens. He goes up to Crystal Spring Farm in Montville on weekends to ride, which is about an hour and half drive outside of Portland. He trains with Susanne Hamilton, a United States Dressage Federation Gold Medalist, instructor, clinician and judge. “I rode him (Lord Locksley) in some local competitions and decided to go down to Florida for two weeks with him as well and try our first international competition.” Botana said.

“Dressage is a partnership between the horse and the rider through a series of maneuvers,” he explained. “It is about frame, poise, impulsion, and rhythm. It requires patience and maintaining a consistency throughout the performance. Dressage is extremely technical.”

That partnership between Botana and Lord Locksley is starting to click. In 2018, Botana was named a member of Disabled Sports USA’s Elite Team. In January 2019, he participated in his first Paralympic qualifier and was selected as Team Alternate. Throughout the event, he raised his place up to third. In March, he returned to Florida as a member of the U.S. team for another Para Dressage competition, helping to earn an all-time high team score for the United States and a decisive victory over Canada. His next competition will be in May. “I want to do well … and we are getting better as a team.”

Botana is the youngest Paralympic hopeful. “I am hoping to make the Paralympics in 2020,” he said. “It is not a young person’s sport … experience has its benefits.”

The Paralympic team won’t be announced until the end of the year. “The other competitors have been there. But I think we can achieve the scores to do that,” Botana said.

Outside of horseback riding, Botana is a student at Casco Bay High School, a rigorous public high school focused on expeditionary learning. “My school is amazing. The teachers and student body have been very supportive (of his endeavors).” He also enjoys alpine skiing with adaptation for his disability. “I skied a bit when I lived in Indiana.” He learned to ski through Camp No Limits and had the opportunity to participate in the Diana Golden & Mills Cup Race Series through Northeast Disabled Sports, a chapter of Disabled Sports USA, in 2015. He continues to ski at least once a year with Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation, another DSUSA chapter.

He is excited about what the future holds. “I am growing up at the right time… with medical treatments available. It is really empowering.” Looking to the 2020 Games in Tokyo, he is seeking funding and sponsorships to help defray the expensive costs of competing at the elite athlete level. “Everyone has been so generous,” he said. We (Botana and Lord Locksley) have the makings of an amazing team – we just need the opportunity.” You can follow his journey at facebook.com/2020ParalympicDream.

NOTE: Profile photo courtesy of Queca Franco. Other photos courtesy of Susan J. Stickle.