When it was over, when she no longer felt the eyes of the five judges scrutinizing her mare’s every move, Mary Jordan relaxed. And felt the waves of joy.

She and 12-year-old Paxton Abbey had not given a gold-medal performance. Not even close. Her reward had nothing to do with medals or crowd acclaim.

Instead, Jordan’s emotions soared with the memory of an eight-year journey from the diagnosis of a lifelong, potentially disabling disease to Wednesday’s debut in the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at Lexington, Ky.

The elite of the competitive horse riding community descended on the capital of thoroughbred racing for two weeks of dressage, jumping, eventing and other tests. The atmosphere, wrote a Lexington sports columnist, was country casual. Call it more bluejeans than blue blood.

This is Jordan’s world. She is a 44-year-old wife and mother from Wells who happens to have multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. It can weaken muscle control and rob people of their strength and eyesight.

Medication has beaten the disease in her body into remission. She has been vigilant and proactive in keeping it at bay.

Four years before Jordan’s diagnosis, Paxton Abbey was foaled with complications. The birth sac hadn’t ruptured. Jordan tore it herself, finding a foal that wasn’t breathing. She cleared the air passages. Paxton Abbey began to live.

“(Paxton Abbey) was born in my lap,” said Jordan, who is one of the very few who bred the horse she rides in competition. “She’s a family member.”

Jordan laughs. Like so many things in the past eight years, the past four weeks were a challenge. The starter in the car hauling the rider and horse on the 13-hour leg from New York to Kentucky stopped working. It’s replacement stopped, too.

During weeks of training in Kentucky prior to the competition, temperatures reached as high as 98 and dropped to the 30s. Jordan’s task was to gauge her horse as they worked out.

“Horses are athletes just like we’re athletes,” she said. “You keep them happy, keep them eager and they’ll perform. When it came time, she was ready to rock and roll.”

Jordan qualified for the U.S. team, competing in para dressage, a classification for riders with physical disabilities. This was the first year they could compete in the World Equestrian Games.

Para dressage riders are categorized by the extent of their disabilities. Jordan was in a group of the most able-bodied riders. Never mind this was the first time she was competing at this level. She slept “like a rock” the night before.

Jordan and Paxton Abbey were the first to be judged thanks — or no thanks — to a draw for starting position. The arena was cool at 8:30 a.m. Not all of the expected crowd of thousands were in their seats.

Judges typically don’t grade high to start. Jordan thought their six minutes of what some call horse ballet was clean. the end of the day their points rated 13th out of the 18 scored.

“You always wonder what your best will be,” said Jordan. “We worked hard. I’ve trained for months in snow. It’s not easy.

“A lot of people would feel the pressure cooker. (Paxton Abbey) was going for it. She really stepped to the plate.

“Eight years ago I thought this part of my life was over. I had a botched spinal tap. I couldn’t walk for two weeks. I was either going to latch onto this sport or give up before I tried.”

She and Paxton Abbey compete in the musical freestyle Sunday. It will be fun, she said.

Monday, she’ll drive back to the horse park, load her mare and begin the drive to Maine.

She’s looking forward to foliage, frost on the pumpkin and more training. Jordan got the qualifying score that will enable her and Paxton Abbey to ride in the selection trials for the London Olympics in 2012.

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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