Breast Cancer: The Dressage Community Fights Back

How the dressage community raises funds and awareness for breast cancer.
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How the dressage community raises funds and awareness for breast cancer.

Maybe you have heard of the Purina Pink 50 Campaign,?The Challenge of the Americas, the PVDA Ride for Life, Dressage for the Cure at the Peak, Dressage for the Cure, SSG? Riding Gloves for Hope or Smartpak's SmartPink? and how they are helping the dressage community win the fight against breast cancer.

About 90 percent of dressage riders are female according to the U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF), so it is no wonder that breast cancer awareness and breast cancer fundraising have become hot topics in our world. Champions of the cause?from individuals to multimillion-dollar corporations?are creating charity organizations, products and events at an incredible rate. Here are just a few examples of how members of the dressage community are helping to support breast cancer research, awareness and treatments: the Purina Pink 50 Campaign,?The Challenge of the Americas, the PVDA Ride for Life, Dressage for the Cure at the Peak, Dressage for the Cure, SSG??Riding Gloves for Hope or Smartpak's SmartPink? - learn more about each:

The Challenge of the Americas (COTA) has taken the charity dressage event to a new level. In addition to acting as a fundraiser, it has helped expand the base of spectator-friendly dressage events and brought together members of the sport's community. This annual Florida event features freestyles by some of the top riders in the world, a Grand Prix quadrille and a formal sold-out formal gala. COTA brings the who's who of dressage together for low-stress, exhibition-style performances. "Each year, the challenge and gala bring in more people and more excitement, and it is so important that we acknowledge and help in the fight against breast cancer," says Mary Ross, founder and chairman of COTA. "This is a disease that affects so many lives, and I am so proud of the impact we are able to have as we raise money for the Foundation." Since its inception, the event has raised over $1.2 million for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. "My mother, who died of breast cancer, was my inspiration for this event," says Ross, "I wanted to do something extraordinary in her memory. I am so thankful to each person who has helped transform the challenge from a luncheon performance with three horses into the international exhibition it is today."

The Potomac Valley Dressage Association's (PVDA) Ride for Life in Maryland also started with humble beginnings. Breast cancer survivor Pat Artimovich organized a one-day recognized show in 2004 to raise money for the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center in Baltimore, Maryland. In the past seven years, the show has grown to a weekend-long event with a Saturday evening Dancing Horse Challenge (involving upper-level horses and riders performing to music) and gala. Despite the weakened economy, the horse show is famous for filling up fast. Competitors bring funds they have raised, similar to a walk-a-thon, and the sold-out gala, charity auction and Dancing Horse Challenge donations have helped raise more than $315,000 to date.

On the other side of the country, the two-day recognized dressage show in Colorado, Dressage for the Cure at the Peak, also continues to grow from small beginnings and big ideas. Started in 2005 at a barn in Littleton, Colorado, the show was the brainchild of Donna Baxter to give a friend "something to live for" after her cancer diagnosis.

"The concept came to me the night I heard that my best friend, Ren?e Coble, a fellow dressage enthusiast and instructor, was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer," says Baxter. "I had recently relocated due to work and wasn't there with her when she was diagnosed. The prognosis wasn't great from the start and, since I was alone, I consoled myself the only way I knew how: I went to the barn. On my way there, I came up with the idea of having a dressage show. The proceeds would be donated to a breast cancer fund/charity of Ren?e's choosing."

At first, it was just a local Rocky Mountain Dressage Society (RMDS) show. Today it has grown so big that it has moved to Colorado Springs, becoming Dressage for the Cure at the Peak, and is now a qualifying competition for the North American Junior Young Rider Championships and the U.S. Equestrian Federation's Young Horse Program. Since its first year, the event has raised more than $50,000.

Baxter explains, "As Ren?e was going through her breast cancer treatments, she realized there was a nich? that was being overlooked. She discovered that middle-income women and men faced with the same ailment were having to chose between getting treatments and providing everyday necessities for their families like food, shelter, utilities and day care. She decided to create her own fund to help those individuals cope and survive." Hence, Ren?e's Friends Fund (RFF) was born ( Since its inception, RFF has provided more than $323,000 in financial assistance to people facing the challenges of living with breast cancer.

In 2011, Dressage for the Cure at the Peak moves to the Colorado Horse Park and will now fund the non-profit support group Sense of Security. Dressage for the Cure will return as an additional fundraising dressage show in the area. It will continue to support RFF. Both Sense of Security and RFF provide local breast cancer patients with everyday living expenses while they are in treatment (

These events have grown the spectator-oriented angle while other fundraisers take a different approach, encouraging one-on-one and grass-roots participation.
For example, 10 percent of the proceeds from the sale of Smartpak's SmartPink? line of horse wear (clothing, halters, etc.) goes to support the cause. So far, the total exceeds $50,000 (

SSG? Riding Gloves for Hope donates $2 from each pair of gloves sold in the country of purchase to breast cancer charities (

Feed company Purina recently encouraged equestrians to "think pink" during its 2010 Purina Pink 50 Campaign to raise awareness and support for breast cancer research. It hosted 50 equestrian-related fundraisers for the cause around the country and produced limited-edition pink feed bags, donating a portion of the proceeds (

Thanks to the tireless commitment of people, groups and companies, breast cancer fundraising and awareness have grown exponentially within the dressage world. Certainly, many of the philanthropists involved in equestrian-related efforts focused on ending breast cancer will continue to provide support in every way they can until a cure is found. Until then, we are likely to see more spectacular fundraisers crop up as members of the dressage community continue to grow as a family and work toward fighting this disease in every creative way they can.

Anatomy of a Donation

By Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS

When donations are made to promote breast cancer research and awareness, where do they go? In the case of the PVDA's Ride for Life, the funding comes to us at the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Here is how the funds (in excess of $300,000) have helped:

Partial funding for a breast surgical oncology fellowship. This certifies a general surgeon to be a surgical oncologist and within that specialty, a breast surgical oncologist. The specific funding from the Ride for Life was dedicated to quality-of-life research. In 2008, Dr. Anna Voltura was the recipient and spent one year at Hopkins. Afterward, she returned home to New Mexico and opened a breast center and served as the director of the breast program, specializing in underserved women in that region. By the end of 2010, the number of women she had operated on exceeded 800. This year, Dr. Eman Sbaity is the first woman to be placed into a breast surgical oncology fellowship with the goal of learning how to diagnose and treat breast cancer in Lebanon. No reconstruction has ever been done there, and she is currently learning those techniques to be able to provide patients with a whole silhouette after mastectomy surgery is performed. She is also learning how to do core biopsies and clinical breast exams and communication skills with patients.

Some $2,000 was used as supplemental funding to cover travel expenses for me to go to the Middle East and conduct educational programs for doctors with breast cancer patients. Breast cancer is the leading cause of death for women in Arabic countries. Currently, the mortality rate is above 85 percent, and most are diagnosed in their 30s and 40s.

Supplemental funds from the PVDA Ride for Life have been used to enable formal studies on the quality of life for those in the final stages of breast cancer. Additionally, we have been conducting retreats for these women since 2008, and this funding has helped develop programs to ease their physical and emotional pain?making sure that wishes are known, documenting them, teaching how to get closure with family, friends and oneself as they approach the end of their life.

A survivorship care program also has received funding. It teaches nurse practitioners, primary care physicians and gynecologists the long-term care needs of breast cancer patients. This is essential because, as of 2010, the number of cancer patients diagnosed exceeded the number of oncology specialists needed to treat them. The shortage of oncology specialists is anticipated to be between 41 and 48 percent by 2020.

Fundraising Tips from the North Carolina Caravan for the Cure

By Tanya Horning

To date, our breast cancer fundraising group, called the North Carolina Caravan for the Cure?seven equestrians and six supporters?has raised more than $25,000. Here are four steps we followed that can help any equestrian fundraising group, large or small:

1. Form a group that shares a goal. It doesn't matter who is involved as long as they have passion. We came together as one team and had a lot of fun, even though the riders came from different farms and backgrounds (eventing, catch rider, dressage novice, U.S. Dressage Federation and Pan American Games gold medalists).

2. Ask friends and family to donate to your effort.

3. Host an event to raise money. For example, our group hosted a Fix-a-Test Clinic and Fun Day. This event included good food, a silent auction and shopping opportunities. The day was a lot of fun for all the horse people in attendance.

4. Solicit corporate sponsors for donations, advertising and support whenever your fundraising might offer the opportunity. For example, at any event there are many wonderful chances to advertise (in a show program, with ringside banners or by sponsoring awards with logos) and at the same time support a worthy cause.

This article was originally printed in the March 2011 issue of Dressage Today. To gain up-to-the-minute access to all Dressage Today has to offer,?consider?subscribing.