Parkite Genevieve Rohner was recently named to the U.S. Para-Equestrian Emerging Athletes list and is aiming for the 2024 Olympics
At 12 years old, Parkite Genevieve Rohner has been through more physically and mentally than many will in a lifetime.
Born premature at 28 weeks as a triplet, Rohner’s underdeveloped nervous system led to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, sensory integration disorder (a neurological disorder in which the sensory information that the individual perceives results in abnormal responses), amblyopia (a disorder of sight in which the brain fails to process inputs from one eye and over time favors the other eye. It results in decreased vision in an eye that otherwise typically appears normal) and misaligned right leg bones.
After dealing with all of those diagnoses, it would be easy to find somebody who’s on the brink of being a teenager moody, despondent and not willing to try anymore.
Well that’s not Rohner.
“She’s so passionate about what she does and is someone, even at such a young age, has always made goals for herself and went about accomplishing them,” said Lexi Rohner, Genevieve’s mom. “She truly lets nothing hold her back and if what she’s gone through hasn’t held her back, I don’t know if there’s something that will.”
At the age of four Genevieve began riding horses, an activity that set her up for a bright future as the U.S. Equestrian Federation recently named her as a U.S. Para-Equestrian Emerging Athlete.
What that means is that Genevieve is considered one of the top para-equestrian riders in the country and on track to reach her ultimate goal of competing in the Olympics. It’s three-tier pipeline with “emerging” athletes as ones who are now doing national and international competitions before reaching the “developmental” level, whose primary goal is to make it the “elite” level, which is essentially the U.S. Paralympic team.
“It’s really cool because it means that I’m on the right track for going to the Olympics. … It’s not scary because it’s something I want to do,” Genevieve said. “I’m way more excited about it than anything. It makes everything I do from here on out way more exciting when I do it.”
A chance of luck brought Genevieve into the sport.
At three years old, Genevieve’s brother Cole was selected for a hippotherapy clinical trial with Ride-On Therapeutic Horsemanship, a para-dressage Center of Excellence — Hippotherapy is the use of horseback riding as a therapeutic or rehabilitative treatment, especially as a means of improving coordination, balance, and strength. Luckily, Cole was chosen for the therapy portion and as the trial took place, began to see some results.
Once the trial was over, Ride-On Therapeutic Horsemanship offered him another eight weeks of riding — and Lexi thought maybe Genevieve should try it as well.
As a former figure skater and competition coach for 25 years, Lexi knew how to recognize instant love in young competitors, and that’s exactly what she saw as soon as she saw Genevieve on a horse that first time.
“It was incredible and amazing. … It was like the heavens opened and the angels started singing as soon as she got on that horse and began riding,” Lexi said. “She fell in love with it instantly and I could just recognize it in her when I saw her. There are some things in life that you just know and when she was on the horse, it was palpable and everything just clicked for her.”
After those initial eight weeks, Lexi realized that Genevieve needed to continue riding, so she began therapeutic riding to help with her progression in physical therapy. She was such a natural at riding that her coach, who was also helping guide her therapy sessions, asked Genevieve if she wanted to compete.
At age five, she had her first competition and was immediately hooked — so hooked that she told her mom that she wanted to give up ice skating, which Lexi was encouraging to help promote her physical improvement, to just focus on equestrian riding.
“At first I totally thought that riding would just be a cute hobby for her because I’m more of an ice person and wasn’t originally a big horse fan. … I thought that if she’s happy we’ll go once a week but over time, she loved the competition and began progressing rapidly that it became her love,” Lexi said. “At 5, she told me she wanted to go to the Olympics and I had told her alright, she’ll have to spend more time on the ice and probably skip some birthday parties. But she then stomped her foot and said ‘horses,’ and she has never wavered from that goal.”
At the age of 7, Genevieve placed third at a competition in a field of seven competitors, all of whom were 15 or older. That year was also when she got to meet Hope Hand, president of United States Para-Equestrian Association. Hand has kept in touch with Genevieve ever since, watching her progress and providing guidance to the family when needed.
Things all began to change when Genevieve was 9 years old and became officially classified as a level four competitor based on her success as a rider competing in Para-Dressage.
“It’s quite amazing because she’s the youngest competitor to have a para-classification,” Lexi said.
At 10, she qualified for the California Junior Championships, California Dressage Society (CDS) Regionals and U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Region 7 Championships at training level, placing fifth and sixth overall in each competition and earning a CDS top-10 placement — which led to her being named to the emerging athletes list.
But before Genevieve can take the next step forward in her goal of making it to the 2024 Olympics, she is now looking for sponsors to help her get a higher quality horse because that’s what’s needed to allow her to move to higher levels of competition.
“Horses are better than people, way better,” Genevieve said. “They are my favorite thing and I just have a really special connection with them. Horses just understand me so when I’m at the barn, I love talking to them because I feel like I can always be myself and honest with them.”
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