I was thinking about Christmas and presents and Christmas lists – and then I thought of this story… and it seemed more appropriate for this time of giving.
Originally posted in 2010.
I saw this photo today and it took a while for my brain to register what I was seeing… Take a look.
Yup. No arms. Her name is Bettina Eistel and her horse is Fabuleax 5.
What is even more compelling than the fact that she can brush her horse with her feet, is that she competes, very well, at the Paralympics in dressage.
Bettina didn’t just overcome her disability, she walloped it!
(Kinda makes me feel ridiculous for complaining about anything having to do with just about anything…)
WHY NO ARMS?
Thalidomide. (I wanted to read her book but it isn’t translated into English and I cannot read German. I wonder if a Kindle could translate it?…) Anyway, she was born in 1961 in Germany, with no arms due to the drug, Thalidomide.
What is Thalidomide? Thalidomide was a drug they gave pregnant women before it was known that it caused birth defects… Hence, Bettina was born without any arms.
When I was too little to understand manners, I can remember my mother telling me not to stare at kids I would see who had birth defects. She would shake her head and just whisper, “Thalidomide”. I remember being very appreciative that I didn’t have that kind of a birth defect.
Bettina doesn’t let her disability stop her. After all, this way of being is all she has ever known…
As an aside, another disabled Olympian was explaining the difference between being born with a disability versus being born “whole” and acquiring the disability. This concept is an interesting topic. You probably can come to some of your own conclusions here.
Anyway, as a small child, Bettina learned how to use her feet and toes as her hands and fingers. As a youngster, she started in horseback riding lessons. (Thank goodness her parents supported her and let go of their fears around this.) She wears riding boots with cut-outs in the toes so she can have ‘hands’ (imagine how cold her toes must get … and how often they clip a branch or a fence board – ouch!). She can saddle, bridle, hose down, wrap, blanket and do just about anything else that is needed for her horse. And, she rides by steering with her legs and holding the reins in her mouth. IN HER MOUTH. Try that… I tried to hold my brush in my mouth while braiding my girl’s hair and I ended up drooling all over the place in about a minute. I have no idea how she does it. Amazing.
Oh, and besides all those horse riding feats, she can text, write and put on mascara with her toes!
Hmmmm. I’m starting to feel sheepish for complaining about anything…
“After highschool in 1979, Bettina studied the History of Art, Archaeology and Ethnology in Hamburg, followed by an eight-year study of psychology. During her psychology studies, she participated in a project with Hamburg’s home for children. In 1989 she completed her studies with a diploma and has since worked as a graduate psychologist in a Hamburg counseling center for children and family therapy.”
I really couldn’t find much information on her coaching (Her coach Franz-Martin Stankus) or how she learned to ride. But, I did find out that she:
“Eistel was formerly Vice-Europe and Vice World Champion (two silver and bronze at the European Championships in Portugal in 2002 and three silver at the World Championships in Belgium in 2003) and won two silver and one bronze medal at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens , she won also three times the German championship. As the most recent successes are the bronze medal in the required tasks of the individual competition and the silver medal in the team standings at the 2008 Paralympics in Hong Kong.”
Not bad even for a girl WITH arms…
You have to really think about the kind of horse who would let this kind of a rider be his partner. Really… what temperament is needed to perform at high level dressage as well as take care of a disabled rider? Wow. I wish I knew if they looked high and low for him… or if they simply trained a good horse to understand this rider? (I need to read her book.) I mean, did they find a horse and say to him that this is the way we are going to do it now? Or, does the Fabuleax 5 ‘know’? I often hear that certain horses are much more gracious with disabled riders than with regular riders. I know that my Gwen is much nicer to children than to me… I wonder how that happens? Is it the horse or the quality/feel/spirit of the disabled rider/child that effects the horse? Dunno.
Bettina says she trained her horse via voice commands, head movement and leg aids. Funny, I bet hardly any of us would think it was even possible to ride a horse without arms.
From where I sit, I would like to be in the presence of the wonderful Fabuleax 5. He is a saint in my book. Fabuleax lets Bettina ride him in the only way she can… with the reins in her teeth and the other set of reins between her toes. And, he does his job. Simple. Gosh. Impressive.
If you notice in the photos, he lowers his head to be bridled and to be brushed. Atta boy!
Bettina also landed a gig as a Talk Show Host. With a weekly show on German TV station ZDF, Bettina is something of a media star. They say her popularity is because of her engaging and optimistic personality… but one cannot ignore her amazing ability to do everything, literally everything, with her feet..
I wanted to bring this story to you because I think sometimes we give up too easily. Or maybe it is just me… maybe I think I give up too easily or don’t push through my/my horse’s issues or don’t get over myself/my fears or don’t put as much effort/time into training my horses as I could. Reading about Bettina was a good shot in the arm for me…
I sure don’t feel like making any excuses or complaining…
I cannot even imagine folding the laundry with my feet, let alone living 24 hours without my hands. Wow. Very inspirational.