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Donna Ponessa

Donna Ponessa and Otto at the 2011 Dressage Affaire CPEDI3* in Del Mar, CA by Lindsay Y McCall

Donna Ponessa and Otto

Donna Ponessa

  • Grade 1b
  • Hometown: New Windsor, NY

Dressage equestrian and 2012 Paralympic hopeful Donna Ponessa’s extraordinary discipline, perseverance and competitive spirit have propelled her through extreme physical adversity to a literal triumph of will.  The vehicle: horses.  She began her equestrian passion in childhood, riding and showing horses.  Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in college, she nonetheless graduated with an RN (registered nurse) degree, a BA in Human Services and a MA in Public Administration.  Working as an RN, she hoped to fulfill her lifelong dream of owning and showing her own horse.

But the disease intervened, with a new diagnosis: a rare form of MS called Devic disease.  All this forced her to stop working and even sell her beloved horse.  Undaunted, she rebounded and resumed sports, becoming one of the world’s top wheelchair tennis players.  Her desire to be involved with horses never wavered, so in 2007 she began riding and training again and totally immersed herself in the art of dressage.

Exploring how to achieve the highest level of the sport, she attended Para-Equestrian training camp in California, where she was told she had the raw talent to become a leading Para-Equestrian contender at the upcoming 2012 Paralympics in London.

Since then, she has been working with Wes Dunham, trainer and operator of Woodstock Stables in Millbrook, NY, riding and campaigning with his Oldenburg Mare Western Rose and Otto, a 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood owned by Sue and Kristi Niblo.  Dunham, who manages the 30-acre farm with full dressage facilities, has brought several horses and riders to reserve and champions at dressage regionals.  Donna has been internationally certified a Grade 1A Para-Equestrian by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), and was recently Grade 1a Class Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion at the USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Championship at the NEDA Fall Festival in Saugerties, NY.

Selected among eight riders to attend the prestigious Robert Dover Para-Dressage Clinic at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation (USET) center in Gladstone, NJ, Donna trained with her horse Western Rose (“Rosie”) for two days under the renowned Robert Dover, the four-time Olympic Bronze medalist who has earned more honors than any other U.S. dressage rider.

Chosen by the USEF High Performance Para-Equestrian Selection Committee, Donna travels to Mexico City, Mexico, to compete against other equestrians in her class from Canada, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Venezuela Nov. 10-12.  Upcoming qualifying events include Australia Dec. 8-11 and Italy in January 2012.

Her training must revolve around her fulltime job as program manager for the Westchester/Putnam Independent Living Center.  In addition to her daily dressage training, she works out twice a week with a personal trainer and four additional times a week on her own.

Disability has taught her to live day by and how each one presents a clean slate.  Despite a progressive disability, she is relentlessly driven to make the most of her life while she is still able.  “I refuse to be defined or limited by disability,” Donna says.  “I have demonstrated what it takes to reach the highest echelon in the sports I’ve competed.  It would be the ultimate honor and privilege to be a medal contender for and represent the United States at the next Paralympic Games.”

For more information, please visit donnasdestiny.com

To view a video about Para-Equestrian Donna Ponessa please go to:  http://www.better.tv/view/C466979P235316V1585923



Donna Ponessa (New Windsor, NY)- Ponessa’s competitive nature made her one of the world’s top wheelchair tennis players and celebrated equestrian. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in college and then a new diagnoses a few years later as a rare form of multiple sclerosis, called Devic Disease, Ponessa’s competitive desire remained fixed on the future. In 2011 she aimed for the Paralympics and her dreams will come true this August. Armed with trainer WesleyDunham, of Woodstock Stables in Millbrook, NY, Ponessa has been accumulating the accolades throughout 2011 and 2012. In 2011 she was the Para-Equestrian Dressage National Champion in Grade Ia. When she headed to Mexico she was part of the Gold Medal U.S. Team and was then selected to fly halfway around the world to Australia, once again capturing the Gold as part of U.S. Team. In 2012 she earned the third overall placing at the USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Championships and was Champion of the Grade IA division. Ponessa will be competing with Western Rose at the Paralympics who is owned by Wesley Dunham in the Grade IA competition.
Ponessa also earned an alternate spot on the Paralympic Team with PG Ganda, owned by Vinceremos Thereapeutic Riding Center. PG Ganda is a 19 year-old Danish Warmblood with a strong walk and a consistent pace.  Ponessa and PG Ganda were fifth overall at the 2012 USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Championships.

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