Jessica Thoma’s journey as a rider amazed and inspired us all at Dover Saddlery, and we wanted to share her story with you.
Jessica lives in Tennessee and has been riding for more than 20 years. She first learned how to ride on school ponies, later moved up to a Mustang, and she now owns, with her family, a total of 10 horses. Five of them are a herd of miniature horses! Her introduction to the equestrian world began with learning how to ride Western, but her focus quickly changed to English after watching numerous videos of professional jumpers and eventers complete their courses. She started learning how to jump bareback because she could not afford to buy an English saddle at the time, and when Jessica’s parents gave her a three-day event video game, she was hooked. It soon became her dream to become an eventer and to show at recognized events.
Jessica’s story so far may sound familiar to your own; many could say they, too, began their riding career in a similar manner. But Jessica has started writing a story that’s
entirely her own as a #TripleAmputeeEventer. In 2017, she began to feel sick constantly, and eventually developed a severe rash that prompted multiple misdiagnoses. Her condition drastically deteriorated. Finally, through a biopsy of a lesion on her side, her doctors discovered she had Polyarteritis Nodosa (PAN), a rare type of vasculitis in which the blood vessels within the arteries become inflamed and cause organ damage. Jessica nearly died three times during months of hospitalization, and ultimately underwent surgery to amputate both of her legs and her left arm. After a long ordeal, Jessica is finally back home with her horses and family.
We recently interviewed Jessica Thoma to hear firsthand all about her inspiring journey as a #TripleAmputeeEventer, her plans to continue riding and to work in the equestrian field. She loves to draw and play video games, but at her heart, synonymous with her love of riding is her passion for teaching people, especially kids, how to ride. For those who want to learn more about Jessica, she also keeps her supporters updated on her progress through Facebook (Jessica Thoma) and Instagram (@TripleAmputeeEventer).
What first introduced you to your love of animals?
My mother had a big part in my love for animals. I think animals, especially horses, were in my blood since I was born; my mom just solidified it.
Tell us a little about your horses, what are they like?
Albert is my Thoroughbred gelding who finally helped me to achieve my dreams of showing! He’s a great jumper and is so clever and clean over the jumps. He’s absolutely silly though. I often call him Albertasaurus, ha-ha!
Sugar is my beautiful Paint Spotted Saddle Horse mare who was a rescue as she was left to die in a field after she was no longer useful as a broodmare. She couldn’t walk due to founder and a hoof abscess. I’ve had her since November, 2009. I am very proud of her as she was a completely blank slate when I found her so everything she knows I trained her to do, and that feels amazing. Even more so now that she is the horse I ride exclusively.
The minis are a hoot- and- a- half! Two of them are broke to drive, and it is so enjoyable just driving them down the road!
Can you give us a summary of your diagnosis and how you ended up having your legs and one arm amputated?
I had many misdiagnoses before being diagnosed finally with Polyarteritis Nodosa. I was very sick for a long time; I had no energy, and often I would nearly fall down trying to get to the bathroom. While I was still working I had quite a few people, even a coworker, who didn’t believe I was sick and just thought I was feeling sorry for myself, and just faking it. Because my diagnosis was so difficult to discover, my sickness led to
my limbs dying because my blood vessels were being cut off. A lesion on my hip is how I was diagnosed, but unfortunately it was too late to save three out of four limbs. My right hand was severely damaged as well, but salvageable. I have neuropathy, so I cannot feel anything in my hand, not even pain. I’ve accidentally burned my thumb twice and often scrape my hand with grooming tools. I also have tight tendons and ligaments so I can’t really open my hand, or give a thumbs up! Surgery is hopefully in the future for my hand.
Can you describe the transition period after you were released from the hospital and able to go home?
Honestly, it was really strange to go home. Hospitals always have something happening, sounds all the time. I was there from December 3rd to April 5th –that’s a long time. Of course as soon as I got home I went to see my horses. Sugar was the first to come see me, and I just cried and cried. Being able to smell that horse smell and touch her for the first time in months was just magical.
What were the hardest aspects for you to deal with mentally and physically from the time you were diagnosed until now?
The hardest thing for me has been letting people help me. Before this I was a very independent person, I was working and riding and could do anything I wanted at any time. Now I have to rely on family or my fiancé just to use the bathroom or get dressed.
How does getting back into the saddle and being able to start riding your horse make you feel?
Riding Sugar has really helped me to realize that I can get through this, and I can get through anything life throws at me.
Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for someone else that might be going through a similar situation?
The pain you’re feeling now will fade. Get back to doing what you enjoyed prior to your injury, and that will help you heal mentally.
What are your goals for your future riding career; have they changed from when you first began riding?
I still want to event! The general concept has changed, but I’m still determined to tackle a cross country course when I get my prosthetic legs!
This girl personifies the sport of eventing! Trust your horse, believe it’s possible and never ever give up! Fover you need to sponser her! I can see her at the paraolympics…winning!