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Masury woman overcomes disabilities on horseback

Staff photo / Burton Cole Sara Grace Carowick, 21, of Masury, who holds several Equestrians with Disabilities world championships, poses with her mount, Bobby, a 9-year-old quarter horse.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of a series of Saturday profiles of area residents and their stories. To suggest a profile, contact features editor Burton Cole at bcole@tribtoday.com.

MASURY — Five years ago, while looking for ways to help her daughter flourish over disabilities, Kara Carowick began researching therapeutic horse riding.

Today, Sara Grace Carowick, 21, ranks as a three-time National Snaffle Bit Association world champion and holder of the All Around NSBA Equestrians with Disabilities championship trophy.

Her aim is to compete in the Paralympic Games in 2023.

“Just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean you can’t still have goals,” the 2016 Badger High School graduate said.

Her goals aren’t just for herself.

“I want to get noticed in the horse world. If I can keep getting plaques, I can be well-known and become an advocate for other people with disabilities,” she said.

The National Snaffle Bit Association focuses on pleasure and recreational riding. Its world championship events include classes for disabled riders. Sara competes in the categories for independent riders, which means she does not require assistance.

Until earning a slew of trophies in July at the NSBA World Championship Show in Tulsa, Okla., Sara had planned on moving out of Equestrians with Disabilities into regular competition classes next year.

“Now I look at things differently,” she said. “If I keep working hard and do well at the other shows, people will start joining EWD.”

“She has this natural ability,” Kara said. “She does not let her disability define her. She adapts and overcomes.”

When Sara was 5, she was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome. She’s largely outgrown and learned to control symptoms such as tics and twitches, but sometimes still will make soft clicking sounds with her tongue. Then a year ago May, she also was diagnosed with epilepsy. Factors such as stress, strobe lights or becoming overheated can trigger seizures.

“When I had my second seizure (last year), I lost my memory. I didn’t even know my parents,” Sara said.

Recovery meant a lot of relearning — including how to ride — until her memory returned.

The passion to ride, to excel, motivates the tall, trim, blonde-haired equestrian.

A family friend introduced the Carowicks to Equestrians with Disabilities.

“It’s been life-changing,” Kara said. “Up until five years ago, we did not own a horse. My husband (Kelly Carowick) found a property on Zillow in foreclosure five years ago July.”

The result is a boarding barn with a riding ring and pasture land off Custer Orangeville Road in Masury. It was dubbed Gerlock Acres as a tribute to family values and history.

“My husband is second generation American,” Kara said. “His grandparents came from Poland. My ancestry is German. I mushed them together and told our kids that they are Gerlocks.”

Sara began riding four years ago and has been competing for three. She confesses that it was scary when she started. Then she fell in love with riding and all of its benefits.

“This has helped me a lot because for some reason, it calms me down,” she said. It’s also an exercise that builds one’s core muscles and enhances balance.

Her disabilities prevent her from driving and holding many jobs. Sara works with horses and cleans the barn at Gerlock Acres. Horses instill a sense of personal responsibility in a person, she said.

“It helps you with life decisions. If there is an emergency, you have to think (ahead) what would I do here, because you have to stay calm.

“I had been bullied so bad in school that I don’t have any self-confidence whatsoever,” Sara said. “Riding horses — this program has helped me.”

She shows with a 9-year-old quarter horse named Bobby — affectionately known as Ricky Bobby — leased from an owner in Medina.

“I call him the little engine that can, because all he wants to do is please you,” Sara said. “This is one of the best show horses I have ever had.”

They compete in a variety of Western pleasure riding disciplines, including English equitation, trail riding, hunter under saddle. If you’re going to learn to ride, learn everything you can, Sara reasoned.

“I’ve always wanted to be better at horsemanship. I wanted to be better the next day. I try to push myself as much as I can to be a better rider,” she said.

Some people falsely believe competitions take it easy on riders with disabilities, Sara said.

“They make it hard. They make you work for it, that’s for sure. … They do the same (riding) patterns as the other people do.”

Her next competition is the All American Quarter Horse Congress next month in Columbus. It’s the largest single-breed show in the world, she said.

Next year, her goal is to compete in four EWD shows: the Dixie National Quarter Horse Show in February in Mississippi; the Palomino Horse Breeders Association World Show in July in Springfield, Ill.; back to Tulsa next August; and back to Columbus next October.

In the meantime, she is looking for sponsors to support those trips.

“My goal is to ride every day. Do I ride every day? No. My health comes first. If I don’t feel good, I don’t ride. I have to watch out. If I don’t feel good, I come right off the horse,” Sara said.

It’s a precaution she has learned to take. The risk of seizures brought on by exhaustion or heat is great.

Sara hopes to eventually enroll in college, either for massage therapy or for business. She said she’d put that degree to work running a horse boarding barn.

And she wants to continue to advocate for the disabled, preferably on horseback.

“God has a plan,” Kara said. “We’re just here for the ride.”

bcole@tribtoday.com

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