BY CAITLIN LYNCH ’20
Christa Berry ’20 is a member of the varsity riding team at Mount Holyoke. Unlike the other members of her team, Berry was born without a right foot. She has always worn a prosthetic leg, which begins where her ankle would be.
Berry had an interest in horses from a young age, which likely sparked from fond memories of her grandfather’s horse and the novels about horses she read as a kid. “I love horses, and I have always loved horses,” Berry said. She began riding in elementary school at a therapeutic program. When she wasn’t learning anything new there, she switched to a more traditional riding program.
When it was time to decide where to apply to college, riding was something that Berry considered. “It wasn’t a make-or-break factor but it certainly was a plus if a school had a riding program,” Berry said, “and Mount Holyoke’s program is great.” In fact, it was a postcard sent to Berry’s home in Livermore, California advertising for Mount Holyoke’s “focus on riding” program that drew her attention to the college. Now, Berry is riding for Mount Holyoke’s equitation team in the advanced walk-trot-canter division.
Berry has had to face many challenges as an athlete with a prosthesis, starting with the process of being cleared to compete by the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. Berry said, “My coach had to videotape me riding two different horses and send the videos in to the IHSA. The point was to prove that I am capable of riding different horses safely.” Unfortunately, Berry was ineligible to compete until she was approved, and the process was lengthy. “It took a while to take the videos, send them in and wait for a response, but I’m not really sure why,” said Berry. Because of the clearing process and a sickness Berry developed just after she was cleared, she was only able to compete in two of the eight shows last semester.
Another challenge Berry faces is the physical limitation of having an artificial ankle. “When you ride, you are supposed to have your heels down to help balance and keep the stirrup on your foot,” Berry explained. “Because I have the prosthetic leg and I’m missing an ankle, my ankle is fixed in place and so it is harder to put my heel down.” However, Berry is able to look past this limitation and see an advantage, pointing out: “On the plus side, though, if a horse steps on the prosthetic, it doesn’t hurt!”
Some of Berry’s biggest challenges in being a student-athlete have nothing to do with her prosthesis, she said. “Honestly, the hardest part is fitting everything into my schedule.” Berry is taking biology, chemistry, French and English along with her PE class, team practice and team workout.
Beyond the challenges of being on the riding team are the many benefits for Berry, beginning with the opportunity to ride more often than she did at home. While at home she would ride the same horse every lesson and have lessons once per week, at Mount Holyoke Berry is riding three times each week and rides a different horse each lesson. “It took some time to get used to riding a different horse every time,” said Berry, “but I am riding a lot more here than I was at home and I am learning a lot.” Another benefit of being on the equestrian team for Berry is being recognized as an athlete. “My high school didn’t have a riding team,” said Berry. “We had an equestrian club which I joined, but we didn’t ride, we just talked about horses during lunch.”
Berry looks forward to being on the equestrian team at Mount Holyoke through graduation and doesn’t see any obstacles in her way.