‘I have never seen her as happy as when she’s riding’

With eyes focused on what’s ahead and a tight grip on the reins, for a moment Bryanna Tanase feels free on top of her horse; for a moment, she forgets about her disability.

Diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at 11 months old, Bryanna has lived her entire life in a way that most cannot imagine. Cerebral Palsy is a disability that affects the connection between the body’s movements and the brain. Cerebral Palsy also affects fine motor skills and coordination. While Bryanna has control over her upper body, she needs assistance with most daily tasks like moving her legs.

When Bryanna was introduced to the idea that she could participate in horseback riding at the Quantum Leap Farm in Odessa, her life changed.

“My parents surprised me with a Christmas present to go there, so I had a voucher for four lessons,” said Bryanna. “One day in the Spring we went on a tour of the whole place and it was my first try getting on the horse … it was so different from anything else I had ever experienced, it was the first time I got to participate in making decisions and feeling free.”

According to its website, The Quantum Leap Farm is home to a therapy program with the mission to improve the quality of life for those with disabilities, both mental and physical, through horseback riding. For Bryanna, the Quantum Leap Farm and horseback riding would become a main factor in her journey of coping with Cerebral Palsy.

After Bryanna’s first lesson, she worked to strengthen her core and improve her balance. She recalled how eye-opening the first time she independently rode her horse was.

“In my experience, they (therapists) asked me questions and actually wanted to know about me and it was just this feeling of wonder and accomplishment of ‘wow, I am actually doing this right now’… it was one of the biggest accomplishments of my life,” Bryanna said.

In a message to The Oracle, Bryanna’s sister, USF junior Stefannie Tanase, described just what horses mean to Bryanna.

“I have never seen her as happy as when she’s riding,” Stefannie said. “I think for her, being up on a horse, is the one thing that allows her to be more than just a person with a disability.”

In the Summer of 2017, Bryanna was able to ride with only one hand holding the reins and one holding the whip.

Horseback riding not only provides her with a way to improve her physical movements, but also allows her to build an unspoken connection with animals that humans cannot provide.

A member of the equine-assisted therapy program, Bryanna is also an ambassador for the Quantum Leap Farm and manages a blog documenting her journey.

In the summer of 2017, at an event called Stable Mates, which hosts all of the supporters of the therapy program, the director asked Bryanna to speak to the crowd and tell her story. With nerves surrounding her first speech at the event, Bryanna got comfort from being somewhere during the speech that she feels most herself — on the back of her horse.

“It was really neat to speak about my experience, I love sharing my story with people because I want as many people to know about it because I’m really proud of it,” Bryanna said.

A junior majoring in cell and molecular biology, Bryanna’s strength and determination show in many other places aside from the farm.

Bryanna is a member of Bulls for Moffitt, a student organization dedicated to raising awareness and promoting involvement with Moffitt Cancer Center. She is also a member of the Undergraduate Research Society, a student organization centered around promoting research at USF, and is on the marketing team for Bulls for Kids, a student-run philanthropy benefiting Children’s hospitals.

Already having accomplished so much, Bryanna said she still has her eyes focused on what’s ahead, hoping to become a certified therapeutic riding instructor and compete in a dressage show, a highly skilled form of riding performed in competitions and exhibitions.

“I’m so thankful for Quantum Leap and all the incredible work they do,” Stefannie said. “Without them, Bryanna would not have been able to achieve her dream of riding and she would truly not be the same person without horses.”

While Bryanna lives a life that brings many challenges and obstacles, she never lets that stop her from hurdling over them.

“Horses are my wings,” Bryanna said. “With them I am no longer shy, timid or fearful, but strong, confident and sure. That in itself is a simple yet powerful form of magic that building a connection with horses have, and it has changed my life for the better.”