Conquering Giants with a Pony

I had the privilege of not only getting to spend some time with a remarkable young lady, but also to be able to photograph her. Meet Saleen; a 12-year old little firecracker who has overcome some pretty tough obstacles in life with the help of her 4-legged friend “Tilly”.

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At first glance, Saleen is an average 12-year old. She enjoys many of the same things that other little girls do. She’s in 7th grade, loves school and gets excellent grades. She has an older brother who is 22, and she is super excited to be an aunt in January (ok, so most 12-year-olds don’t become an aunt-but you know what I mean!). Her family has 3 horses, 2 dogs, and a turtle. However, there is something quite unique about this beautiful girl. When she was born in Anchorage, Alaska she was born breach (feet first) which caused complications.

Saleen4x6 (2 of 2)

Due to this birth trauma, Saleen had to undergo neurological and hormone tests. They discovered that she had cysts on her spinal cord due to a blockage of the cerebellum which she had to have surgery to remove.  The trauma also caused her pituitary to not produce certain hormones. She doesn’t have her C5 nerve, and her C6 nerve was damaged. These nerves are integral in providing control and sensation to different parts of the body: specifically the hand and arm. This has caused her to have limited use of her right hand.

Due to Saleen’s birth injuries, her family moved back to California to have access to the best care with pediatric endocrine specialists, pediatric neurology doctors and physical therapists that specialize in pediatric hand & shoulder therapy. This move also gave her a chance to be with her grandparents again. Eventually, she had the opportunity to begin pony therapy-which would soon turn in to a great love of hers. Saleen has been riding since she was 8 years old, and it is her favorite thing to do.

Saleen’s mom came to me earlier this year to take her head-shots as she was entering the Little Miss Rodeo contest for Banning’s Stagecoach Days. I was more than thrilled to work with this gorgeous girl- and wouldn’t you know that she won! It was so exciting to go out to the rodeo and see her ride her horse with pride. What a brave and beautiful little girl who doesn’t let these obstacles in her life hold her back at all.

Saleen rides her pony “Tilly” in Gymkhanas in Cherry Valley and Yucaipa and she is the current 2017 Little Miss Rodeo Queen for Banning Stagecoach Days. Saleen says “My pony takes care of me and we make a great team”. What proud parents she must have. Saleen, thank you for inspiring us all to have courage no matter what life brings your way! Ride on and dream big!



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