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Wearing a Mask isn’t Anything New For This 6-Year-Old Equestrian

Filed under: Featured,The Buzz |     

Sassy! Ellenor with her favorite panda mask and her pony, Mini Cooper.

By: Brittany Bevis

For most of the world, living life behind a face mask is something new. Unless you work in a hospital or on a construction site, masks probably aren’t part of your everyday attire. But for 6-year-old equestrian, Ellenor Kavanaugh, this is the first time she has looked just like everyone else.

Ellenor’s mother, Louise, explains that her daughter has been showing for just over two years. Louise grew up showing Quarter Horses and had the dream that her children would follow suit. However, when her newborn daughter was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, Louise panicked, sold her horses, and said goodbye to the sport she loves.

“This was a dream I had for my own kids. But, when Ellenor was first diagnosed, I panicked. Every parental instinct in me wanted to wrap her in a bubble. So, we decided to get out of horses, and we sold everything horse-related, even my lifelong show horses. But, it was engrained in Ellenor to love horses. This illness has taught us that you can’t live life in a bubble. It might look a little different, but she wants this.”

“So, I did some research, made some adjustments to our horse lifestyle, and we got Ellenor her own miniature pony. Those two have become an inseparable team.”

Ellenor was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at birth. Louise explains that Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disorder that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs, resulting in chronic lung infections. Cystic Fibrosis also affects the pancreas, liver, kidneys, and intestines. In addition, Ellenor was born with Meconium Ileus related to her Cystic Fibrosis, which caused her to have a major abdominal surgery at two days old. She spent the first three months of her life at UofM hospital.

“Cystic Fibrosis is a progressive disease, meaning that as Ellenor gets older, her CF will get worse. On healthy days, Ellenor’s daily care consists of two hours of physical therapy/airway clearance, 5-6 inhaled medications, 15-20 pills, a special diet high in fat, salt, and calories, and staying away from people who are sick. When the CF takes over and gets too much to handle, it can result in a two-week hospital stay at UofM.”

“But, because of her diagnosis, Ellenor has taught our whole family to live every day to the fullest and to always find the best in each day! She always has a smile on her face. She’s the type of person to light up a room.”

So, when it’s time for Ellenor to hit the horse show with her beloved “Mini Cooper,” she does so while wearing a mask. “Her mask is an extra step in keeping her lungs clear and healthy. She wears the masks when it’s dusty or at an indoor show where there is less air circulation. Her body doesn’t clear dust and bacteria from her lungs like everyone else’s lungs, so the mask helps keep her lungs clear.”

“Depending on the overall conditions at the barn and her general level of health, there are times when she doesn’t have to wear a mask. She does wear a mask when she’s doing every barn kid’s favorite chore- cleaning stalls. There are opportunities when she doesn’t have to wear the mask. Ellenor really loves trail riding with her pony, so we take advantage of those moments to get Ellenor fresh air out on the open trail.”

Louise has tried to make the act of wearing a mask as fun as possible for Ellenor, so she has a variety of colorful, fun designs. A few even match her show outfits. Louise says that masks are like shoes; you can never have too many! “The masks she wears at shows are called Vogmasks. Her favorite is her panda mask.”

“A mask has always been part of Ellenor’s standard equine gear, no different than grabbing a bridle or saddle pad. Our job as parents has been to make it second nature for her, so she doesn’t see her mask as different. Most reactions from other kids her age have been positive. Before this pandemic, most kids hadn’t seen people wearing masks before, so sometimes her masks turned heads. Ellenor has been raised with a strong sense of confidence and independence, so no matter what kind of look she may receive, she always responds with a smile.”

Louise is being extra cautious with Ellenor during this global pandemic and is following strict quarantine guidelines. Thankfully, her family lives on property, so Ellenor can still ride her horse and be active outdoors. Instead of traveling to UofM for her hospital visits, they have been doing online video calls with her team of doctors. “We’re cautious about Ellenor’s exposure to dust and germs; but her team of doctors have been encouraged by her passion and have credited her continual good health to the physical therapy that horseback riding provides her with.”

Ellenor’s partner for her trail rides and horse shows is a miniature pony named “Mini Cooper.” She loves to ride Hunt Seat, but Trail is her favorite class. Her latest show partner is Santee Carlos, a coming three-year-old POA. His barn name is Marshmallow, because that’s Ellenor’s favorite food she can eat without medication.

“Marshmallow was born with a fractured atlas vertebra, so they both have medical issues to overcome together. They’re hoping to make their show debut this year at the POA East Worlds, POA Congress, and the Buckskin Congress in the all-around small fry classes.”

Like everyone else, Ellenor can’t wait for the horse shows to resume. When they do, she would like to see other people wearing masks as well. “I like seeing other people wearing a mask, because I feel supported,” Ellenor says. “It would be fun to see other people wearing masks at shows too.”

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