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Humans of Oxford: Keara Sonntag: Riding the storm

Keara and her horse, Storm, stand in the sunny, snowy fields of the Miami University equestrian center.
Keara and her horse, Storm, stand in the sunny, snowy fields of the Miami University equestrian center.

It's 8 a.m. on a cold Friday morning and first-year Keara Sonntag is already at the equestrian center. She saddles her horse and heads out for an early morning lesson.

Even though she would much rather be sleeping, Keara puts her all into the lesson. She loves riding, and she knows it will help her fight the disability.

Keara has Charcot-Marie Tooth Disease (CMT). It breaks down the covers of the nerves in the extremities, interfering with the nerve's ability to transmit signals to and from the brain. In Keara's case, the CMT causes fatigue and impaired muscle growth and decreases her flexibility.

Keara has to spend a lot of time stretching and attending physical therapy just to keep moving normally. She even has to sleep in night splints. She tries to go to bed early because she needs more sleep than other people, and sometimes she walks with a subconscious limp.

Keara considers herself lucky, though, because her type of CMT doesn't progress as rapidly, and she found a way to minimize the effects: horseback riding.

When Keara was 10 years old, she watched her best friend's riding lesson and begged her mom to let her attend a summer riding camp.

She almost quit once but decided to continue when she found out it was the best thing possible for her disability.

Riding has become such an integral part of Keara's life that she even bought her own horse, Storm.

He is a smart Quarter pony with a bit of a temper. Keara has been riding him since 2008 and made him officially hers last March. Now he lives at Miami's equestrian center where Keara can visit him almost every day.

She has been forced to make adjustments to her riding style, though -- switching from jumping horses to dressage because she can't properly support herself.

"I can't get my heels down, so I've had to compensate with other parts of my body," Keara said.

CMT is something that will affect Keara for the rest of her life, but she tries not to think about it because it's not something she can change. She has accepted it, and she never lets lets it keep her from doing the things she loves.

"While sometimes it does affect my life," Keara said, "I do my best to just overcome it."