Horses take the lead in battle against breast cancer

HealthDiseases and IllnessesEquestrianDressageBreast CancerHealthcare ProvidersEntertainment

Patricia Artimovich survived a life-threatening disease, thanks, she says, to the Johns Hopkins Avon Breast Cancer Center and to the healing power of horses.

Next weekend, horses and their riders will help her raise funds for the hospital and its mission.

"Why not take something as beautiful as a horse and organize a show dedicated to Hopkins?" she said.

Artimovich is putting together the eighth annual PVDA Ride for Life, an event that has grown from modest beginnings at small arenas into two days of family entertainment at the Prince George's Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro. Visitors will see dressage shows, demonstration rides and other activities in five rings at once. The two days are filled with a silent auction, an evening gala and the Dancing Horse Challenge, a competition that has drawn two Olympian riders and several Olympic hopefuls.

"Think 'Dancing with the Stars,' only with horses and riders," she said of the main event.

Artimovich, 59, founded the Ride for Life in 2003, on her road to recovery.

"When you face a health crisis like this, you think long and hard about your bucket list," she said. "I decided to go back to riding after 20 years."

The Columbia resident, who manages the contracts department for the nonprofit Universities Space Research Association, decided that riding could help her live better. She had always enjoyed the sport, but the demands of her job left her little time to indulge in the pastime.

"I found riding life-enhancing," she said. "You learn to live in the moment, much like animals do. It really distracts you from everyday cares."

She took lessons and gradually built her stamina. Then, she discovered dressage, a discipline that demands precision and harmony as rider and horse perform as one.

"It's perfect for Type A personalities like me," she said. "Dressage is a real marriage of skill and power. It displays the grace and power of the horse."

The Potomac Valley Dressage Association, the PVDA in the event's title, agreed to perform in the first benefit, and the $3,500 in proceeds from the one-day activity went to the hospital. Last year, Ride for Life drew 200 equestrians and donated $80,000 to the breast cancer center.

"We just kept growing and adding events," Artimovich said.

In all, the event has raised $320,000 that funds quality-of-life research, patient retreats and surgical oncology fellowships. Proceeds from the 2011 ride will also help create a documentary of the couples' retreat that helps patients and their families come to terms with the disease.

"When passion and purpose come together, incredible things happen," said Lillie Shockney, director of the cancer center. "That is Pat. She is paying it forward for someone else."

The event returns for the fourth time to the Prince George's Equestrian Center. Shockney plans to be there, along with Dr. Rosemarie Hardin, whose fellowship the event will help fund this year.

Shockney said if anyone is curious about that life-sized pink horse sitting right outside the hospital's main entrance this week, it is just another sign, this one in fiberglass, that the Ride for Life is coming.

"His name is Jonathan, and he is catching on as our symbol," Artimovich said.

While Artimovich is tending to all the details involved in the show, she cannot compete in the riding ring, but that is her ultimate goal. Maybe next year, she said.

"Even if I only come down the center line on my own mare, I will have won," she said. "This event already means that I have survived and brought this ride for life into being."

Ride for Life opens at 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday June 26 at the Prince George's Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro. Admission is $20 for the two days of events. Go to pvdarideforlife.org.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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