Riders often joke that going hunting is more effective than therapy to escape the stress and pressure of daily life. For 11-year-old Evan Dombrowsky, though, hunting is genuine physical therapy. Born with one hip out of socket, Evan just came through his sixth surgery to manage this condition. His doctors believe horsebackriding places his hips in a beneficial position and contributes to his gradual improvement. In addition to hunting Pete the pony with Loudoun Fairfax Hunt (VA), Evan has faithfully walked hounds out, helped around the kennels, and twice won Best Junior Handler at the Virginia Foxhound Show.
Evan Dombrowsky tipped his cap to the Virginia Foxhound Show judges, just as he'd seen the professional huntsmen do. Photo by Nancy Milburn Kleck.
Evan's mother, Beth Dombrowsky, is a lifelong rider who formerly managed the Chagrin Valley Hunt stables in Ohio, where she fell in love with foxhunting. Evan received early exposure to horses - competing at five months in his first leadline class, with two side walkers - but when physicians recommended therapeutic riding lessons, the wait for a lesson spot was daunting. Beth decided she could supervise Evan's riding and he began lessons with Jackie Ketterman of Leesburg around age six.
As he developed skill and strength in the saddle, Loudoun Fairfax huntsman, Andy Bozdan, welcomed the child in kennels and coached him on the finer points of showing hounds. "I think Evan is a very courageous young man. To have come through all those operations and still have a can-do attitude is highly commendable," Bozdan said. "His successes with our hounds in the showing ring have been highlights for him and us alike. He put the work in and learned the ring craft that he needed to. I know he has a deep love for the hounds and this caring attitude will stand him well in later life." In addition to his repeat victories at Virginia, Evan has placed at the Bryn Mawr Hound Show and has also competed for Whiskey Road Foxhounds (SC) at the Carolinas Hound Show.
When he had surgery last September to insert a plate in his leg, Bozdan brought Evan's Virginia show partner, Sprocket, to visit him at home. Beth said, "There is no better human being than Andy Bozdan, he's so good with the kids." Evan continues to walk out hounds whenever he has the opportunity.
Loudoun Fairfax huntsman, Andy Bozdan, and Sprocket visited Evan as he recuperated.
Last fall, as Evan's riding skills prepared him to enter the field, the hunt's members and staff creatively accommodated his desire to follow hounds. Beth said that this season was the first time Loudoun Fairfax offered a third flight. "I give Master Donna Rogers so much credit - she ran a third field specifically so Evan could go, and has always been so gracious to Evan." On the experienced gray pony dubbed "Saint Peter" for his kind temperament, Evan was able to earn the MFHA Fairly Hunted Award. Evan said that Pete makes him feel safe: "When he feels me a little off balance, he slows down. He helps me." One of the season's highlights was a view of the hunted fox on Thanksgiving.
As the season progressed, the third field became a popular addition, attracting a variety of riders desiring a slower pace, as well as those on green horses. The kindness of staff and members made Evan feel welcome at every meet, where he loves to watch the hounds "hunting and doing the job they were bred to do." His mother said, "We have been blessed, through the hunt community, every step of the way."
Evan is undeterred by his physical challenges. He identified many benefits related to horses and hounds. "I can participate and no one notices my limp when I'm riding (I'm no different from others then). I think anyone who enjoys animals and being outside would like hunting. Learning about each hound when we walk out is fun, so even if a person can only walk, they can help their huntsman." Evan's most recent surgery removed the hardware placed in his leg last fall. "We were expecting one more surgery when he is about 15 years old," Beth said. "However, the surgeons are overwhelmed with his response, and are very encouraged he will not need another surgery. They are of the strong belief his riding and the position his hips are in while in the saddle has made the world of difference!"