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Equestrian reaches for the gold

All it took was one blown-out tire for the Olympic dreams of David Acord to come to a screeching halt.

At barely 21, the Phoenix resident had been placed on the &

long list&

as an equestrian for the 2003 Pan American games and the 2004 Olympics. Eleven years of training, competing and rising quickly through the ranks to become one of the nation&

s top ten young riders was about to be put to the test.

And little did Acord know that his will &

and the will of his beloved horse Doc &

was also to be put into the fire.

On June 15, 2003, Acord and his wife, Jennifer, were traveling on Interstate 5 near Los Banos, Calif., when the rear tire of their truck blew out and sent their four-horse, bumper-pull-trailer fishtailing out of control. Despite what Acord said were &

his greatest efforts&

to correct the truck and trailer, the horse trailer flipped on its side, leaving it perpendicular and entirely blocking traffic on the freeway.

In spite of the severity of the wreck, they managed to pull open the doors of the trailer, and were relieved when the first horse to come out suffered only a few cuts.

— — David Acord and Doc clear a jump during competition. — The horse suffered multiple injuries when tire on Acord&

s truck blew — out while four horses were being pulled in a trailer.

— —

&

I went in for the second horse who was now laying on the third. I unclipped his halter and someone began to lead him out of the trailer,&

Acord remembers in his biography of the accident. &

My heart leapt with joy seeing that Doc was OK [but] panic immediately overtook me with the realization that that wasn&

t Doc.&

Looking behind him in the trailer for Doc, Acord found him lying on his back covered in blood and not moving. Acord began to pry the dividers and mats off of Doc, but the horse stayed still as death.

&

At first I thought he was dead,&

he said. &

It was probably the most horrible moment in my life when I saw him lying there and I thought he was dead.&

When Acord finally got close enough to touch Doc, there was a knicker.

&

When I heard him I wanted to smile and cry all at once,&

he said and made a promise to Doc to somehow get him out. &

When he got up I was so relieved.

&

I felt I had got my horse back from the grave and it immediately made me appreciate him so much more.&

The fourth horse was not so lucky. In the wreck, his body went through the tack room of the trailer, crushing his stifle and lacerating his flexor tendon. The injuries were too great to save him.

Doc should have died that night from his injuries as well, suffering shock, a laceration down to his bone on his foreleg, both scapulas separated and rotated forward, and nine fractured vertebrae.

The injuries appeared to be career-ending, and Acord went into a severe three-month depression, struggling to get out of bed as he faced the loss of his dreams.

&

I had gone from finally getting close to the dream I was after,&

he recalled while speaking by phone from his home in the Bay Area &

&

and in just two seconds, our life literally flipped upside down.&

A calling

Acord&

s dream to ride began at the early age of 10, when given the choice to receive a dog, a motorcycle or a horse as a gift from his family. Acord eagerly chose &

Frosty,&

a barrel-racing appaloosa, fulfilling a passion that began for the animals the first time he pet a donkey at the age of 3. Acord admitted to being timid and shy at first around horses, and was too tiny to lift the saddle onto Frosty&

s back, forcing him to ride bareback.

&

That taught me lots of balance, but I fell off a lot too, he said, laughing.

The first time Acord saw a friend jumping his horse he was immediately hooked, turning the family hay field in Phoenix into a jumping course of bales and poles.

&

I was so passionate about it,&

he said. &

Most kids my age rode three to four days a week for about a half-hour or so. I rode as much as I could and rode anything I could get my hands on.&

He began taking jumping lessons at a nearby ranch and a month later entered his first competition and won. His first year at the 4-H fair, he won the all-around high-point award and by the age of 11 decided to make riding his life.

Age 11 was also the time when Acord inadvertently began training horses. During a ski trip, Acord said, his father suggested he buy a down-trodden horse, train it and sell it, to help pay for riding lessons. the time his father came home from work the next night, Acord had already purchased his first project pony from the sale of his steer, thus beginning a profitable and educational system, and in 1998, a horse that would soon change his life.

&

I was buying project horses and kept thinking &

145;maybe this will be the one, maybe this will be the one,&

&

he said. &

That&

s how I found Doc.&

Doc, a 16-hand-tall, dark bay thoroughbred with a white star on his forehead, was an emaciated four-year-old purchased out from under a horse meat man at auction, and at first appeared to be like many of the others, lacking the movements and style of horses who are great jumpers.

&

Doc was a very unassuming fellow,&

he said, and had considered selling him, &

but he kept surprising me.&

What Doc lacked in style, he made up for with gumption.

&

He just has a heart bigger than anything. He loves his job more than anything and I think if I fell off he would keep going around the course without me,&

he said. &

What he lacks in talent, he makes up in heart.&

Acord describes Doc&

s style as &

unorthodox,&

using his body in different ways to round the curves of the courses and clear the high jumps.

&

We made a lot of mistakes at first, but if it ever got to be a problem, ignorance is bliss, of sorts,&

he said. &

We went by the seat of our pants, developing funny habits with no technical trainer to keep us polished. But in some ways that really helps us because we have a real go-for-it kind of attitude. We got by on guts for a while.&

That attitude would bring them both to the top levels at international competitions.

After finishing high school a half-year early, Acord traveled to Vermont to train under Olympic Gold medalist Denny Emerson, and returned to Oregon six months later ready to take on the West Coast eventing world. In 2000 during their first international competition, Acord and Doc gained the ranking of &

Third placed junior&

in the United States and in 2001 took home the team silver award for the West Coast in the junior Olympics. After training with top eventing coach Tracy Bowman in the Bay Area in 2002 and winning numerous competitions, Acord was placed on the &

Top Ten&

list of riders under 21 in the nation. He went on to be listed as a candidate for both the 2003 Pan America games and the Olympics in 2004.

The accident took his hopes away.

Devastated, Acord and his wife Jennifer returned to Oregon and he began teaching and training at the Ashland Hills Stable while Jennifer studied music at Southern Oregon University. As his focus began to change towards teaching young riders and horses, time began to heal Acord and lift him out of his depression.

Remarkably, Doc was finding healing of his own. After nine months of care, his bones fused and he was ready to ride. After six months, they tried their first competition in Washington and did well. After a second good finishing at a competition in California, they tried for a third.

Despite Acord competing with a broken right arm and left hand due to a horse-kicking accident, Doc and David took second place. Later that year, they qualified 10th in the world-cup qualifying competition. It was the sign they needed. He and Jennifer packed for California and Acord returned to training again under his former coach Tracy Bowman.

&

This was taking a journey of no guarantees,&

he said. &

We thought we had lost [the opportunity], but we decided to go for it again.&

Acord is now training for the 2008 Olympics and international competitions in Europe. Though he has a back-up horse now, just in case, he plans on Doc being the one to get him there.

&

I&

m heading in that direction, but I&

m also very realistic about it, that we may not make it right away,&

he said. &

I&

m totally planning on going for it though if I don&

t make it for 2008 or for the future events. After the accident, I&

m not afraid to just keep going.&

The public is invited to attend a benefit luncheon and auction for David and Doc on Sunday at the Windmill Inn in Ashland. To donate items or services for the auction, or for questions, contact Jennifer Acord at 601-1378.