By Irene Elise Powlick
Grace Tuton, of her own Nicodemus Farms, is a well-known hunter and equitation rider on the West Coast, but her success has not come easy, though you might not know it. Since early in her childhood, Tuton has struggled with the pain of non-malignant tumors growing on her bones, especially in her joints.
Hereditary Multiple Exostoses is a heredity condition passed on to Tuton from her mother. The condition is rare, only about 1 in 50,000 individuals suffer from it, and it can be very painful. The tumors grow along with the bones in the body, which can affect the development causing short stature, unequal limbs, and bowing of arms and legs. The condition also inhibits some movement, which made learning to ride difficult for Tuton.
“My condition somewhat inhibits my movement. It affected how I grew, so one of my arms is several inches longer than the other, my legs are a little uneven. My hands are different sizes, and it looks like one of my fingers was broken, which it wasn’t,” explains Tuton. “With riding it has always been a challenge to be even on the horses. My trainer and I have focused on that from the beginning of my riding, but I’ve gotten pretty good at managing it.”
As Tuton grew, her family became worried when bumps across her body began to appear, and she began visiting specialists across the country to get as much information as possible. After going through many tests, she was finally diagnosed, and the limited treatment options became clear. Exostoses like hers could only be removed through surgery, and most of the time, the Tuton family declined on that idea.
While the tumors grow only on her bones, the condition has its own repercussions. Because of the additional stress and limited development, Tuton’s ligaments and tendons are significantly weaker, and simply cannot support as much stress as those who do not have exostoses. Several years ago, Tuton tore a tendon in her knee while riding, possibly due to working out the day before.
“It was like three weeks before Pony Finals, and I was panicking. I took those three weeks off, and it felt better when I got there. Also during that time I took yoga and physical therapy to help strengthen that area. I took Advil, and was able to ride through it,” Tuton recalls. “I did not have outstanding rounds, but I made it around the pony finals course on both ponies without any major errors. After working all year to get to Pony Finals, it was nice that my injury did not hinder the experience.”
With little to no treatment, Tuton works hard to make the best of what she has and to find tack and equipment that best suits her situation. The large tumors in her knees cause quite a lot of pain, and small things such has stepping wrong can affect it for days to come. For her knees, she has found the most comfort with her CWD saddle, which has large knee rolls which help to manage the pain she faces. Despite the pain, Tuton doesn’t expect to remove the tumors in her knees, as it would put her out of the saddle for at least three months.
“I’m pretty tough about it. The horses are everything I do; I can’t just not ride! I find a way to make it not hurt and just keep going,” Tuton explained. “It seems impossible for me to not ride for that long, since I started six years ago, I’ve never really taken more than four days off at a time. It’s not unbearable, just painful.”
Although Tuton has stayed strong in her riding, she has faced challenges socially, including being picked on due to her visible tumors in grade school. “When I was still growing you could see the tumors a lot more. Now that I’ve gotten bigger you can’t see them as well. I was definitely picked on. It’s not fun for anyone to get bullied, but it really just got me closer to the horses.”
Despite her condition, Tuton has big plans for the future. She hopes to make it to USHJA International Hunter Derby finals with Brenner and ASPCA Horsemanship Maclay Finals with longtime equitation partner, Lautento this year. “I just want to keep getting better and better because I actually want to become a trainer,” she explains. “That’s my main goal, all those other things are just steps to get there.”
Recently, her hard work was recognized in the form of a sponsorship by Michael & Kenzie 1911/Solea Equestrian. “To get sponsored by an apparel store, that was really exciting. I get to wear their clothes, it’s big for me.”
Tuton’s passion for her horses is incredible and seemingly tangible when you get her talking about them. She currently does all of the training at home, and her horses have very little professional riding except for her First Year horse, Buratta, who is ridden by Hope Glynn of Sonoma Valley Stables, and occasional professional rides by Jenny Karazissis on her junior hunter, Sorbet. She beams whenever talking about them, and her own farm is named after the pony that got her into riding, Nicodemus, (aka Nikki).
“Getting to do the riding at home has been a great learning experience. I’ve always just had to keep going, my horses are counting on me to make it work! I’ve gotten to experience not only the show riding, but actually working with the horses as well. It is truly such a dream to wake up every morning and get to do what I love. I feel so grateful to my trainer Sherry Templin and her husband Henry Kovacs who have helped me get here and molded me into the person I am today.”