By Dani Moritz-Long
Most of us come into this world with very much the same story — we’re greeted by loving families, doted on and cared for, loved unconditionally. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for everyone. It certainly wasn’t for Korina Rothery.
Born a little person — the politically correct term for people with dwarfism, or who are 4’10” or shorter — Korina has severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), a disease often referred to as “bubble boy disease.” Korina was abandoned by her biological parents at the hospital — left to live three years in an isolation unit in a Toronto hospital before entering the foster care system.
Adding to her troubles, Korina’s dwarfed height (4’3”) has left her a prime target of bullying and unwarranted criticism — something that has plagued her through child- and adulthood.
“I will have complete strangers come up to me in public and make nasty comments about me,” Korina said. Strangers, she explained, will pick her up, touch her and comment on her appearance as if somehow being short makes her less human.
Basically, Korina said, “I’ve probably seen hell and back.”
A Healing Touch
Fortunately, Korina’s life took a turn for the better at 6 years old when she was adopted by Earl and Cathy Rothery. She not only found a nurturing, loving family in them, but also a passion for horses.
“Any chance I get to pet an animal, I’m in,” Korina said, so she quickly took to horses when adopted into the equestrian family.
She was riding shortly after the adoption and never stopped. While she generally sticks to pleasure riding, she’s found horses a unique source of both emotional and physical therapy — equally therapeutic in working through arthritis and joint problems and finding inner strength.
“Riding helped me relax, and it also helped me gain a sense of control of something bigger than myself,” she said. “On a horse, I’m powerful as well.”
In particular, Korina found a special equine bond with a mare she worked with in Germany named Hummel (which translates to Bumble Bee in English) when both Korina and the Quarter Horse mare were learning to vault.
“I would walk into her stall and, because she knew I was short, she knew I would climb on the side of the stall to be able to reach her,” Korina said. “She would level her back so I could climb on her and lower herself so I could get off.
“She was the horse who made me fully love horses,” Korina continued. “She changed my concept completely about how these creatures think and feel.”
Taking On the World
Thanks to the strength she’s found in animals, like her horse Hummel and her service dog, and her adoptive family, Korina has slowly learned to accept her condition and even embrace it. She even has a tattoo that celebrates her condition, which quotes Dr. Seuss: “A person is a person no matter how small.”
Reflecting on her condition’s impact on her life, Korina said, “It made me the person I am today. It made me stronger since what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’ve faced death, I’ve faced this. I think I’m about to take over the world soon.”
For Korina, this has meant living life to the fullest and enjoying new adventures. Along the way, she’s enjoyed an eclectic career — dabbling in vaulting, circus performance and even working as a stunt double. If you look closely, you’ll find her subbing for children on films like the 2015 “Poltergeist,” “A Christmas Horror Story” and “Mama.”
She also recently returned from competing in the World Dwarf Championships, where she earned bronze in the 100-meter race, gold in the 200-meter race and gold in her weight category for weight lifting after setting a world record.
As of late, she has also focused her attention on her work with Schleese Saddlery, a custom saddle maker that caters to women. “I get my hands dirty with everything I can from filing to accounting and working in the shop and sewing. I love learning about putting together the product,” she said.
Sabine Schleese, director of corporate affairs for Schleese Saddlery and family friend of Korina’s, added, “Korina is a very positive person to be around, always helpful, always coming up with new ideas. She is very social and likes to get involved. She will always offer her assistance when needed, and particularly enjoys working in the field around the horses.”
Inspired by her work with Schleese Saddlery and a business plan project as part of her equine management studies at the University of Guelph, Korina recently formulated a big idea for little people: custom saddles for little people.
“I’ve never been able to sit properly on a horse,” said Korina, who has often found saddle flaps less than conducive to proper contact. Often, she explains, little people either have to endure adult saddles being too big, child saddles being too small and saddle flaps preventing proper contact.
Custom saddles designed with little people’s needs in mind, however, would enable riders like Korina to find comfort, balance and effective contact.
Much like with Schleese saddles, Korina explained, “Of course you would want it 100 percent custom so you could have it for years and years. The saddles would be adjustable and custom so you could consistently use it, even on another horse.”
With the idea supported by Schleese business partners (pending additional market research), you can expect to find the saddles for little people on the market in the next three years.
No matter where life leads Korina, however, the future looks bright. “Whatever she ends up doing in life,” said Sabine, “she will be successful. I have absolutely no doubt.”
Photos courtesy of Korina Rothery