Kansas State rider pursues Olympic dreams
If you didn't know Dehlia Burdan in high school, all you had to do was give her cell phone a ring in order to find out all about her life in three sentences or less. As soon as her voicemail came on, a contagiously cheerful voice said, "Hi, you've reached Dehlia. Obviously I can't answer the phone, and that means that I'm either somewhere riding my horse or somewhere wishing I was riding."
Fast forward a few years to her senior year of college, and the only thing you still need to know about Burdan is that if she isn't busy with schoolwork, she's either practicing at Fox Creek Stables or she is out at another farm working with the horses she owns. And judging by the way her eyes light up as she eagerly talks about training horses and working toward one day qualifying for the Olympics, this obsession with riding isn't a phase and it isn't going to end anytime soon.
"I started riding when I was eight years old, and I instantly became love struck with ponies," Burdan said with a laugh. "My mom rode because my grandpa was raised on a cattle ranch and he said that his daughters were going to learn how to do something that he did. So it was either raise cattle or learn how to ride, and so my mom choose riding. It took a lot of begging my dad, but I started learning how to ride also. Riding gave me something else to do outside of school and it became my outlet. It was my escape and it still is."
Growing up in a military family, Burdan learned how to ride while her dad was stationed in Manhattan during the Gulf War, and early on she found out just how much time and toil it was going to take in order to finance her passion for horses. Fortunately, one of Burdan’s coaches took an interest in her and made a deal; in exchange for three or four lessons a week, Burdan could work at the barn for around five dollars an hour and pay off her lessons.
"She grew up in a military family also, so she came from the same background that I did, where she begged her dad to let her ride and worked her way through the lessons," Burdan said. "So she let me work all of it off. I was out there at the barn before and after school, on the weekends, in the summer with no days off, and sometimes from 6 in the morning until 9 or 10 at night. It came down to where she wasn’t even counting my hours and neither was I. I was just always out there and that’s where I wanted to be. I just wanted it so bad."
Burdan wanted "it" so bad, in fact, that the only form of punishment that her parents were able to find that worked was taking her horses away.
"My parents could take my car away from me and it wouldn't bother me," Burdan joked. "I could just find another ride. But if they threatened to take my horse away from me, that was it; they had gotten to me and that was always their plan."
Burdan has always had a plan of her own in order to succeed, and judging by the numerous ribbons and awards she has won, something has clicked. In addition to winning Region 2 High Point Rider honors last season, she became the first rider from Kansas State to win the Sportsmanship Award in the Region. And having different coaches and team members from the other schools in the Region single her out with such an honor was not only surprising to Burdan, but also humbling.
"Winning the Sportsmanship Award was really cool," Burdan said. "It’s something that I will always be proud of. It makes me really aware of being a good sportsman. And along the same lines, it’s humbling that the girls on this team believed in me enough to make me a team captain. It’s so important that I put on that smile and be there supporting my teammates when they walk into the arena. They expect that from me, and it is definitely something that will always be on my mind when we’re at theses shows."
Burdan now faces the end of her college career and as she begins to write the next chapter of her life, a world of possibilities stands in front of her. And it’s a certainty that whatever happens, riding will be continue to be a vital part of her life. But then again, that was never really a question.
"Coaching is in the plans, and my horse and I are working toward out first International Competition, where we will start to climb the ladder toward the Olympics," Burdan said. "I am always learning, and I can’t imagine my life without riding and training horses."
So next time Burdan doesn’t answer her cell phone, don’t even bother leaving a message. Just make the trip out the barn and more than likely, she’ll be out there riding as usual. After all, she can’t imagine doing anything else for the rest of her life.