Lellie Ward is at peace with what she used to do and what she's doing now. She's given up her dream to ride in the Olympics and traded it for other pursuits.


“I've moved on,” she said. “It's been a big part of a growing process for me.”


Ward, 56, is concentrating on running her 110-acre Paradise Farm, which lies between the communities of Couchton and Kitchings Mill on Wagener Road. She teaches riding classes, trains horses and hosts various equine-oriented contests.


In addition, Ward is participating in three-day event competitions at the novice level, riding show jumpers, doing some landscaping and even taking riding lessons from other people.


“Life is my Olympics now,” she said. “Even though I miss being involved in a sport at the highest level, I'm having fun and I'm learning. My goal is to make my farm produce enough income to keep it going.”


Ward's grandfather, F. Skiddy von Stade Sr., was a well-known member of Aiken's Winter Colony who was a talented polo player and the president of Saratoga Race Course in New York. Her aunt, Dolly Bostwick, was married to prominent polo player, steeplechase jockey and horse trainer Pete Bostwick.


Inspired by her family's passion for horses, Ward found her niche in eventing. She reached the four-star level and made four appearances in the prestigious Rolex Kentucky three-day event aboard three different horses.


“I was short-listed for the Olympic team for 16 years, but I never made the team for various reasons,” Ward said. “I had injuries or my horses had injuries at critical times.”


Still, Ward continued to hope and chase that elusive accomplishment. But then, early in 2012, disaster struck and turned her life upside down.


“I was riding a client's horse, and for some reason, I felt like she was going to blow up; I don't know why,” Ward said. “I'm not sure exactly what she ended up doing, but I think she put her head between her front legs and bucked. My trajectory must have been straight down into the sand.”


Ward suffered a laceration on her face that required more than 80 stitches to repair and fractured three vertebrae. Her spinal cord also was damaged, but she wasn't paralyzed.


“There was a period of eight months that was very, very dark for me,” Ward said. “I didn't know where I was going to go or what I was going to do.”


Meanwhile, Ward couldn't keep Paradise Farm going like it had been. She lost clients and money.


Ward also got confusing medical advice. The doctors stopped short of ordering her to never ride again, but they also warned her not to fall off if she returned to the saddle.


In the end, Ward decided to throw herself into operating Paradise Farm and trying to rejuvenate the business.


“I didn't want to see it go down the tubes,” she said. “Also, while riding at the Olympic level is a great thing to do when you are 20 or 30 or maybe even 40, it's not a realistic way of life. Everybody has only so many years that they can be at the top of their game.”


The funds that Ward would have used in her quest for Olympic glory are being spent to construct two new sand arenas and to improve and make additions to Paradise Farm's cross country course.


“It's all about survival now,” Ward said. “By making the facilities better, I hope to bring more people to the farm and generate more money.”


Ward started getting back on horses a year ago. She teaches riding lessons to approximately 100 people and is training about 30 horses.


“I've been dealing with a lot of demons on the way back up,” she said. “There are a lot of emotions along with a little bit of fear and self doubt. But it's getting better, and I am happy. I'm enjoying a lot of the wonderful things that life has to offer.”


Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.