The U.S. Para Team is looking for quality horses to borrow for two upcoming CPEDI* competitions at the end of January in Wellington. If you know of horses confirmed First Level through Prix St. George, even Grand Prix if the horse is quiet, contact Hope Hand at 610-368-1416. Horses need a current FEI passport or shots to get a National Passport done in time. The rider pays for this. They must be sound enough to pass a jog. These are important shows for the USA to help secure team slots for the London Paralympics. It's a great opportunity for owners and trainers to be involved with High Performance Dressage events. Riders assume all competition costs. What exactly does it mean to donate or loan your dressage horse for a para equestrian event or rider? Show organizer, competitor, horse owner, Regina Cristo who twice loaned her dressage mount, One Night Stand aka Roo, at the 2010 WEG to an Argentinean rider and recently, at the 2011 NEDA Fall Festival for a Mexican rider in need, wants to spread the word.
“More people need to know how great it can be. People don't realize that they can share their horses at these premier events and how satisfying it is. Whoever borrows your horse is so grateful to have the opportunity to ride your horse but it's such a two way street. And not just about the rider or the para - it's a whole team effort, the owner-trainer-rider-your family. Everybody gets involved and excited about it - it's a super experience. More people need to know it's not that hard.”
After her very positive WEG experience, Cristo contacted the U.S. Team via the www.USPEA.org website for the NEDA Fall Festival/CPEDI3* as the show was close to home. One interested rider turned out not to be a good match. One month out, a request came from Mexican Para Equestrian rider Fernanda Otheguy. After they exchanged videos of horse and rider, arrangements were made to try the horse and have at least a week to lesson on him. Not only did Otheguy click well with the horse, rider and owner hit it off as well. “Instant friends,” says Cristo who picked Fernanda up at the airport. She described her new acquaintance as fluent, fantastic and fun. “We were having so much fun oh, and we have a horse show to go to,” she laughed.
Benefits are a Two-Way Street
Cristo competes at Second Level but Roo is schooled to Fourth. She describes him as a nice schoolmaster type but not easy to ride. “You have to ask correctly but he doesn't fuss. I learned so much from watching both para riders make him do what they needed him to do. Fernanda is a beautiful soft rider and was very quiet with him. It's such a two-way street to watch, it's cool.” “He's a nice horse, he's calm, I like that you have to put him forward,” said 41-year-old Fernanda who has nervous muscular weakness in her legs and hands. She started riding for fun at age 20 and now competes against able-bodied at Third Level at home on her own Dutch Warmblood horse. She lessons and rides five days a week and has a younger horse for the future. She had only eight practice rides on Roo with trainer Melissa Suits at Railside Farm Altamont, NY before heading down the centerline at the CPEDI3* show in Saugerties but earned three qualifying scores for the Paralympics in London in 2012.
“This experience was so much fun for me,” related trainer Melissa Suits. “It was so nice to work with someone that wanted to succeed so badly. Fernanda was like a sponge. She took right to my teaching style and really clicked with Roo. It wasn't hard to get them acquainted, she’s a great rider. You never know how these things are going to work out but my advice would be to try it, it could be the best experience ever for that rider, owner and trainer.”
For Fernanda, whose ankles wobble, she couldn't believe how much trying offset Sprenger stirrups helped. She also liked Cristo's deeper Trilogy saddle and was able to try saddles at their booth. In Mexico, emerging support exists for para dressage and Otheguy spent time studying the other riders to learn as much as she could. “In or out of the tack, she enjoyed the entire experience and being part of para. To her, para is a worldwide thing, not just about her or her country,” said Regina who also saw first hand how supportive the para riders, coaches, grooms and family help and root for each other. “It gives everyone strength to see everyone else deal with their issues and ride. You don't see that as much in regular dressage, where the emphasis is on the individual.” Cristo only spoke a few Spanish words from vacation trips like bathroom, beer, and vamoose but when Fernanda presented her with an official green shirt with the Mexican flag, Cristo became an instant Chef d'Equipe. Cristo calls herself a dual citizen now and carries both her U.S. and Mexican flags. “It's great to help another person with their goal. Their goal becomes your goal. Being the owner rather than the trainer or rider, you see your horse's role in a new light," reflects Cristo on her own learning experience. “Para riders are all business,” said Cristo. “They’re not just riding around because they're disabled. These are serious competitions. They are disciplined, focused and work ten times harder than the average rider. You don’t even think about disability - you only see the ability.” With their computers side-by-side, Regina and Fernanda spent four hours downloading music to sync with the horse videos for the freestyle. After all that, it turned out her own music fit his tempo perfectly. Cristo said they had a good time experimenting and laughed a lot. “That’s how determined these riders are, they have so much nerve. They get it done, catch riding and borrowing horses. I couldn't do it and I consider myself a good rider.” Cristo believes there are a lot of quality horses out there to fulfill para needs. “Horses are amazing creatures,” she says. When Argentinean rider Patricio Guglialmelli rode Roo with one arm using reins with a small bar, the horse adapted quickly and maneuvered well. “It’s a chance to enlarge your own experience, Go watch Paras ride at shows or find out where they are training. She offers to talk to anyone about her experiences. Her unequivocal opinion,
“Don't be afraid to try it. These are two of the highlights of my equestrian life and I've been doing it a long time.” Cristo gave up her own regional spot at the NEDA Dressage Festival. “I can qualify any year, Fernanda has one shot to reach the Olympics, said Cristo. “It's great to achieve your own goals but so cool to have the opportunity to help someone else.” She warns you'll be surprised where it leads. You meet new people, make friends, you might even travel. Her non-horse husband got hooked at WEG making fast friends with rider Patricio. He went to visit his family in Argentina, and now sponsors his son, also a para rider. “It created an awesome friendship,” says Regina. “It happened because of the horse but it becomes so much more than horses.”
Cristo admits it takes time for the paperwork, preparation and travel arrangements but noted the process went smoothly. Horses need a passport. It takes an owner (or trainer) who wants to be involved. She made sure her horse was ready with his fitness and Adequan shots. “I wanted him in tiptop shape to be on his game for her because it was so important. For the two weeks prior to the show he was her horse,” she says. She did the same for Patricio. “You give up your horse for a time period to another person. You take on their goal as your own.” She also stayed with Roo every minute at the shows.
As an owner, Cristo says it's so gratifying to be able to step up to the plate and say, “Here's my horse - here's what he can do you. You want a good outcome. It's so much fun to watch your horse perform and be a good boy, it gives me chills.”