Lyman, Maine - Riders, trainers and a roster of experts converged at Carlisle Academy Integrative Equine Therapy & Sports’ para/adaptive dressage camp funded by the United States Para-Equestrian Association and sponsored by Kentucky Equine Research (KER) to both prep several High Performance riders headed to selection trials for the 2012 London Paralympics and to guide new riders entering the competitive pipeline. Headlined by FEI 5* judge and Olympic TD Hanneke Gerritsen from Holland, top sports psychologist Dr. Jenny Susser; retired neurosurgeon and horseman Dr. Warson, a biomechanics specialist; OT and PT therapists worked on adaptions and bodies to help riders in and out of the saddle. Participants who came from as far as CA, WI, UT, CO, and MI show the growing need for access to training, education and horses.
Over five days filled with lessons, lectures, stretching, consults, longe line practice and even some extra curricular vaulting, riders had the chance to network, share ideas and problem solve. Videos during lunch, narrated by Gerritsen helped to size up the European standard, what exactly the judges look for and what is allowed. “This is real sport. We don’t give any favors,” she assured her audience.
Able to Ride: Para Means Parallel
“Attending the Carlisle Para Boot Camp has set the tone for my riding to strive to be the best athlete I can be,” enthused Mary Husty who has multiple spinal cord injuries at the C-5 level from a diving accident at age 17. Although quadriplegic, her eager spirit and motivation remain unfazed about pursuing her goals.
“The opportunity to be instructed by an international judge like Hanneke was exciting and helped me to target areas of focus in my training. Dr. Warson’s evaluation of my injury and support in therapy gave me new insights to improve my riding skills and I was truly inspired meeting so many riders from across the country and watching them ride.” Husty cited the wonderful horses, the facilities, occupational therapists, massage therapist, riding coaches and support people for delivering a well-rounded learning experience.
“What an empowering experience,” stated Nancy Bryd whose daughter Cecily, age 12, took part as the youngest rider. “We were both so impressed with the ability of the para riders, as well as their kindness and spirit. To ride with an Olympic level judge is a BIG DEAL! Hanneke shared her knowledge of dressage, and para dressage competition with clarity and honesty. She was kind, realistic, and practical.”
Though a veteran of international equestrian competition (Nancy Bliss competed as a member of the U.S. Eventing Team), para dressage is a new area. “I loved that I could always find someone to answer my questions. We learned about standards and expectations at the different levels up through the Paralympics, rules of competition, better adaptive equipment, and exercises (mental and physical) to help Ceci become a stronger rider and competitor!”
At 8-years-old, Ceci had a major stroke that left her whole right side weak, including her trunk. She uses a wrist splint with a mitt to help keep her hand closed around the rein and a magnetic stirrup system for her right foot. A rider before her stroke, horses have played a major part in her progress. She plans on competing her own horse, Merlin, this summer.
For several riders, like Byrd, Quentin Llop and Elizabeth Belliss who brought her Lusitano, Truan Mor, the benefit came from working with position and aids on their own horses. For other riders, confidence and sometimes revelation comes from riding an unknown horse.
Dr. Dale Dedrick, an accomplished lifelong rider who turned to para competition after combatting Lupus and rides with a pacemaker, returned to Carlisle after her breakthrough riding Zoe, a popular donated school horse with dressage training, at last year’s abbreviated clinic. “The lessons from that weekend clinic Transformed my communication with my horse. He must be thinking, why did it take you so long? Who knew it could be so easy!” As a top competitor and potential U.S. Team rider for London, Dedrick was on hand to offer her experience and sage
“It’s a unique opportunity to be inspired and motivated by all these people in one place; where I’m the only para at home.” said 14-year-old Sydney Collier who started competing at the CPEDI3* level in Wellington this year. Collier got a boost and thrill riding Captiva, a Lipizzan mare, lent by Carlisle Director Cyndy West.
Collier who copes with multiple health issues from AVMs, brain surgery and a stroke that left her left side significantly compromised exemplifies how a rider with weak aids or spastic coordination finds ways to finesse their requests. Using the horse’s sensitivity and intuition to adapt to subtle cues and training, skilled para riders are very able to communicate with their horses. Despite her difficulties, Collier is able to successfully catch ride at shows (with a few get acquainted lessons) by quickly developing a rapport that different horses understand.
The Ripple Effect
“I learned so much from my borrowed mount, Rainman, Henneke and Jenny but the most valuable thing about the clinic for me was networking with the other para-riders. It was so incredible to learn everybody's path that led them to the camp,” said Lara Oles who traveled, in part, thanks to a scholarship from the Utah Dressage Society.
A life long rider, Oles got re-inspired watching the Para dressage freestyles at the 2010 WEG in Kentucky. A skiing accident in 2006 left her with a damaged spinal cord, her right arm permanently paralyzed, and stroke-like symptoms in her right leg. She rides deftly one-handed with her right arm strapped to her torso. Mounting and dismounting require caution. Oales’ positive force left everyone motivated in her wake. She uses yoga, walking on an indoor track and core exercises to boost her fitness. A year after she began riding at the National Ability Center in Park City, UT, she won the “PATH Adult Equestrian of the Year” Award.
At home, Lara is forging the way for Para in Utah, working with the Utah Dressage Society to add “PE” classes to local shows and with the National Ability Center to get a Para-Equestrian Team organized for future.
Alix Philpin has traveled with the U.S. Team to three Paraylmpics and is the Equestrian Director at YMCA in Hubertus, WI. Eager to learn more about Carlisle’s organization, she left excited by the growing interest toward para riders. “This has been an exceptional experience on so many levels. I gained so much information and insight as well as renewed passion I can't wait to finalize my business plan and move forward in the mid-west with a program of excellence in adaptive and para riding!”
Carlisle’s founder, Sarah Armentrout, is at the forefront of developing a model to bring together resources for riders, trainers and supporters. After last year’s three-day clinic launched the show careers of four para riders, Armentrout, along with Cyndy West, Director of Sports Programs and Mary Jordan, a locally based para competitor and U.S. Team member put together ideas for an enhanced training experience to deliver pertinent information, quality instruction and address the extra physical needs and adaptive equipment.
Jordan, who once taught at Carlisle (formerly Equest Therapeutic Riding School), has come full circle. After diagnosis with MS and riding on her own with her horses at home, Jordan returned to use the Carlisle indoor facility year round to train.
In 2009, Jordan met Paulien Alberts when she competed in Para at the European Championships 4* in Norway. “She coached me and helped me locate a horse to ride in Germany. I started to bring her over to help train me for WEG and help new paras, as well, since there were no coaching programs for Para on the East Coast.” The Para clinics caught on and always filled with new riders. “It was really fun to see it develop. My goal was to offer training and information, which when I first joined Para was so hard to find,” Jordan says.
Building on Carlisle Academy’s history of helping riders with disabilities achieve their therapeutic goals, Armentrout believes that Para-dressage adds a valuable dimension to their sports program. “We are committed to help para equestrians meet their athletic goals, riding at the top level of the sport they love. This para boot camp was a culmination of that vision; a tremendous week of learning, growth and drawing strength from one another as a unified group."
Train the Trainer sessions, sponsored by the USPEA, followed the camp and is another extension of Carlisle's model to promote field education to trainers and practitioners. Drawing 10 trainers from New England and, as far as Colorado and Utah, the weekend featured class sessions and live demo rides to explain para dressage rules and how best to help para riders perform to be successful in competition. “It is evident that trainers want access to information in this evergrowing discipline," stated Armentrout.
Riders: Barbara Adside, CA; Elizabeth Belliss, NY; Cecily Byrd, NH; Sydney Collier, MI; Dale Dedrick, MI; Mary Husty, DE; Holly Jacobson, MA; Mary Jordan, ME; Quentin Llop, NY; Lara
Oles, UT; Abbott Philson, ME; Meg Wilkins, ME.