Aspiring Para Competitor Scores Big in First Open Dressage Show After Successful USPEA Clinic
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Posted by Holly Jacobson
Borrowed Lippizaner Brings Rider Holly Jacobson From Jumping to Dressage
As an aspiring Para Dressage rider, I’m learning a lesson that rather than the limited route I expected, my efforts often inspire other people to help, offering their expertise, time, money or, most crucially, horses. The difficulty of tracking down horses to learn on and fancy enough to show, with the right mind and movement is a hard combination to find, much less afford.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d ever ride an actual flesh-and-blood Lipizzaner. These are fabled Austrian horses, not horses you find in real life, not in backyards in New Hampshire.
When my sister moved to Prague in early 1990s, I quickly calculated it was a mere 100 miles from Prague to Vienna by train. Sacher Torte and the high alter of classical dressage where the famed white stallions danced in a Baroque Hall beneath chandeliers to strains of Mozart had always been on my must-do list.
Picking up tickets at the palace via an intercom in an imposing, arched wooden door, my sister remarked, “This feels like Oz.” In awe of the hallowed tradition of training handed down for 400 years, the purity of the breed, the setting, we watched early morning schooling with horses in all shades of gray.
In the formal evening performance, the buffed stallions’ synchronicity defined grace and precision. The concentration of the horses looked intense. Looking down from the balcony onto the broad white backs as they passed by gave us almost a rider’s perspective, a fleeting close-up from the saddle of their strength and beauty. Together with the in-hand levitating “airs above the ground,” the polished spectacle lived up to its fantastical, historical billing.
In 2000, I decided, now or never, to ride again. It took six months to post the trot in balance. With a patient, generous trainer, I returned to jumping and even showing. First on a wonderful lesson mare, Smooth As Silk, then by leasing a veteran Thoroughbred, North Atlantic, and finally, purchasing a Quarter Horse, Follow My Shadow. All three learned to neck rein easily. All were forgiving; well-trained steeds that brought me back to life.
My dressage awakening came in 2009 at the Para-Equestrian National Championships. Para means parallel to able-bodied riders not paralyzed riders although some are. The spectrum of disabilities astounded me, illness, accident, genetic defects, war injuries but it was the quality and standard of riding that truly impressed me.
Watching the dominate Europeans at the 2010 WEG only reinforced the belief that no matter how dire your physical circumstance might appear, horses transformed and elevated their riders. Para dressage creates a place to showcase the abilities of dedicated competitors. To witness the generous quality of the horses willing to partner with impaired riders is very moving. Achieving that unspoken bond of harmony is the reason we all ride.
Lippizaner on Loan
West bought Neapolitano Pecska, aka Tito, as a 9-year-old from owner/breeder Patrice Veilleux. She described him as “an explosive dramatic Training Level project that needed a lot of patience and trust.”
“He has come so far in his training and confidence since then. I have put a bajillion hours into hanging out with him, taking him every where, including Florida for a winter, trail riding, grocery shopping and the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru in order for him to gain nonchalance in his day to day life, and to earn his loyalty and trust.” West also owns younger sister Captiva, who with luck is on a journey toward becoming a lovely upper level dressage horse.
I kept an open mind and trusted Cyndy’s judgment as a certified therapeutic instructor (NARHA) and knowing her horse. She would trailer him to Maine and school him around the facility. I liked that her background included Pony Club and event riding. She had also trained in England for her British teaching certification (BHSAI), and then trained in Switzerland where she got hooked on dressage. She currently trains with USDF Gold Medalist Jackie Smith.
Tito definitely sensed the energy the first day in the warm-up area. As soon as I mounted, Tito’s neck arched and he came round trying to please. Very alert, he took note of the sunspots at the end of the indoor but acted fine with the assembled chairs and people, a video screen and microphone.
Hanneke Gerritson wanted to observe how I ride with a simple knot in the rein and suggested fashioning a small leather bar, even a horseshoe shape to improve stability and control of my inside and outside rein.
Tito’s ears flicked back and forward, as we practiced neck rein and contact. He was listening and I could feel him thinking, waiting for me to signal or ask. We talked through the seat, weight and rein. He responded well to vocal praise too.
“Always think forward, with eyes forward you sit more straight and that translates to confidence,” instructed Gerritson. “Even on a long rein, walk forward, no holidays.”
Gerritson noted that it takes time for any horse to learn your lighter aids. That is one advantage para riders might have is that a weaker aid may translate as more subtle and work better from the horse’s point of view.
“Like a clock, every horse has a rhythm,” chimed Gerritson. “Feel when it’s not correct. Keep the rhythm in your head and think about it so you can correct it. Off balance leads to irregular steps.” Each day, our communication improved. We even impressed the judge with a fairly fluent one-handed shoulder-in.
“I’m surprised you could do it,” she said. “With more time together, you could really be in sync.”
As a testament to West’s training and his intuitive nature, Tito doubled as a clinic mount for Ellie Brimmer, from Minn., who has cerebral palsy that affects her left arm and leg. She described Tito as a true gentleman. “He was easy to get on bit, ready to work and do his job pleasantly, especially with a new person.” West couldn’t be prouder or more pleased.
I know now that Lippizaners can appear out of the New England woods but it still sounds like a fairy tale. I never wanted the prince on the white horse, I just wanted the horse. I’m grateful to Cyndy West for her generosity and matchmaking. There are plans for more Tito time, possible schooling shows and who knows, a potential long term relationship.
Holly Jacobson joined Dressagedaily after we met in 2010 at the Lamplight Para Equestrian Championships where she attended as a journalist. In addition to reporting on Para news, Jacobson is also a major contributor to our Who's Who profiles and other assignments. Stay tuned for Holly's progress and more of her features. MPH
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