Western Dressage Introduction at Carlisle Para-Equestion Clinic

ParaPipelineCampAugOn August 24th this year I traveled to Lyman, Maine with my good friend Darcy Marlow for the Para-Equestrians Pipeline Training Camp. This camp is held twice a year at The Carlisle Academy Integrative Equine and Sports Facility. We spent our first night in Portland, rented a car and then drove up to the academy the next morning. We arrived at 5 minutes before noon and checked in. I hurried to my appointment with Susan E. Grant, OTR/L HPCS, and Darcy went to find a sandwich shop. Susan was very thorough and recommended products that I can get to support independent living and equine training. Some of the adaptive equipment she suggested included contoured seating to equalize support for better tolerance of driving and riding. Others included lever handles for door knobs, a machine that vacuums the floor for you and handles for tubs and showers to prevent slips and falls.

MarshaCullen2Next on the schedule, test rides for matching para-equestrians with the right horse. The horse selected for me to try was a beautiful bay Percheron/Morgan cross named Mabel. My dressage saddle was too wide for Mabel so the first day I rode her in an all-purpose saddle. Hanneke Gerritson FEI 5* Para-Dressage judge from Holland watched us ride the horses and evaluated whether they were a good match for the rider. Mabel and I were approved!

I met with Joann Benjamin, the head classifier, at 2pm for what I thought was a required classification renewal. However, Joann explained that even though my card had an expiration date, classifications no longer expire. Also, the cards are being discontinued and now 5 copies of the dispensation certificate which can be found and printed from the USEF website are required for recognized shows. In conversation with Joann I found she will be a great resource when we are ready for Para-Western Dressage athlete classification. After each match the horses were whisked off by the grooms and everyone headed up to the viewing room.

On Wednesday, the coaches warmed up our horses with Hanneke’s direction. Camp participants watched and learned about their new mounts. At 9:15am Hanneke presented an “Introduction to Para-Equestrian Rules and Competition with DVDs of winning rides. Each day 2 people had lessons in the mornings and the remaining riders were taught in the afternoon.

MarshaCullen3At 12:30pm a catered lunch was served with 2 more presentations over lunchtime. Hope Hand, USPEA Director, spoke about “Para-Dressage Rules and Competition.” My presentation was an Introduction to Western Dressage and a Report on Progress of the new Para-Western Dressage program. The report on Western Dressage and the new Para-Western Dressage program was enthusiastically received by the lunch crowd. It raised interest from several and questions like how can Western be combined with Dressage when each discipline has its own foundation. The answer as I see it is that the founders of the Western Dressage Association of America have created a new discipline where their horses are trained methodically with classical dressage principles but it also celebrates the Western tradition through the use of a stock horse and western tack.

At 2 pm we gathered for a group picture. Hanneke taught the lessons on Wednesday and Mabel and I progressed well in getting to know one another. We changed to a borrowed dressage saddle that day. At 6:30pm, we gathered at the Nonantum for a banquet sponsored by the United States Equestrian Team foundation. The keynote address was given by Tina Wentz, mother of deceased para-equestrian Jonathon. Jonathon was an exceptional equestrian who had cerebral palsy but he did not let that stop him. He competed very successfully in many Para-Equestrian events including the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky 2010 and the London Para-Olympics in 2012. In London he placed 4th in Individual competition becoming the most competitive United States Dressage and Para-Dressage equestrian at the London Olympics. His dream was to develop a Para-Equestrian Young Riders program and he played a major role in making that happen. Unfortunately Jonathon passed away later that year from natural causes. The Jonathon Wentz Memorial Fund was established in his name.

On Thursday morning we arrived at the camp at 10am in time to watch my friend and fellow Grade II Para-Dressage athlete Deborah Staniski perform her freestyle to music on Paxton. It is always a beautiful thing to see horses performing their movements to music. Judge Hanneke critiqued Deborah’s ride and taught us about freestyles using this demonstration. Over lunch, Clive Milkins lectured on “Adaptive equipment and compensating aides.”

MarshaCullen1At 2:45pm, using a pair of easy change lopped reins, Mabel and I had our lesson with Clive. He started out the   lesson with us at the walk on a pattern of 5 meter serpentines along both outer quarters of the arena. We concentrated on the bend at each curve at the walk then at the trot. By the end of the lesson Mabel showed how beautifully she can move! With very gentle hands and a very soft contact she lifted her back and moved out with an awesome rhythmic trot surprising everybody there! It was as though Mabel and I began to perform the dressage movements as one. This was the highlight of the trip for me. Clive said if she were younger, (Mabel is 20 years young) she would make a good horse for Para-Dressage International competition because her trot was rhythmic and her walk was very nice and over-tracking. She could earn qualifying scores and she was safe. Having the chance to participate in bringing out her best made me ecstatic.

On Friday we did our “Ride a Test” lessons and Judge Hanneke did a mock scoring with critique for us. She provided the tests with remarks that we could all take home and learn from. We were very fortunate to have been taught by such a knowledgeable yet gracious woman. Her remarks were given with instruction designed to teach.

The trip to Maine was very much worthwhile. Darcy and I enjoyed ourselves immensely. If you are or you know someone interested in para-equestrian sports, I highly recommend the Carlisle Academy Para-Pipeline Training Camp which is held twice a year, once in May and in August. You can enjoy learning near the coast in Maine

And, if you like lobster, you will love it there.

** The Western Dressage Association® of America has invited several para-equestrians to demonstrate Western Dressage tests at our World Championship Show in Tulsa, Oklahoma, November 6-8, 2015..  We are so excited to have the opportunity to see these para Western Dressage athletes show us what amazing riders they are.  Western Dressage seems to be a great fit for para equestrians.

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