In retrospect, I don’t know what possessed me to submit my name as a candidate for the Foothills Chapter’s spot in the 2015 CDS Amateur Clinic to be held on October 3-5th at Star Vaughn . I never win contests or drawings, so I didn’t give it much more thought and just left my name in the hopper. Much later, I got the call from Christine Hendricks that I had been selected. My first inclination was to decline, but I let my riding friends convince me to accept in spite of my physical handicap.
My competition days are pretty much over and for the past two years I have been competing as a “Para Rider” with a card granted to me by USEF. Obtaining this card involved a thorough review of medical records, a personal interview with their examiner and an evaluation by a Physical Therapist. I have adaptive aids granted to me to compensate for my medical condition. I have Parkinson’s Disease and have had it for over 6 years. My brain does not produce enough dopamine to create adequate muscle tone for normal movement. I own two horses and it just happens that my upper level horse was leased out to Foothills member Karen Scott. So I decided I would attend with my other horse, the HUGE and powerfully moving ten year old gelding who acts like he is four! I had been riding him with some limited success for about six months and felt like we were finally speaking the same language. But my body has it’s moments when I struggle with suppleness, strength and general stamina. I compensate for these weaknesses by timing activities and adjusting meds. So since I had committed to the spot, I had two months to prepare for the weekend with Clinician Volker Brohmann.
My first order of business was a shopping trip to Christensen’s for two new pairs of breeches. I usually lean towards plaids but on that day the electric blue pair struck me as making a statement. I opted for those and another khaki green pair, with coordinating tops. I then set the training schedule of two lessons a week with my Trainer - Stephanie Schauer, and rode twice weekly on my own. I booked massage appointments for myself and my horse, I had his saddle checked and rebalanced. I felt like I was giving it my all! My ability to effectively communicate with this horse was improving daily. My opinion was validated each time I took a lesson - the connection was improving and my communication and timing of the aids were also becoming more effective. I decided to do a check-up on how it was going and attend a rated show. He put in a respectable showing and we had decent scores. Feeling ready to go, I took another lesson on Friday, the day before the clinic, at my home arena. It all came together and I felt well prepared and ready to show my horse’s quality gaits and talent.
I rode early on Saturday, as mornings are best for me. I got there well in advance of my lesson time dressed in my electric blue breeches, shiny show boots, blingy belt. My horse was equally presented clean, braided, and in his show bridle. I allocated sufficient time to tack, lunge and warm up, so as to give myself and my horse every opportunity to succeed. Somehow though, my ability to communicate with my horse was ineffective and my horse gave me the big fat finger, completely refusing to move forward and do as I was asking. I was embarrassed – I hold a bronze and silver medal and have owned and ridden about six horses - one horse from third level to two years of show success at I-1. I was frustrated with the big guy because he made me question my ability and he had me so ANGRY… I wanted to hop off and take more aggressive action but then I listened to my inner voice and just took Volker’s suggestions to get him to move. We never cantered – we just got him trotting around for forty-five minutes. I accepted that going from being planted to trotting was an accomplishment, albeit small. Karen Scott told me to ride my other horse the next day but I had not been on him in over two months. One part of my brain told me to not give up and go back with the “bad boy”, and the other said go with my proven mount. I asked Volker and he said bring the other one, which I did.
Sunday morning, again in brisk temperatures, I tacked up my upper level horse. The moment I mounted and began to move together with him it was like putting on my well fitting dancing shoes! I asked, he responded, and he did everything well. Volker couldn't believe he was approaching 18 and said he moved with no stiffness and looks younger than his years. Half passes were fantastic, flying changes expressive and spot on. Volker challenged me with piaffe and passage and we got something flashy! My horse made me feel proud, successful and connected with him. It was that good feeling we get when we have harmony with our mounts. During this lesson Volker made me feel proficient in the sport and encouraged me to go for it – my ultimate goal, the USDF gold medal.
As for the other horse, I did not give up. I got on the following Tuesday and he was again with me - doing all that I asked. Go figure. I am going to say “my batteries in my translator died”. Maybe my muscle tone was different or my aids were too strong? Whatever - it was humbling and reminded me what a gift it is to get these horses to do our bidding.
I will continue riding as long as my body will let me. I will however leave the clinic spot to other Foothill Chapter members in the future!
Karen Scott is having fun and success with my upper level horse, recently earning two of her silver medal scores. Together we are sharing him and I am still riding the big guy.