70 degrees, sunny and pleasant. The Southern California weather was perfect for riders, horses, and spectators alike at the U.S. Equestrian Federation Para-Dressage training session held at San Juan Capistrano’s Shea Center January 19 and 20. Conditions were ideal for this newcomer to Para-Dressage, a competition that tests the combined skill and training of riders with physical disabilities and their horses.
Though I have ridden horses since I was 5 competing in hunter jumpers, combined training, gymkhana, western pleasure and dressage as a child, I only learned of the program from Dennis Callin just over a year ago. I was immediately convinced I had to get involved.
I was born without my left hand, but don’t consider myself disabled. The lack of a left hand has never stopped me from tackling an obstacle or goal. Ever. Most of my adult life I've ridden for fun and for the partnership a rider forms with a horse. I have had the opportunity to learn from incredible horsemen and women and I have spent the past 10 years honing my horsemanship and riding skills.
But it wasn't until Dennis approached me last November that I thought I could put all of that hard work and love of horses to use at an internationally competitive level. With the help of Dennis and my life mentor and regular trainer Ellen Eckstein, I was able to meet Katy Peterson, a professional from Salinas who offered to loan me her Prix St. George mare, Moneypenny, to compete towards the Para-Dressage events at the World Equestrian Games.
The pace was dizzying. After just one week together, Moneypenny and I were off to Shea Center for our first Para-Dressage training session. We arrived on Friday to find not only a state-of-the-art therapeutic riding center but also a refreshingly "green" philosophy in stable keeping. They treat their entire run off and the stalls are equipped with "comfort stall" mats among other things. The arenas were beautiful and the footing was light and fluffy: heaven for horses.
Training began the next day bright and early. I rode third and had a great first lesson. Everything was new: the horse was new to me, I was new to the horse, we were both new to team coach, Missy Ransehousen, Missy was new to us, and we were in a foreign facility. So we took it easy.
Missy was great, full of knowledge and experience. Best of all she had a great sense of humor. Because of our newly-formed partnership, she worked on simple yet important things like suppling, bending, accuracy, and forward. It was a great start to the weekend.
On the second day, Missy upped the anti to see of what I and Moneypenny were made of. My ride was fantastic, and I started to feel our potential as a pair. The other riders also had great rides and it was amazing to see the US team’s blossoming talent.
The weekend was a success and I now have an understanding of how important and competitive the USEF Para-Equestrian program truly is, which makes it all the more amazing that the staff and other riders were not only talented but genuinely friendly. Missy was a true professional and Pam Lane as well as the people from Shea Center. Sandy, Lauren and Dana were really helpful.
It was also a pleasure to meet and work with the other riders: Holly Bergay, Adria Di Maria, Elain Evans, Barbara Grassmyer, and Erin Waddle.For riders like us, the Para-Equestrian program is an amazing opportunity we might not have had otherwise. Speaking for myself, I left the experience wanting more and eager to dive into international level Para-Dressage.