USEF High Performance Para Symposium in Wellington, FL

We finished the symposium yesterday afternoon, packed up and left early this morning to drive back to Charleston. There were lectures both days with Technical Advisor Kai Handt and Norwegian judge Kjell Myhre; Monday was mostly going over the training scales, examples of movement and submission and all that jazz. Yesterday focused on elements of the Freestyle.

Unlike normal freestyles there isn’t a score for degree of difficulty in para dressage, so there’s no point making it too hard. For example I can do leg-yielding, but given that my left side is weaker than my right side, I will just leave the movement out of my freestyle because I know it won’t be very good on one side. I learned the hard way, last year, that you really shouldn’t do what you’re not good at.

At my level you’re required to do a 3-loop serpentine, walk and trot. Those are Biara’s best gaits; canter is her weakest gait, and I don’t have to canter so I wouldn’t do it because it won’t show her off and it makes me nervous. It’s a work in progress – it’s not terrible, but it’s not great. If I get nervous I get tense, which makes everything worse. I’m spastic on both sides, and the left side is worse.  My brain knows what I want to do but I can’t always do it and I definitely can’t do it quickly. Basically it’s a pain in the ass, but it is what it is! You have to learn to work with it.

In the riding session we worked on some specifics. I grab with my legs which makes me bounce more like a beginner; if I can relax I can do sitting trot quite well. If I can teach myself to relax it will appear better, and be more comfortable, and I wouldn’t have to worry about changing diagonal and that sort of stuff.

We also worked on accuracy, like making sure the 20-meter circles are round and the right size, and that I ride corners correctly. It’s important across the diagonal to arrive right before the letter, so I’m not trying to make the transition and ride the corner at the same time – that doesn’t work out so well. If I plan to arrive at the letter a stride early it gives me time to come back so the corner is not such a big deal. It’s a planning thing.

Transitions should be nice and gradual and precise instead of abruptly putting on the brakes. We also worked on making sure I can maintain my balance without feeling like I’m choking my horse. When I first got her she reacted by tossed her head; I have to make sure I don’t raise my hands too high. It was interesting watching a rider with Cerebral Palsy whose hands get too high, and it doesn’t do her any favors. It was helpful for me to see my habits on somebody else. It’s one thing for someone who’s able-bodies to tell me what to do, but another to see somebody else with my problem doing the things I shouldn’t do.

I realized, too, that some of the things I have to work on really are not so bad!

Also initially I was graded a III, but they changed my grade to a II. I was mis-graded because they thought I had more control over the right side of my body, but some of the movements were really a struggle, like counter-canter. I have just gone along working on it, but someone at the symposium noticed and changed my grade. You’d think it would make me feel bad, to be changed to a grade II, but that is a really good thing for me.