Lloyd Harbor Equestrian Center’s Spring Fling Shines Spotlight on Para-Dressage

Janie Panagi’s horse, Dante’s Perfect Storm is a versatile Gypsy Vanner with an extensive resume ... From dabbling in equitation and trails, to being a fantastic therapeutic horse for riders with special needs! Photos by J. Conrad Williams Jr.

With great effort and collaboration, the equestrian community came together to support, organize, and share in a very special event, the Lloyd Harbor Equestrian Center’s ‘Spring Fling’ schooling dressage show.

Caumsett State Park provided the picture-perfect background for well-behaved horses and ponies. The event organizers. Dr. Lisa Toaldo, USEF Technical Delegate (L and L Equestrian) and USEF Para Dressage Coach Ana Belo O’Brien (Para Equestrian Athletes LLC) ensured every detail was attended to, and our volunteers, show administration and competitors were thrilled to finally be reunited for such an event after a long Covid hiatus.

Dressage, fondly described as ‘dancing with your horse’ is an Olympic sport where horse and rider compete as one in a test of specific movements. These movements are executed seamlessly as riders perform precise geometric patterns at exact letter points within a 60×20 or 40×20 metered rectangle called a dressage court. Movements are judged and scored with emphasis on harmony between horse and rider, accuracy of the test and purity of all gates.

Para Equestrian Athletes LLC (P.E.A.) is devoted to promoting, educating and advocating for the para-equestrian community. P.E.A. has introduced an Adaptive Children’s Dressage Program where youths as young as 5 years old are taught to develop their dressage theory. Knowing the intricacies of a 20-meter circle and straight lines is the foundation to all dressage movements and basic to all riding disciplines.

For many Pony Clubbers, this was their first dressage show. Our seasoned competitors added to the training scale, competing well through the levels with many taking high score awards.

However, the spotlight, also covered by Newsday, was on USEF classified Grade IV blind Para Dressage Athlete, Dr. Suzanne Ament, a history professor at Virginia’s Radford University. One may ask, ‘how can a blind equestrian ride a test accurately?’ Suzanne’s techniques are Living Letters which call out the letters as the rider is approaching. With echo-location she direct herself, kinesthetics and biomechanical feel of her horse as well as stride counting enables her to order to ‘see’ her way around the dressage court. Working with Suzanne was Coach Ana Belo O’Brien. It was a moment to remember as Suzanne navigated a near perfect second test and horse and rider truly became a harmonious team.

With only 2 practice rides on Dante’s Perfect Storm, Suzanne rode her FEI Intro Test A Grade II and positioned herself under tough competition as the lead rider, early in the show, with a total score of 77.50. She earned the Show’s High Score and overall Champion out of 54 other competitive scores!

Suzanne saw an opportunity to spread awareness that riding, whether competitive or recreational, is for everyone including those with special needs and vision impairments. And for a sweet moment in time, and with the help of her trusted borrowed mount, Dante, Suzanne proved that riding is for everyone!

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