Para Equestrian Athletes, LLC and Carlisle Academy Hold Special Seminar for Para Equestrian Athletes with Vision Impairments and Blindness

With great effort and collaboration, Para Equestrian Athletes, LLC and Carlisle Academy Integrative Equine Therapy and Sports were able to successfully share an incredibly special seminar for Para Equestrian Athletes with Vision Impairments and Blindness. 

Para Equestrian Athletes was advantageous in securing a  generous grant from Lendon Gray’s Dressage4Kids Training4Teaching program and along with wonderful  sponsors; Carlisle Charitable Foundation, Faith & Family  Foundation, Planson, Smartpak, Cadence Equine Sports Alliance, Deborah McAlexander, Jennifer Wu and Jere Gray  Photography made it possible to host a first of its kind clinic  and schooling dressage show directed at ‘Strategies for the  Blind and Visually Impaired Para Equestrian Athlete.’

The theme was biomechanics and  kinesthetic learning.  The first day started  with International  clinician and  biomechanics expert  Peggy Cummings. She  enabled riders to  understand and  achieve a more balanced and connected seat through  careful unmounted and  mounted exercises.

Michelle LaBarre expanded  knowledge with  kinesthetic learning  and guided us with  hands on exercises  utilizing a plethora of  props to improve  ‘feel.’

Jennifer Wu spoke passionately about fundraising  with ‘heart strings’ vs ‘strings attached’ and inspired  our athletes to seek out sponsors who share the  same passion and support for their Para sport track.  Lisa Toaldo, a USEF technical delegate brought awareness to the challenges that blind athletes  encounter at show grounds and offered solutions on  how to manage and prepare for successful competitions.

“S” Judge Susanne Hamilton headed our Para dressage  schooling show and fix a test. Susanne worked  intricately with athletes. Understanding their  individual challenges and producing positive changes to  their techniques for increased test accuracy.  

“This clinic hosted by Carlisle Academy and Para Equestrian for visually impaired  and blind riders was invaluable for riders, coaches and assistants for vi riders. All of  us learned pathways to better riding, more accuracy in the dressage court, working  with living letters, preparations for and experiences at show grounds, and the  importance of communication and solving problems by thinking outside the box.  We showed that at all levels of para dressage from intro to grade five blindness is a  challenge which can be overcome with teamwork and communication. I look  forward to the next event and hope that these lessons will be incorporated into para  coach certification.” –Dr. Suzanne Ament (VA), Grade IV Para Athlete 

“I’d say the VI rider’s clinic was truly an amazing opportunity. I got to  work with amazing coaches, meet wonderful people, and all of it was  optimal for blind and visually impaired riders. If I could change anything,  I’d make it longer!” –Lilly Russo (CA), Grade V Para Athlete 

“I have been to symposiums before, but this one, generously sponsored by Dressage4Kids, is the first time I have ever had the opportunity to learn as much from the  people attending as I did from the clinicians themselves. Make no mistake, the clinicians  were fantastic educators and I have come home with many fantastic new tools for my  training toolbox. But this is the first time I have ever had a clinic focused on Blind and  Visually Impaired riders like myself. And it is the first time I have ever been in the  company of other blind and visually impaired riders. Watching them learn and cope and  challenge themselves was an inspiration. The bravery they exhibited and the open  conversation about how our visual limitations are something to contend with, but not  something that has to limit us , is something I will carry with me forever. I am so grateful  that our group is considered worth the special attention, worth the sponsorship. We are  a small group,, but we are a mighty group. And I think one of the things we learned  coming together like this is that we will all thrive in part because we have each other to  lean on. Thank you so much for your support of visually impaired and blind riders. We  will travel many miles on what we learned.” –Michelle LaBarre (NY), Grade V Para Athlete

An important component of learning how to truly ride a horse and being an  effective rider is understanding biomechanics. Neutral position leads to  relaxation in Human which transmits to Horse and results in a harmonious  relationship between the two in and out of the saddle. A relaxed body and  mind results in not having to work so hard to move your horse forward so  that you are able to just ride. At one point while riding, I recall exclaiming,  “I’m not working, I’m really riding!” –Jennifer Wu (AL), Vision Impaired Athlete

“The VI rider clinic at Carlisle Academy this summer was a wonderful opportunity for us  to train together, to share details and techniques of riding with no or low vision. Prior  to that we had had several introductory zoom meetings where we were able to learn each other‘s voices and experiences a bit. The in-person clinic was so very much more  helpful, to have training from professionals and to share our techniques experiences  and successes with one another. We were able to do even more sharing between our  rides and during meals. I am very grateful to have had this experience and know that it  has greatly improved my riding and showing skills.” –Marcia Springston’Dillon (VA),  Grade IV Para Athlete 

Expectations were exceeded. Their goal of  developing conversations and furthering along  Para equestrian and especially those athletes with vision impairments and blindness was achieved.  This was not a one-off clinic but a series of future  events to further promote and advocate for Para Equestrians.

With appreciation to sponsors: Carlisle Charitable Foundation, Faith & Family Foundation, Smartpak,Planson, Cadence Equine Sports Alliance, Deborah McAlexander, Jennifer Wu and Jere Gray Photography.  All the volunteers, their Living Letters and all those ‘behind the scenes’ – You all made this incredibly special event possible! 

Special thanks also to: Dressage4Kids Training4Teaching Program, Tuny Page and Stillpoint Farm, Theresa Davidson, Jennifer Wu, Deborah McAlexander and Jere Gray Photography