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Trainers for physically disabled riders

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  • Trainers for physically disabled riders

    Here is my story. Hopefully this will pull some lurkers out of the woodwork.

    I have been disabled with a neurological disorder for the past 16 years. I was fortunate enough to have remissions that were long enough for me to train hard and have accomplishments. Then BOOM...I would be back in a relapse. I managed to remain seemingly normal until my most recent relapse. It has been determined by doctors that I have an approximately 50% chance of remaining the same and the same chance of continually getting worse. There is a very minute chance I will have another remission. I have been in this "relapse" for several years and I have determined that being 31 years old, I have to suck it up and admit I am disabled. I want to continue riding and continue learning. I want to move up the levels the best I can. Despite my limitations, I am hardworking, determined, and full of tenacity. I am sure there are others out there like me.

    My friend Robin is helping me accept my disability and realize a disability does not mean the end of "real" riding. We are both in the place where we need trainers who understand how to work with para equestrians and understand the ins and outs of competing as a para equestrian at regular shows as well as para shows.

    I thought we could put up a list of dressage trainers who work with disabled riders. I am sure there are some of you out there who are working with great trainers. Please share! Maybe we could set up a list by state and include websites and/or contact info. This could be very helpful to others. It is hard enough to find a trainer with whom you and your horse mesh, but it's even harder when you add a physical disability into the mix. I am located in NH and am lost when it comes to finding a trainer.

    Trainers, please chime in. Will you or won't you work with para equestrians? Why or why not? Have you successfully worked with the physically challenged in the past? I am asking out of curiosity and I am not looking for a trainwreck. I know it's a lot harder to accomplish things on horseback with so little feeling in my legs. I can imagine it would be far more difficult and possibly frustrating to teach me. If you or a fellow trainer you know of are interested in working with disabled dressage riders, please tell us an give us contact info

    I would like this to be a positive thread. Lot's of us are suffering from physical impaiments, so let us join forces and share our connections.

    Thanks in advance. I hope this thread can help some of us advance in our riding and gain confidence!

  • #2
    I have a friend who is a para rider and does really well. Also, Debbie McDonald is very supportive of para riders and is doing a clinic soon for them. I am not sure where it is being held but I will try to get info. Also, check these sites out:


    Roseknoll Sporthorses


    • #3
      Jessica Ransehausen (PA)
      Missy Ransehausen (PA)
      Sharon Schneidman (CO)


      • #4

        How did you manage to come to terms with not being able to ride at the same level you use to? I am being treated for a neurological disorder for the last 4 years. Some days are better then others. Some meds get a better result then others. I use to ride at the upper levels of Eventing and am now struggling with being able to ride w/t/c on horses that are not push button. Right now I am struggling with just trying to get healthy. How did you handle the stress if I may ask?


        • #5
          Here is a trainer in Maine.

          Cassi Martin


          • #6
            In BC you have Sandra Verde and Andrea Taylor for sure. I suspect there are others as well (we have a pretty big para-dressage group here)
            "Adulthood? You're playing with ponies. That is, like, every 9 year old girl's dream. Adulthood?? You're rocking the HELL out of grade 6, girl."


            • #7
              I can't recommend a certain trainer per se, but how much of your leg can you feel? Above the knee? Any "seat" oriented trainer should be willing to work w/ you. Avoid the 'legs of steel' or gadget trainers. Where are you located?


              • #8
                p.s. doctors don't know much and they should stop pretending they do

                meanwhile, you can make a small fortune teaching firewalking seminars!


                • #9
                  I work at a therapeutic riding center in the midwest. Although I am sure you probably have more skills than many of the students we teach, we do have classes for riders that are independent, meaning that we don't have lead lines clipped on and the class is taught by a local dressage coach. I know sometimes there is a prevailing attitude that therapeutic riding centers only deal with the very profound, but many offer these type of classes. Our center also has private lessons available and many of our classes run at cheaper costs because they have private sponsorship, etc. It sounds like you have done very well in the past and a therapeutic riding center might not be the right fit, but it's worth looking into. Some of them have really great programs for disabled, but still very capable and able minded riders.

                  Also, I'm not sure of what kind of therapy you are doing but have you looked into hippotherapy as a supplement to other riding work? I am studying to be a physical therapist and have done some work with hippotherapy and seen amazing results.

                  Best of luck to you in your search and your quest to help others as well. What better way to heal then to connect with the spirit and willingness of a horse!
                  Last edited by case solved; Aug. 4, 2009, 12:34 AM. Reason: spelling


                  • Original Poster

                    Originally posted by GaellentQuest View Post

                    How did you manage to come to terms with not being able to ride at the same level you use to? I am being treated for a neurological disorder for the last 4 years. Some days are better then others. Some meds get a better result then others. I use to ride at the upper levels of Eventing and am now struggling with being able to ride w/t/c on horses that are not push button. Right now I am struggling with just trying to get healthy. How did you handle the stress if I may ask?
                    Honestly, there are days when I feel that I have not come to terms with it. Most days, I just tell myself I have 2 choices. Choice #1, sell the horses and give up everything I have worked and fought for my entire life. In turn, I will be the most bored, depressed person out there. Choice #2, KEEP FIGHTING!!!! Part of me is just determined to prove others wrong. Believe me, there are days I cry. If I allow myself to sink into the "why me" zone, it will pull me in like quick sand. As a result, I just try to stay strong and tell myself it could be a heck of a lot worse.

                    When I first became ill as a teen, it was gut wrenching. I had felt invincible. I rode with a trainer who concentrated on a heavy dressage background (the reason I ended up focusing mainly in dressage) even though I rode hunters and equitation. I was the type of kid who would ride any horse and jump anything. I was fearless/stupid. It was much harder when I first became ill then it is now. Even though I went in and out of relapses and remissions, every single time I went in to remission, I truly and foolishly believed I was cured and again invincible. The anguish and horror I felt as a teen makes what I feel today seem like nothing.

                    Adulthood gave me a bit more intelligence and made me cherish each remission, knowing it could be the last. Now that I have been properly diagnosed, albeit not yet fully diagnosed, I realize a remission is highly unlikely. Even if I go into remission, I have suffered from a great deal of nerve damage and I won't be back to the old me. I have just started to be rational and thankful for all the remissions I had and truly, according to the medical field, should not have had. My reality is what I once considered my worst nightmare. Now that it is reality, I see that all is not lost and someday, somehow even if it is with dispensations, I will compete again.

                    I have some good, true friends and a supportive family. They have all helped me cope with the stress. Lots of so called friends disappeared and that made me depressed at the time, but truthfully, they weren't real friends.

                    I hope disabled riders, whether they are dressage riders or not, will join this thread or maybe we can get our own forum and we can provide support for each other. A strong support system is so important!!


                    • #11
                      Please keep at it!

                      Missy Ransehausen and Sharon Schneidman coach the US Para Dressage team.

                      They are both wonderful sympathetic people AND the top of their game.

                      The team is always looking for more participants. And having been around a few of the people who participate I am humbled and amazed at their tenacity, drive, perseverance.

                      I can only imagine what it would be like to not be able to ride as I had in the past. So I look at these riders and try to learn.


                      • #12
                        I had to search a good deal before I found a trainer that would work with me. I had a spinal cord injury in 1995 and lost feeling from my waist down. I was able to eventually regain my ability to walk, although I do have a limp and I never did get the feeling back. I have a permanent caudal block, basically.

                        The instructor I ride with has been a fantastic. Very much worth the effort I put in finding her. She is supportive and pushes me to keep improving. But she has no experience working with a disabled rider, and there have been times when the issue we are trying to address from a strictly riding perspective isn't fixable from a strictly riding perspective. Keeping my stirrups, especially my right, is something I have struggled with from Day One. But she has no experience in adapting tack for a disabled rider, so the only fix available is what she would tell an able bodied rider. I get discouraged because no matter how hard I try, it just doesn't work for me. It took another COTHer explaining to me how to rubber band my foot into the stirrup to fix it.

                        There are so many of us out here, trying to make our riding lives work. I was shocked when these disabled rider threads started popping up. I had no idea there were so many of us! We all know what it is like to have a doctor lecture about the advisability of riding at all. Or to be in tons of pain from just 30 minutes of saddle time. Or how rough it is when you are the only one at your barn who needs help mounting. I wish there was a forum just for us, because the obstacles we face ARE different. Here in Idaho it can be hard enough to find dressage clinics/instruction/whatever. It is ten times harder to find it when you're a disabled rider.


                        • #13
                          I work with special students of all sorts. I do NOT claim to do 'therapeutic' riding because I am unable to spend the time and $$$$ to get my NARHA Certification. I work with both physically and mentally challenged riders, using dressage as the basis for it. I breed and bring along my own school horses specifically for a combination of temperament and talent--they need to be sensitive in one way (say, to follow the aids of a rider with little/no use of legs) and tolerant in other ways.
                          InnisFailte Pinto Sporthorses & Coloured Cobs

                          Bits are like cats, what's one more? (Petstorejunkie)


                          • #14
                            Forum for riders with disablities

                            I was bored and thru together a forum for disabled riders http://ridinguphill.ning.com/forum
                            Last edited by Couture TB; Aug. 4, 2009, 04:30 PM.


                            • #15
                              Great Idea, Invite!!!

                              Thank you Invite for taking the lead in starting this thread! It will be terrific to have a thread that we can use to pass our info along. If enough of us ask, Coth will be more inclined to grant us a forum. We have to show that we are a large enough group to make the financial numbers work.

                              If we ask for editorial copy, articles, etc. they should be more willing to have a para-equestrian section, especially since Paralympics IS an Olympic sport and will be at WEG.

                              We want to ride and it is tough to mentally overcome the frustration, disappointment and loneliness of overcoming the challenges. It takes courage and determination, compassion for ourselves, and a devious creative mind. The last one is used to invent ways around the problems. By helping each other, we can speed that process along.

                              Take courage! Join us!
                              Intermediate Riding Skills


                              • #16
                                I have no advice or trainer information. Just a lot of admiration for you para-equestrians for having the strength and persistence to stay in the game. Go get 'em.
                                "... if you think i'm MAD, today, of all days,
                                the best day in ten years,
                                you are SORELY MISTAKEN, MY LITTLE ANCHOVY."


                                • #17
                                  Michael Richardson is a paraplegic rider/clinician. I rode in one of his clinics several years ago and thought he was spectacular. He and his wife are in Texas. I know he was involved with NAHRA several years ago...would be worth checking out.



                                  • #18
                                    Result of my ontyte stirrup trial

                                    In Invite's thread about Mdc stirrups, there was a discussion about Ontyte stirrups for our needs. I promised I would try them out and report back to all of you.

                                    At Journeyman Saddlery, I picked up the trial booties with the metal strips on the sole and the magnetic stirrups. The booties slip over the riding boot. For show and right now, one gets one's boots resoled with the special soles with the metal strips exactly where one wants them. The stirrups are light but substantial. You can't see anything is different. They are black, which I like because I don't want to draw more attention to my feet than I have to. This Fall they will be coming out in the regular silver color. Dover will be carrying them.

                                    I am riding a small Hanovarian mare, Ruby, who is 8 and recently out of a broodmare band. While she is quiet and kind, she is green. We are doing trails and arena work. I am working towards Going Out In Public with her. Then we will be showing intro just to be able to see people and be part of the world.

                                    I have neurological and spinal issues from a broken back and hyper-extended pelvic ligaments and SI. I lose the feeling in my feet and legs, especially if the spinal cord gets Zapped from too much movement or shock. It is difficult for me to sit the trot and canter. Luckily, I was an international levels eventer, so I am happy in variations of light seat or 2 point.

                                    First Day:

                                    Ruby did 2 startles from rabbits and full size deer who didn’t want to move out of our way. Normally, I would lose contact with my right stirrup and then come down with my foot too far through the stirrup. They stayed in position and I didn’t have to have my foot rammed down to maintain contact. We then went over to a steep down hill slope that she hates to go down. She props and stiffens and tries to twist to avoid doing it right. She gets sugar for doing it correctly, but this is a work in process. The stirrup stayed on my foot and I didn’t slide through. It feels odd not to fight for the stirrups, but I think I can adjust rather quickly!

                                    When first mounting, it took some finesse and trial and error and walking around to put the stirrup on the right place on the ball of my foot. You will probably want some help from your assistants to position them. Bradley, my son, held Ruby for me while I bent over and raised the assembly to nudge it in to place. But then you don’t have to deal with it any more. The test booties had 3 magnets to show the different placements. That made it harder than a final pair that has the 2 magnets in the right place.

                                    These require one effort at the beginning, and then you don’t have to deal with them until you are ready to get off. I had a cell phone call as I was getting off Ruby and I could release my foot, dismount and not drop the phone or the call!

                                    Second day:

                                    Now I am feeling empowered by the stirrups. I got on Ruby and adjusted the stirrups by myself. Then I headed over to the ravine and small mountain trails.

                                    While we walked down a steep slope, there was humongous 8" log which Ruby popped over, then scrambled down the rest of the slope. I didn't lose stirrups and I didn't get the awful Zot in my back. I am soo excited!

                                    We crossed a big stream, went up the bank and started trotting up the first mountain. Then we did a little canter. Trotted some more and along the ridge popped over 2 more small logs. It felt wonderful not to lose stirrups or have the uneasy chattering of my right foot. I didn't need lots of pressure to keep my foot in place, so Ruby was happier and I could ride softer in my legs. We walked down a slope and turned on my old galloping trail. I asked her for a trot, then a canter, and then a hand gallop. OH WOW! I felt so alive again!

                                    By now, my body was adjusting to not worrying about falling. The saddle stayed centered and my body felt balanced and comfortable. On the way home, we crossed some small muddy streams and Ruby's lurch over them didn't cause any problems with the stirrups.

                                    I think I rode better than I have in ages. Certainly with more confidence. I am looking forward to trying them for a dressage lesson. I bet the trot and canter work will go better because of them.
                                    Intermediate Riding Skills


                                    • #19
                                      Invite...I was you 10 years ago. There are days I still struggle so much, but there peace now. I know that God forbid I am unable to move or function tomorrow I have done something to not only make my life better, but to help others who are struggling too.

                                      I have MS, rheumatoid arthritis and a host of associated autoimmune issues. Basically...my body hates itself

                                      I have been through it all..I swear...and I have a small equine assisted therapy program here at our farm and am on the verge of launching, in my opinion, a trail blazing program with a top notch facility. There is so much, SO MUCH, you have to offer...and with the ok of your care team, that can include riding! I will dig out my piles of info and post them
                                      I Loff My Quarter Horse & I love Fenway Bartholomule cliques

                                      Just somebody with a positive outlook on life...go ahead...hate me for that.


                                      • #20
                                        I'm posting from the Holiday Inn in West Chester, PA where I just arrived after a phenomenal lesson with Missy Ransehousen. OMG, the Ransehousens are AWESOME to ride with, I'm sure whether all your body parts are working properly or not.

                                        Today, I rode half passes in trot and canter in both directions. Not a big deal for some, but a HUGE accomplishment for me as my left leg doesn't work properly from the mid-thigh down. My disability is the result of an incomplete spinal cord injury after an auto accident, poorly timed, shortly after thoracic spine surgery.

                                        Anyway, besides losing my left stirrup or getting my foot stuck too far in if my foot isn't banded, I don't have the correct feedback from my brain to my spinal cord to know where my leg and foot are (impaired proprioception) in space. I have a foot drop which is exactly what you don't want when riding and if I put too much weight to the left, my numb and tingling leg, goes so dead and painful it brings me to tears. Imagine when your arm or leg falls asleep and then imagine that you cannot shake it back awake. Not fun!

                                        Re-learning the shoulder-in and haunches-in came easier than the half-pass. Don't get me started on my frustration that I couldn't get the half pass which is just one step beyond the SI and HI. Half-passing to the left would turn into a leg yield because I couldn't maintain the left bend and couldn't quite get my weight to the inside. In the half pass to the right I didn't get my mare moving off my left leg and the movement would turn into a diagonal line.

                                        I've only been riding with Missy and Jessica (mostly Missy) since May. I am fortunate to live only a couple of hours away from them. They have taught me to use my weight to tell my mare what I wanted. At first it was obvious to anyone watching--now, not so much. They told me "now, now, now" to help me get the timing of using the whip to tap my mare over. They told me to get longer spurs so I didn't have to twist my foot around to use this aid when needed. They gave me exercises to get control of my mare's shoulders and haunches which are the building blocks of a successful half pass. I'm sure their lessons would improve anyone's riding, but for me, they seem to understand there are some things I just cannot physically do in the saddle so they keep at it until an exercise gets the desired response.

                                        Whicker, thanks so much for the stirrup review!! I may just look into it even though I am happy, so far, with my $1 rubber band. I confess that I've often thought that banding BOTH feet into the stirrups would be Nirvana.

                                        I would love to converse with others riding with disabilities. There are several Para riders at the Ransehousens and I am both humbled and inspired by everyone's skills and dedication. For me, riding dressage on my special mare is the best physical therapy (and psychotherapy!!) I could ever desire, regardless of whatever I accomplish in the show ring.
                                        GoodNess Ridge Farm