The Paralympic Horses are taking their Massage Therapist to Tokyo 2020!

These horses have a heightened sense of awareness.They are very compassionate.” JP Hourdebaigt.

I had the opportunity to speak with J.P. Hourdebaigt at the recent CPEDI (Concours Para Equestrian Dressage International) JP is the massage therapist for the Para horses who are ridden by the para riders for the US Team. He spoke about the qualities these horses possess.

“They have two levels. First they receive information from the trainer and then second, they duplicate the training with the para rider regardless of how the para rider is compensating for their disability. These horses must be fit and ridden by the trainer and when they work with the para rider they understand they have to help. For example the horse ridden by Roxy Trunnell is a very flamboyant and hot horse but with Roxy he is quiet and he is her guardian. He says “don’t mess with my rider”. Lord Loxley , ridden by David Botano is the same. This horse is trained to Grand Prix and is a stallion but with David he is quiet and aware of his para rider. Selecting a horse for a para rider you have to be looking for those qualities. Not every horse will be suitable.”

David Botana and Lord Loxley riding in the CPEDI at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival.

How did you start with equine massage?

I was born in France and as an adult moved to Canada. I did human massage for 20 years and worked with many Canadian sport teams through Sport Canada.  I was myself just a trail rider . But then later when I had more time I started to ride more. I leased a horse and at the barn I used some of my massage techniques on some of the horses with good results. Then more people began to ask for my help with their horses. I then did a one day clinic that was very successful. This was in the early 90s and I realized there was a niche market as no one was doing this work on horses. I spent the next four to five years learning about horse anatomy and learning from veterinarians. I wrote a book “Equine Massage a Practical Guide”. It has been translated into 8 languages!”

JP speaks with one of the para riders when they have finished their test.

How did you start working with the US Para Team?

Ellie Brimmer, a para equestrian, asked me if I could help and I was happy to do so. Then I was asked to help with the team for the 2018 World Equestrian Para Games I was able to ease the compensation in the horses who are compensating for their riders. That Games we got 3 bronze medals and a silver medal.  I have been working with the US Para Team since then.”

JP keeps an eye on one of the Para riders who is getting help mounting up.

Are there particular challenges you have in dealing with  para horses?

“I wouldn’t say “challenges” as that sounds a bit negative.What I have to work out is where the horse needs help.Is it the work that is creating stress or tension? Or is it stress or tension created by the way the rider has to compensate for their disability or handicap?  Each para rider has a different seat.One rider may sit more on the right side and that stresses the horse and can cause tension. So the “challenge” is for me to understand how the horse is stressing. I talk with the trainer to make sure that the saddle, the shoeing, the bit etc. are all ok for the horse. I also work with the trainer to assess how the para is riding and if there is a weakness then I work with the physio to help the rider to improve as much as possible to relieve that weakness to help the horse.”

Canadian para rider Jody Schloss rides without stirrups. Some para riders find the stirrups increases spasticity in the legs. Hence riding with no stirrups.

What are you involved with during a competition like this CPEDI?

“I will work with the horse before or after the ride. Some horses like to have work done on them before they are ridden. It helps them. Others do not like it and are better after the ride. I always like to do stretches and  release the fascia. That is important as if that is not released then it can spread to the muscle and create tension in the muscle.”

What is your schedule leading up to the Paralympics Tokyo 2020?

“We will be in Florida for the winter and there is one more CPEDI after this one.  I see the horses every two weeks during this time.  In June there is a one week training camp at Tryon and the team selection takes place then. June 19 the Team will be announced. Early August we have a training camp in Pennsylvania. The horses will be in quarantine then and on the 19th or 20th of August they will fly from New York to Tokyo. September 3 we will all be home again.

I thanked JP for taking the time to speak with me and then I went to watch the Grade 1 riders compete. Para dressage has five levels with 1 being for those with the most severe disabilities. These riders do all of their tests with the horse at the walk. As the levels get higher the riders will walk and trot and finally walk , trot and canter. I was amazed by the Grade 1 riders. Courage, Determination. Resilience. They are inspirational.

Roxanne Trunnell and Dalton. A good walk is essential for a para horse especially for the Grade 1 tests. Dalton shows us an excellent walk here.
Some para riders need to have the test read to them via a radio system with ear buds. This person is reading for Canadian Jody Schloss. The other person with her is an official who makes sure that only the test is read and no coaching is given.
Roxy and Dalton are led out of the ring by the trainer. They had the winning score the day I was there 77.730 with one judge awarding them 81.964!
Waiting at the warm up ring in a smart cooler with the Paralympic symbol. Some horses will have a companion horse in the ring being held by a groom . This helps the para’s horse to not be nervous due to separation anxiety when they have to go , alone, into a big stadium like the one at Global.

22 Comments Add yours

  1. I love how your posts remind us how very special horses are.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you. This comment does my heart good.💕

      Like

  2. Lignum Draco says:

    Fascinating post. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      You are most welcome

      Like

  3. MAP195 says:

    wonderful post…thanks for share

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      You are most welcome.

      Like

  4. Horses really are quite amazing, Anne. Makes me miss my horse from when I was a kid. I just love to read that people with disabilities can participate in these competitions, and that the appropriate horses understand and compensate where needed. We have several horse therapy organizations in my area and I am always so happy to read of their success in allowing the disabled community to be a part of the wonderfulness of horses.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      You are right Terri. And going even beyond therapy these horses carry their riders to compete in the Paralympics! Thanks so much for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Prior... says:

    horses are amazing animals and I learn more about their anatomy when I learned about DMSO – and well _ I can understand that massage would help them – and love the photos here. especially the last one – nice mood with the warm up

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you. These horses are athletes even the ones who only have to compete at a walk because they are ridden and trained by able bodied riders. My horse Biasini gets massage once a month and it helps him a lot. It prevents muscle tightness from creating a real problem that could result in a lameness.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Prior... says:

        Funny you should mention lameness – I just watched Endeavor Season 6 and in one of the four episodes – they have a horse that goes lame- that is so sad when it happens and glad massage prevents it.
        Hope that monthly massage is not too expensive –

        Liked by 1 person

        1. anne leueen says:

          Well it is a modest cost relative to other horse expenses. Lameness can be very expensive with veterinary treatments but the most difficult part of lameness is the horse has to be off work and for a competition horse that is disappointing for the rider and also most competition horses like their job and can get depressed when they are out of their usual routine. Truly! I have seen this happen.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Prior... says:

            Wow – so horses can get the displaced funk like humans can !! Thanks for sharing that because I might just use it when I counsel folks (I sometimes do career coaching)

            Liked by 1 person

  6. cigarman501 says:

    Thanks for sharing…i’m glad we are finally treating the disabled as anyone else. They want to compete just like anyone else. In most cases I find them to be quite superior rather than disabled when given an opportunity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      The para riders are amazing. The term “para” means “parallel ” and in the dressage community there is great respect for the paras. For them getting on a horse gives them a freedom a wheelchair cannot. Thanks for commenting.

      Like

  7. Emma Cownie says:

    It never occured to me that it would be the horses that would be getting the massages!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      The para riders have a physiotherapist and will also get massage body work done to help.them. Biasini has a massage once a month from JP while we are in Florida and at home from a woman equine massage therapist The horses like it and respond wel.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Tina Schell says:

    What a marvelous post Anne – had no idea a) that horses got massaged and b) that severely disabled riders can compete. I love that the horses know how to compensate for disabilities. What an amazing thing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. anne leueen says:

      Massage is part of Biasini’s routine. He gets one every month. The Para horses are amazing and they just know when their Para rider is on them. The riders are also amazing. Many of them are in wheelchairs and need people to help them get mounted up. There is a famous German Para rider who has no arms. She manages the reins with her feet!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. allenrizzi says:

    It’s always great to get some much needed good news. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Judy says:

    Fascinating! I knew massage for horses was new but didn’t know who started it when someone used it on my horse back in 1999 or 2000. It helped him feel better those last couple of years.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. anne leueen says:

      JP does Biasini once a month and at home he also gets a massage once a month. I rely on regular massage so I think the horses benefit from it too.

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply to Tina Schell Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.